January 29, 2011

Playlist Week of 1-29-11

Blood On The Tracks

* Machaut: Motets (Hilliard Ensemble) (ECM CD)
* Gesualdo: Tenebrae (Hilliard Ensemble) (ECM 2CD)
* Biber: Mensa Sonora (Musica Antiqua Koln/Goebel) (Archiv Produktion CD)†
* Ben Webster with Strings: Music For Loving (Verve 2CD)
* Sun Ra: Live In Paris at the “Gibus” (Atlantic/Universe CD)
* Sun Ra: “The Road To Destiny”: The Lost Reel Collection, Vol.6 (Transparency CD)
* Herbie Hancock: Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (Warner Archives 2CD)
* Music Revelation Ensemble: In the Name Of (DIW CD)
* Music Revelation Ensemble: Knights of Power (DIW CD)
* Music Revelation Ensemble: Cross Fire (DIW CD)
* Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.3, No.4: PennState-Cornell ’80 (GDP/Rhino 3CD)(‡)
* Grateful Dead: Freedom Hall, Louisville, KY 6-16-93 (SBD 3CDR)‡
* Jerry Garcia Band: Don’t Let Go: Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco 5-21-76 (Arista 2CD)
* Bob Dylan: Blood On The Tracks (Columbia SACD)
* Bob Dylan: Blood On The Outtakes (boot CDR)
* Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol.1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 (selections)(Columbia 3CD)
* Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol.5: Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue (Columbia 2CD)
* Bob Dylan: Desire (Columbia SACD)
* Bob Dylan: Hard Rain (Columbia LP)
* Bob Dylan: Street Legal (Columbia SACD)
* Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan At Budokan (CBS—Sony 2LP)
* Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming (Columbia SACD)
* Bob Dylan: Saved (Columbia LP)
* Can: Prehistoric Future: June 1968: The Very First Session (Tago Mago/boot CDR)
* Chrome: Half Machine Lip Moves/Alien Soundtracks (Touch & Go CD)
* Mekons: Fun ’90 (A&M/Twin Tone CDEP)
* Mekons: Journey to the End of the Night (Quarterstick CD)
* Mekons: Punk Rock (Quarterstick CD)
* Mekons: Fitzgerald's, Berwyn, IL 9-13-02 (SBD 2CDR)
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity 2LP)

†=iPod
‡=car

Commentary:

Blogger tells me this is my 500th post. Well, how about that? Thank you very much for reading my rambling! Here’s to 500 more!

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Most people would agree Bob Dylan’s 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks, is a masterpiece. But some people (including me) think it could have been even better. Finished tracks were recorded quickly over four sessions at Columbia’s A&R studios in New York in September, 1974, a test-pressing was prepared and promo copies were sent out to selected radio stations in late fall. As the story goes, Dylan began to have second thoughts while visiting family in Minnesota for the holidays; when he played the test pressing for his brother, David, he was told it sounded monotonous. Local musicians were hurriedly mustered for last-minute sessions at Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis, where several songs were re-recorded in late December. The album as released the following January is a deeply felt meditation on love and loss—but the original takes of “Tangled Up In Blue,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” “If You See Her, Say Hello” and, especially, “Idiot Wind” are almost unbearably anguished and intense. It is perhaps too easy to conclude that Dylan was uncomfortable with such naked displays of emotion and chose to withdraw behind a mask—a persona—which he has worn more or less ever since. The New York version of “Idiot Wind” reveals a heartbreaking vulnerability beneath the surface of anger and hurt while the re-make puts up a (not so) brave front and almost gleefully revels in self-pitying bitterness and withering contempt. Sure, it’s cathartic—downright hysterical in concert—but the original take, with its swirling, ghostly organ and Dylan’s humbled delivery is exquisitely painful, almost redemptive in its fragile, conflicted beauty. Although various alternate takes from these sessions have appeared on the Biograph box set and The Bootleg Series Vol.1-3, most of the original test-pressing versions remain unreleased (contrary to the latter’s misleading liner notes). Blood On The Tracks would be an excellent candidate for one of those two-CD “Deluxe Editions” containing both the album as released, the original test-pressing songs and all other extant alternate takes. I’d buy that in a heartbeat. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to settle for “genuine” bootlegs for this crucial material.

