Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas In Jail

A sobering thought, and another obscure classic from the Doo Wop era, courtesy of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Christmas in Jail was the flipside of The Youngsters 1956 single Dreamy Eyes, released on the short lived Empire Records label. This clip includes an intro by Bob, and a public service announcement by Mr. Smooth himself, Barry White. Be careful out there, kiddies.

The Youngsters - Christmas In Jail

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Poor Old Rudolph

I was hoping to post a few more entries of substance before the end of the year, but time once again is flying by. All I can manage at the moment is to share some unusual holiday music here in the waning days of the year. This song comes courtesy of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. Bob typically chooses a lot of pretty obscure music from the 40s and 50s, mixed in with old standards and more well known artists, but this selection from last year's holiday show is way out in left field. The Bellrays are a band from Riverside, California that call their music "Maximum Rock & Soul," Listening to the Bellrays, they say, "is like getting kicked in the balls by James Brown. Imagine a bus full of Motown recording artists being steamrolled by Black Flag, and you have a pretty good idea of what the Bellrays sound like." Ok. I'll check them out and report back, but in the meantime, dig Poor Old Rudolph, from a 1996 compilation CD titled A Vital Gesture Xmas - Volume 1.

The BellRays - Poor Old Rudolph

We all know the 1964 TV special, but Rudy was first created in 1939 as a coloring book by Robert May, an employee of Montgomery Ward. May's brother in law Johnny Marks put the story to music in 1949, and it has been recorded by many artists, most notably Gene Autry. Marks also wrote the immortal "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas." One of my favorite versions of Rudolph is by Dean Martin. I posted this last year, but here it is again.
Dean Martin - Rudolph


Saturday, December 01, 2007

I'm Not There - The Soundtrack

I raved about the film earlier this week, so how's the soundtrack, you ask? Well, I've listened to both discs about 10 times, and overall it is enjoyable. Dylan is one of the most covered songwriters of all time, so the bar is raised. Two discs, with an interesting combination of veteran performers and some of the newest indy-alternative artists around. The result? Most of it is very good, with the standout performances mixed between the old and the new. A good cover respects the original but succeeds in conveying the cover artist's style in the song. There's nothing interesting in mimicking the original. However, a cover that totally obliterates the original seems like a cop-out. On I'm Not There, there's some of the former, and very little of the latter, which overall is a good thing.

The best part of the collection is that many of the songs are Dylan's lesser known material. This may be due to Todd Hayne's influence in the musical backdrop for his complex film, or the individuality of the artists, but it works. There's no Like A Rolling Stone or Blowing In The Wind here, but instead Dark Eyes and Goin' To Acapulco, to name two examples.

The mother of all Dylan Covers is All Along the Watchtower by Hendrix. How do these compare? Here's the summary, with my one blurb review. This review is for the non-Dylan fanatics. If you're not planning on buying the 2-CD set, buy the tracks in green. You won't be disappointed.

Disc 1
All Along the Watchtower - Eddie Vedder and The Million Dollar Bashers (MDB) (the soundtrack's 'house band'.) Nothing new here. Not the best way to start the CD.
I'm Not There - Sonic Youth. Fantastic. Thurston Moore nails this beloved 'lost track' from the Basement Tapes.
Goin' To Acapulco - Jim James and Calexico. James vocal breathes new life into this overlooked track from the Basement Tapes. A haunting scene from the film too.
Tombstone Blues - Richie Havens. Not exactly revolutionary, but it's hard not to like Havens style.

