Two of the CDs came from my new source: As mentioned in my first post, the Lotus Formula One team is giving out CDs quite often now to journalists and any other takers and interested people in the paddock, as they have some kind of a sponsorship deal with Columbia Records. So at the Bahrain Grand Prix, in the 36-degree heat of the paddock, they set out for the taking a CD by Calvin Harris, the Scottish DJ, singer songwriter and record producer. Entitled “18 Months,” it is mix of dance music from beginning to end, and as such, its beats and rhythms and vacuous vocals make it perfect as morning exercise music. And nothing else for home consumption. In a club, yes, that’s the stuff. My only other “pertinent” observation is the strange and perhaps “telling” fact that in the 15 tracks almost every credit is attributed to someone with an “i” in their name, or an “i” vowel sound: “Kelis” “Rihanna” “Nicky Romero” “Ellie Goulding” “Tinie Tempah” “Dillon Francis” “Dizzee Rascal” “Ne-Yo” and “Ayah Marar” It turns out that almost every track title also goes through the “i”-sound ringer. Well, so much for my structuralist analysis of Calvin Harris’s dance music – wish I had more to say…but I was in the throes of sit-ups and side-bends and toes touching, so what do I know.
The big, big bad CD, the one I was happiest to receive, and least happy to talk about, is “Tempest”, the latest Bob Dylan album. This is hardly a timely review, since the album came out last year and has been massively written about in the media, and massively listed as one of the top albums of the year in the music magazines around the world. And as a Bob Dylan fan for most of my life, I had, naturally, already listened to several of the album’s tracks over the Internet. Having said that, as proof that the CD, the album, the physical collection of a musical oeuvre still carries weight and counts for something, I was very happy to take this physical CD object and put it in my Marantz CD player and listen to it over my Bose speakers, and not just on my computer’s iTunes.
Until I did, actually. Then I was struck with the biggest existential problem I have yet faced with my morning exercise music talk. How can I write about Bob Dylan’s latest album when I love Bob Dylan, when almost all of the reviews have been great, when as I say, it has made it to the top, or near the top, of the lists of the year’s best albums? And I just don’t get it? Yes, yes, yes. This album has one, maybe two or three tracks that have something really great – and the only one that really, really stands out for me is the first one, “Duquesne Whistle.” Using this old time music, singing this folksy up-tempo song, I really feel as if Dylan has written some kind of a classic here. Not, I feel, a classic Dylan song, but some kind of American classic. It was very hard for me to accept his voice on this, until I decided to pretend that it was not Bob Dylan, but Satchmo himself. I never complained about Satchmo’s gutteral, destroyed voice – why should I complain about Dylan’s? No doubt because Dylan once had a few other voices, and I liked several of those better – the original one from the early 60s, the one from Lay Lady Lay in the Late Sixities, the one from Blood on the Tracks in the mid-70s, the one from Desire at the same time, the one from some of the songs in the 80s, even…. But this Satchmo voice has never worked for me. In fact, for much of the album, I thought I was not hearing Dylan, but Tom Waits….
Another song that cannot be thrown away is the last one, “Roll on John,” about John Lennon. Come on, with subject matter like that, and you know the two knew each other…!
If Bob Dylan can’t write songs like Bob Dylan anymore what chance do the rest of us have?
But the problem with this CD, and maybe with why the critics give it so high marks, is that this IS Dylan. And I kept trying to figure out how some of these songs would sound when sung by other musicians…but then I wondered how many actually WOULD be sung by them. I love the fact that Dylan keeps making music, keeps touring almost every day, keeps creating. But even he said, in his fabulous book, Chronicles, that he can no longer write the kinds of songs he did in the 60s. That was in the chapter about when Daniel Lanois produced an album of his and wanted him to write the old stuff again. And that made me think of a funny line that I just kind of made up and found plopping into my brain as a guy who writes some songs too – without the success of a Dylan: If Bob Dylan can’t write songs like Bob Dylan anymore what chance do the rest of us have?
Of course, I step back from that and say, it’s got nothing to do with anything like that – we all reach our own creative peak in our own way in our own time. And ultimately, as T.S. Eliot said: “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”
Well, let’s hope Dylan keeps on trying – but I can’t really see how this CD got to the top of so many “year’s best” lists. There is a repetitiveness to the rhymes and melodies in a lot of these songs – that have also appeared in many of the Dylan albums of the last 30 years – that was not there in his classic work. The new Bowie album, by contrast, I could see if if it gets there at the end of the year….
In Bahrain I also got given a CD from a fellow Canadian musician, Félix Fréchette, who was the guitarist at the Dublin Club jam session on the Saturday night where I played – along with him and his band. The CD is a 10-track album of songs written and sung by Nelle Thomas, who is also Canadian – she is English-speaking,from Montreal, whereas Fréchette is a French speaking Quebecer – the music of which was written mostly by Fréchette. He also plays his lead guitar on most of the tracks.
The two, as I say, were part of the house band at the Dublin Club in the Ramee Palace hotel, but this CD – called Noise Rises – they made in Canada in 2012. It is a highly professional, eclectic mix of songs, starting off with a kind of soul music and heading into some soft rock and finishing off with a song on acoustic guitar that is almost – but not quite – folk.
While there were a number of songs that just sort of passed me by – although they were beautifully played and produced – there were three that really stood out for me. “Tell a Sad Story,” has a good catchy melody and lyrics, and really hits the spot. “Never Been Accused,” with its sort of 1970 rock sound, and its ripping lead guitar by Félix Fréchette is another – oh, and there is another nice guitar solo on “One Day at a Time.” And I really love the last song on the album, “Eleven Dollars,” with the great lyrics, vocals and acoustic guitar – reminds me very much of Tuck & Patti. Certainly the best song of the album – but maybe my liking of vocals, acoustic, folky stuff. Still, NO! I love Hendrix, King Crimson, Zappa, Talking Heads, Joy Division, so what the hell – I just think this one works.
It was interesting, once again, to compare an album by a completely unknown young couple to that of Dylan, and to say, well, yeah!!!I also got a vinyl album by the British indie band, Peace, – their first album, “In Love,” which has been getting great reviews (9 out of 10 at NME) – but I am very old fashioned, and have no turntable, so I could not listen to this. Wait. That seems odd. Old fashioned? I grew up with vinyl. I had a large collection, then got rid of my turntable because CDs were better…. Right, that’s where the old fashioned bit comes in…. I don’t know ANYTHING, vinyl is better…. well, not for morning exercises – too much work putting the cartridge arm and diamond down the vinyl – and, actually, according to my research, vinyl is NOT better than digital…. but let’s leave that one alone, lest I become even more unpopular than I will be after these morning exercise “reviews” turn me into an evil “critic.”