Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tell Tale Signs

Yup, the bootleg part 8 from the Dylan canon of lost treasures.

Mississippi, Red River Shore, Cross the Green Mountain each either unheard of different from the actual album version, but nonetheless interesting recording.

Dylan is fascinating not just what he writes, but how he records and thru that process, reinvents the song along the way. Take Born in Time, good as it was on Under the Red Sky, is infinitely better on the Oh Mercy sessions. This is the version presented here and used by Clapton for his own album.

And it is a wonderful gem, mystical poetry musing on a woman (what else?) that defies explanation. And the multiple versions of Mississippi, is an evolution of a classic. But the folky blues spareness of the first version works best, haunting, spooking like Robert Johnson vibe.

And the live recordings that round this collection also baffles. Ring them bells from the supper club sessions show just how brilliant those concerts were, but yet only this has been released officially while the bootlegs are better documented on this event.

And also the 2 recordings from the Bromberg sessions is interesting to say the least.

Yup, there are a lot of gems to be discovered and rediscovered.

From Oh Mercy to Modern Times, these outtakes are anything but discards. And who else has so much treasure in their trash bins?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dylan resurgence

The 60s was a revelation.

The 70s was a reflection.

The 80s was a deflation.

The 90s was a reflection.

The noughties was a resurgence.

From Oh Mercy, the resurgence was already bubbling under, Under a Red Sky was not half as bad as it was made out to be, not that it was an instant classic either. But then, Time out of Mind just clarified his stance as rock's most important poet.

Neil Young certainly had his comeback in the early nighties, but kinda settled into a groove after that. Dylan, with cracking voice, and being written off by nearly everyone coming into the 90s, was just biding his time. In fact, on Good as I have been and World Gone wrong, he was merely reaching back to his roots. Like every folk troubadour he looked up to, he was merely understanding what went before to go beyond.

That was the fundamental point of doing the never ending tours, to reconnect with the audience, from the biggest of arenas to the most intimate of supper clubs. The 91 Supper Club performances were legendary, they still are.

Then 2001 brought home Love and theft on 911 itself, how symbolic can that be? Coincidence? Either way, it is one of his best collection of tunes. Not because it had epics like Johanna or Desolation, but it reclaimed his confidence in roots music, and gave a nod to the basement tapes sessions. That the 1967 time with the Band and the Big Pink was just a rehearsal for L&T.

Yeah, what was to follow with Modern Times kinda just sealed the deal. Coming full circle for the Judased one. In fact, if anything, Modern Times will be as timeless as it is brilliant. The accusations of plagiarism on this album are totally missing the point. But then again, Dylan has never bothered to explain himself, only expressing himself on record. And what a beautiful record MT is.

But with every peak comes a plateau and subsequent descent. Together thru life is good, sometimes great, but never reaches the peak of the last 2 records. Still, its ways better than his mid 80s records, so that is saying something for someone becoming the oldest artist to top the US charts, and broke the record again in less than 3 years. This is not a singer losing touch, it's a singer songwriter gaining a new whole new generation of fans. A generation fed on Cobain and Coldplay and discovered that even the elder statesman can keep up with the current cream.

Bobfest was coined by NY in the 1992 anniversary concert. Well, bobfest is still in full force today, and hopefully, many more days to come.

PS ... lets just take Christmas in the Heart as a lark and fun as drunken ecstasy as it was meant to be.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Getting around that voice

The biggest complaint from most people around when it comes to listening to Dylan is that phlegm baked croaky voice of his, none more pronounced than my wife. She freely admits he's one heck of a songwriter, but prefer Dylan covers than his own recordings. Point taken.

So, just how hard is it to appreciate that voice of his. Rock critics have actually professed that his singing voice is up there among the greats of Lennon and Presley, but his is hardly the most accessible. That is plain to anyone, least of all from Asian ears so cultivated on pristine crystal clear tones.

How does one begin to enjoy his recordings then?

Perhaps the easiest way is to go back to his seminal 60s records, and just like any Dylan newbie, the best way to start is his landmark trilogy of Bringing, Highway and Blonde records. That 'thin mercury sound' was forming and his voice was scathing, vicious, tender and lecturing by turns. And the songs, they are all classic and so covered for the last 30 years or so.

The thing about Dylan is his phrasing and his ability to convey a genuine emotion through that combo of diction and tonal quality that is so effective, and that is despite his non-pristine natural voice tone. Yes, it can be a turn off to many so used to the diva shrieking of todays, but to really appreciate him, one really has to learn to listen past the flawed croaks, and get to the essence of true folk singing.

Heck, just listen a few more times and let it sink in. The power of the songs will do the rest.

Dylan views from a Singaporean

Finally, and firstly, and most essentially, I have finally decided to put into words my deep fascination and appreciation for all things Dylan.

Singapore and Asia in particular, have never been high on Dylan music, save for a minority few. Simply put, Asian music is all about pop and more pop. Even rock music is saturated to the metal rock of AC/DC and Black Sabbath. Still, there lies a part of me that truly believes that there is a place for folks to discover Dylan the way I got into his music and words way back in 1990.

It is kinda ironic, and significant that it took me 20 years to do this, though, admittedly, I have been writing Dylan articles on Bringing it back all Home website ( since '97 and the articles are surprising still there. My teenage years music consumption was pretty much what everyone was listening to in the 80s, ranging from MJ to new wave british of Spandau and Duran x2.

In the late eighties, U2 raged onto the scene with Joshua and I was all caught up in the Irish rock invasion like everyone else did. But 2 things turned me onto Dylan.

First, the Watchmen graphic novel, where Alan Moore quoted lines from Dylan songs and U2's Rattle and Hum (both album and movie) had Dylan appearing and co-writing and covering Watchtower, which was a mini revelation to me.

Then, more and more, I keep hearing the name Dylan and started reading Rolling Stone mag and discovered RS has a near deity worship for the former Zimmerman. Then one day in 1990, I decided to plunge and bought my first Dylan album, Highway 61 and plonk it into my then cassette player.

The gunshot snare of Like a RS totally blew me away and for the next hour or so, was totally entranced, and confused by equal measures of the rest of HW 61's tracks, most especially on the final epic Desolation Row.

Within a week, I had almost gotten all the essential Dylan up to the 70s, Bringing It, Freewhelin', Blood on the Tracks, with the ception of Blonde on Blonde which was, (would you believe it?) banned in Singapore.

And so there it was, my journey with Dylan began and would last for 20 years and just like his Never ending tour, it keeps on rollin' and tumblin' .... occasionally I would wean myself off Dylan on some current stuff like Travis and even Idol music, but every half year or so, I will come back to a familiar voice and music.

Each time it seems, Dylan has just gotten more out there in the new millennium, and each time, there's always something written about him or interesting to find out about this unrelenting bard. And so, this is where I begin my new blog .... I just hope you will enjoy the ride with me in the coming months as I muse over Dylan. Hopefully, from a different and perhaps, even a fresh perspective from the other side of the world.