Ballad of A Thin Man - Stephen Malkmus and MDB. Malkmus and the band deliver almost a copy of the 1965-66 sound, but despite the unoriginality, it really works. Malkmus seems to be relishing every nuance in the song.
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again - Cat Power. Uninspired. I didn't like the Dead's version either. Maybe only Bob can deliver this one.
Pressing On - John Doe. A killer version of a song from Bob's overlooked Christian period.
Fourth Time Around - Yo La Tengo. This one kind of lulled me to sleep.
Dark Eyes - Iron & Wine & Calexico. Has a nice percussive quality. An interesting cover.
Highway 61 Revisited - Karen O and the MDB. A pointless cover. Maybe ok if you're a bar band, but otherwise....
One More Cup of Coffee - Roger McGuinn and Calexico. Adequate. The mariachi horns of Calexico add a nice feeling, but it's not essential.
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - Mason Jennings. A faithful, folk style rendering of the original, but not essential.
Billy 1 - Los Lobos. A great job from a great band. I wish they would have done another one on this collection. I never listen the Pat Garrett soundtrack Dylan did, so this feels fresh.
Simple Twist of Fate - Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy uses the lyrics from the New York demo version, but it's not enough. I didn't like the way Jeff sang this one. Disappointing for me.
Man In The Long Black Coat - Mark Lanegan. Very similar to Bob's own version. Good, but not essential.
Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) - Willie Nelson & Calexico. Sounds like Willie phoned this in. Of course, I'm not a big fan.

Disc 2
As I Went Out One Morning - Mira Billotte. A pleasant rendition from this folk artist, but she doesn't really bring much of her own style.
Can't Leave Her Behind - Stephen Malkmus and Lee Ranaldo. More Malkmus! He never sounded this good in Pavement.
Ring Them Bells - Sufjan Stevens. Hmmmmmm. This version is totally different from the original, but I'm not big fan of Stevens musical style. Probably the most radically different of the entire collection, so for that I'll say yes.
Just Like A Woman - Charlotte Gainsbourg & Calexico. A predictable version of this song by a female lead vocalist. You don't need this one.
Mama. You've Been On My Mind - Jack Johnson. Jackson throws in part of Dylan's speech 'Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie,' but Johnson's barefoot, carefree style doesn't suit this song.
I Wanna Be Your Lover - Yo La Tengo. The band sounds like the Sir Douglas Quintet, which suits the Stones parody of this song completely.
You Ain't Goin' Nowhere - Glen Hansard. I love this song, and the performance is rollicking, but it's probably not essential.

Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? - The Hold Steady. Described as blend of the Replacements and 1973 era Bruce (who was trying hard to be Dylan), this one of my favorites. Perfect song choice.

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - Ramblin' Jack Elliott. A folk version with a little bluegrass, and it's hard not to be charmed. Elliott, who's 76, was a huge influence on young Bob, and it's great to hear things come full circle.
The Wicked Messenger - The Black Keys. Oh Yeah! A blistering blues version. A lot of artists maybe be intimidated by a Dylan song and afraid to depart from the original. The Black Keys obviously are unafraid.
Cold Irons Bound - Tom Verlaine and the MDB. A tortured Verlaine goes on for 7 minutes. I liked it, but it's tough to recommend it to a non-fanatic.
The Times They Are A-Changin' - Mason Jennings. Again, a copy of Bob's original version.
Maggie's Farm - Stephen Malkmus and the MDB. Like Ballad a Thin Man, this is a 1965 era facsimile, but what the hell, Malkmus is so into it that's it's fun.
When The Ship Comes In - Marcus Carl Franklin. Franklin is the 11 year old African-American boy who plays a version of Bob in the film. Amazing.
Moonshiner - Bob Forrest. A traditional song rearranged by Dylan, so it's not really a cover. Good song, though.
I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine - John Doe. Also fantastic. It has a gospel feeling, and Doe's vocal performance is jaw-dropping.
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Antony and the Johnsons. An aching version of this song from a relatively unknown NY band. I need to check this band out.
I'm Not There - Bob Dylan and the Band. Finally, an official release of this fanatic favorite. A legendary outtake from the Basement Tapes sessions, you've got to own this one.

Whew. That's a lot to digest. Go see the movie, and buy at least some of this wonderful soundtrack. For more the best source on the bottomless sea of Dylan covers,
go here.

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