At the time of its release, Blood On The Tracks was seen as a long-overdue return to form and became the measure of Dylan’s subsequent output—and a convenient yardstick for lazy critics. Records were routinely heralded as “his best since Blood On The Tracks” while otherwise ignoring the relative merits of the works at hand. Ever mercurial, Dylan was already off in another direction, writing controversial and convoluted story songs with Jacques Levy and Sam Shepard and making an improvised, surrealist film called Renaldo And Clara, to be shot while on tour with The Rolling Thunder Revue in the fall of 1975. Sadly, the movie was a tremendously expensive flop and has since disappeared from view. In 2002, Vol.5 of The Bootleg Series compiled several of Dylan’s performances from this tour (and the limited “Deluxe Edition” contained a short DVD of two songs) but the four-hour original cut of Renaldo and Clara has remained unseen since its disastrous premiere in 1978. A two-hour edit was quickly assembled and withdrawn in 1979 and a subsequent European television broadcast of this edit is the only source of circulating bootleg copies. An uncut version of Renaldo and Clara would be a most welcome release on DVD/Blue-Ray. It’s amazing to me that, despite decades of archival releases, there are still many such examples of important (if not always wholly successful) work that remains unavailable. Come on, Sony, give us the stuff!

While the initial Rolling Thunder Revue received rapturous reviews and played in front of sold out crowds on the east coast, by the time the second leg of the tour hit the road in the spring of 1976, critics and audiences had turned dismissive. Part of it may have been a result of yet another change in musical direction: Dylan had been hanging around with Patti Smith for a while and the sound was starting to take on a decidedly harder edge. Gone is the country-fied tinge of the pedal steel and Mick Ronson’s glammy guitar flash is way up front and coolly abrasive. The songs are not so much reinvented as deconstructed from within, Dylan’s desperately shouted declamations straining against a howling storm of electronic noise. It’s powerful stuff—almost punk rock—but audiences at the time were not ready for it. At the end of the tour, two shows were recorded and filmed for an NBC television special called Hard Rain, which aired in late September. Despite heavy-duty promotion and a cover story in TV Guide, the broadcast received disappointing ratings and the eponymous album sold poorly. I’ve always been a fan of the record, despite its obvious flaws: the guitars are out of tune, the mix is murky and one-dimensional but the music still packs a devastating emotional wallop. Rumor has it that a DVD of the television special is being prepared for release, which might help bring about a critical reappraisal of this underappreciated period of Dylan’s career. In the meantime, here are a couple of clips so you can see for yourself. It may not be for everybody, but I love it. Dylan looks like a Biblical prince delivering (not so glad) tidings to his subjects, while the wildly raging rock and roll carries him aloft on a churning sea of sound. Check it out:





Blood On The Tracks very well may be Dylan’s last truly great record, but he continued to make interesting and ambitious albums throughout the ‘Seventies, experimenting with a Vegas-styled big-band a la Elvis Presley (who had died on August 16, 1977) on Street Legal (1978) and Bob Dylan At Budokan (1979), culminating in a dramatic conversion to evangelical Christianity on the full-blown gospel records, Slow Train Coming (1979) and Saved (1980). Ever fickle, critics and fans alike praised the former, making it a top-ten hit, while disparaging the latter as “dogmatic” and “pompous,” sending it directly to the cut-out bins. The truth is: they’re both strong albums, even if Dylan’s Hell-fire-and-brimstone preachifying will make unbelievers squirm. Certainly, Dylan sings of his new-found faith with the kind of guileless sincerity unheard since. . .well, those Blood On The Tracks outtakes. But the so-called “born again” era was short-lived and as the ‘Eighties wore on, Dylan’s personal religious beliefs were as inscrutable as his increasingly erratic albums. After a tour backed by The Grateful Dead in 1987, Dylan miraculously (re)discovered a fresh approach to live performance and thereafter embarked on the so-called “Never Ending Tour,” which continues to this day. His hard-rocking (yet musically versatile) bands will routinely kick up the kind of whirlwind of sound found on Hard Rain, Dylan confidently surfing the sonic tsunami. What once sounded anomalous now sounds prescient.

3 comments:

Sam said...

500 posts, wow! Keep 'em coming!

Thanks for the overview of "Blood on the Tracks." That's one I need to return to, since I pretty much have a huge blank in my Dylan knowledge which extends from post-"Blood" to "Time Out of Mind." I see you're still dippin' into the other Blood as well. What/how is "Cross Fire"? I somehow missed that one.

Here's my list from last week. Highlights for me include our session (surprise!) and the Coltrane '61 Newport performance. Great sound, and wonderful to have the 2-bassist sound live.

Playlist 2011-01-31

*Elliott Carter: CD compilation, disc 4
*Wolfgang Rihm: "Seraphin" (Musikfest Berlin 2008) (CDR)
*Art Ensemble: 1991-10-16 Ludwigsburg, Germany (CDR)
*Art Ensemble: 1991-10-25 Warsaw, Poland (CDR)
*Art Ensemble: 1991-11-18 Hamburg, Germany (CDR)
*Bix Beiderbecke: Bix Restored Volume 2: 1927-1928 (disc 1)
*Anthony Braxton Quartet: 1979-04-22 Milan (CDR) disc 1
*Anthony Braxton/Evan Parker: 1994-06-02 NYC (CDR)
*Rodger Coleman/Sam Byrd: 2010-12-27
*John Coltrane Quintet: 1961-07-01 Newport Jazz Festival (CDR)
*New Loft: 2010-12-08 "Look Out!!" (wav)
*Evan Parker/Ikue Mori: 2009-10-06 The Stone, NYC (CDR)
*Sun Ra and His Mythic Science Arkestra: The Paris Tapes
*Sun Ra: Live in Paris at the Gibus
*Sun Ra: 1973-07-04 NYC (1 track)
*Sun Ra & His Intergalaxtic Arkestra: Stardust From Tomorrow
*Cecil Taylor Jazz Unit: The Early Unit 1962
*Trio M: 2009-10-31 Tampere, Finland (CDR)
*Captain Beefheart: Ice Cream For Crow
*Fiery Furnaces: Bitter Tea
*Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Real Emotional Trash
*Sean O'Hagan & Jean Pierre Muller: The Musical Paintings, Vol. 1
*Olivia Tremor Control: Music From the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle
*Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted
*Robert Pollard: Crickets: The Best of The Fading Captain Series
*Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers
*Todd Rundgren: Runt
*Soft Machine: 1969-06-25 Paris (CDR)
*Time: The Time
*Time: What Time Is it?

Reading log 2011-01-31

*Pym, Barbara. No Fond Return of Love (started)
*James, P.D. Children of Men (finished)
*Canniff, Milton. Terry & the Pirates Color Sundays Vol. 11 1945 (started)
*Canniff, Milton. Terry & the Pirates Color Sundays Vol. 10 1944 (started/finished)
*Canniff, Milton. Terry & the Pirates Color Sundays Vol. 9 1943 (finished)
*Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights (transl. Malcolm C. Lyons) Vol. 1 (in progress)
*Giddins, Gary. Warning Shadows (in progress)
*Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seldman. Ulysses Annotated, rev. and expanded ed. (in progress)
*Joyce, James. Ulysses (in progress)

garisenda2000 said...

Nice post on the mid-70s Dylan. Maybe it's from having come of age in the '70s, but I've always found Blood to be essential--especially the mostly scuttled New York sessions. Coincidentally enough, I was just listening to them last night...Hard Rain is another favorite & I can remember listening to that to stay awake on an all-night drive from Portland to San Francisco back in 1980...yes, it was an 8-track tape...

Rodger Coleman said...

@Sam: I'm thinking of delving into '80s Dylan on the blog. Re: "Cross Fire", well it came out in 1997 and it's more of the same but Calvn Jones is on bass and Cornell Rochester is on drums. The tracks with John Zorn are sorta disappointing. As much as I like him as a conceptualist, his sax playing is not a good fit here. Pharoah Sanders's contributions are more successful, but still oddly stilted. I think this was the last Music Revelation Ensemble record.

@garisenda200: Thank you for your comment! 8-track! Wow! I remember them! What an awful medium! At least you could listen to an "album" in the car! Best regards. --R