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Posts tagged ‘Bob Dylan’

Favourite Music 2015

I’m planing to get a post about my favourite books of the year up in the next week or so, but in the meantime I thought I might pull together a quick post about some of the albums I’ve enjoyed this year. As I said when I did this last year, this makes no pretence that it’s comprehensive or objective, instead it’s a selection of things I’ve loved over the past twelve months. Rather than try and make a definitive selection of my absolute favourites I’ve arranged them in (mostly) mostly alphabetical order. Hopefully I’ve also managed to remember enough to save myself from a supplemental post about all the ones I’ve forgotten.

And so, without further ado, here they are …

Asaf Avidan, Gold Shadow
One of my absolute favourite albums of 2015 was by Israeli singer-songwriter Asaf Avidan. I’d not heard of Avidan until I read a review of his latest album, Gold Shadow, but it’s a stunner, anchored by Avidan’s distinctive vocals and  a wonderfully retro yet oddly timeless feel that sounds as if it could have been recorded 50 years ago or last week.


Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
Closer to home I loved Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. People in Australia and the US have already written reams about Barnett and this record, suffice it to say I saw her live last year, and the record is as smart, funny and utterly self-possessed as she was on stage.


Blur, The Magic Whip
I also loved Blur’s comeback album, The Magic Whip. It’s not quite Parklike (although what is), but they sound as smart and sharp and tight as they always did, and when I saw them in Sydney earlier in the year they were totally amazing.


Leonard Cohen, Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour
Leonard Cohen turned 80 last year, and celebrated by releasing the brilliant Popular Problems. this year he was back with Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour, a collection of live versions of lesser-known tracks from his back catalogue plus a couple of new songs, and while it’s not as coherent or focussed as Popular Problems, it’s still a pleasingly rich and occasionally unexpected record that more than holds its own in Cohen’s recent discography, and one I’ve come to like more and more with every new listen.


The Decemberists, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
The Decemberists’ What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is a frontrunner for the title of my favourite album of the year, and certainly one of the ones I’ve listened to the most. I know some long-time fans are a bit dismayed by the more radio-friendly songwriting (as much as that term makes any sense these days) but I love almost every track on it (and who couldn’t love an album that contains the lyric “And me, seventeen and terminally fey”?). The Florasongs EP they released late in the year is great as well.


Diane Coffee, Everybody’s a Good Dog
Blissed out Beach Boys and soul perfection from one half of Oxygen. Insanely enjoyable.


Destroyer, Poison Season
I’ve never quite connected with The New Pornographers’ albums, but I really enjoyed their front man,  Dan Bejar’s side project, Destroyer’s new one, Poison Season. I remember reading Bejar saying the album was a tribute to Hunky Dory, but to me it sounds like a brilliant art pop reworking of Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen (most obviously on the second track, ‘Dream Lover’).


Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series Volume 12: The Cutting Edge
What’s there to say? Different interpretations and working versions of many of the songs on three of my favourite albums of all time, many of which are as good or better as the originals. You don’t have to be the sort of Dylan obsessive who’s got the energy to listen to an entire album of outtakes of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ to love this collection, and tracks like the version of ‘Love Minus One’ are worth the price of admission all on their own. Weepingly brilliant.


Sharon van Etten, I Don’t Want To Let You Down
I adored van Etten’s last album, Are We There, and although these songs from the same sessions are basically an extension of that album that’s fine by me. Gorgeous, intense, visceral.


Colleen Green, I Want To Grow Up
On a first listen Colleen Green’s album sounds like a piece or perfectly pitched grungy guitar punk pop. But dig a little deeper and something darker and more complex begins to appear.

Julia Holter, Have You In My Wilderness
Julia Holter’s previous albums were curious combinations of experimental soundscape and pop melodies, but on her new one she let her pop sensibility come to the fore, and created something really special. I’d be tempted to complain it’s occasionally a bit tasteful (a problem that afflicts a lot of contemporary indie pop IMHO) but on a more careful listen that impression is wiped away by the lyrics, the strength of the songwriting and the complexity of the arrangements. It’s a beautiful record.


Elle King, Love Stuff
Elle King’s debut album, Love Stuff, seemed to come out of nowhere when it turned up earlier in the year, but since it was released it’s picked up two Grammy nominations. Imagine a 26 year-old Wanda Jackson and you’ll be pretty much on the money.


Joanna Newsom, Divers
There’s a clear line of influence flowing from Kate Bush to Joanna Newsom, but that shouldn’t obscure the fact that Newsom is a genuine original, with a fascinating and increasingly clear aesthetic that’s all her own.


Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
There’s been a lot of retro-soul and soul-inflected music around this year, perhaps most obviously Leon Bridges’ surprise hit debut, Coming Home. Although I’m always a little uneasy about music that so deliberately (and often slavishly) invokes the past, I liked Coming Home, and in particular the big single, ‘Better Man’, and I also liked Anderson East’s similarly pitch-perfect recreation of the sound of the late 1960s, Delilah. But much as I enjoyed both Bridges’ and East’s albums, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ excursion into the same territory in their self-titled debut outshone both in terms of energy and urgency.


Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color/Thunderbitch, Thunderbitch
Meanwhile the band that probably did the most to initiate the whole new soul movement, the Alabama Shakes, finally released their much-delayed second album, Sound and Color, and used it to make it clear they had no intention of being pigeonholed by those sorts of labels by delivering a record that pushed outward toward garage rock and funk and even punk. Sound and Color has a lot of great moments, and although Brittany Howard’s voice and charisma mostly overcomes the fact the songs on Sound and Color only occasionally reaches the same heights as those the Shakes’ 2012 album, Boys and Girls, you couldn’t say the same about Howard’s side-project, Thunderbitch, which was released with little fanfare later in the year, and packs more exultant energy and joy into its 33 minutes than the most bands  find in a lifetime (for reasons I don’t understand none of Thunderbitch’s videos seem to be available in Australia but you can listen to a few tracks on their website).


Bill Ryder-Jones, West Kirby County Primary
I also loved Bill Ryder-Jones’ gorgeous, damaged West Kirby County Primary, an album that wears its debt to The Velvet Underground on its sleeve, but which also has a vulnerable beauty (and a host of scuzzy pop hooks) all of its own. Another contender for my favourite record of the year.


Bruce Springsteen, The Ties That Bind
I’ve only had a chance to listen to it once and watch the documentary (which is terrific, and a reminder of how interesting Springsteen is about the craft of songwriting and painstaking way he imagines and creates his albums) but like Amanda Rose I’m going to dispense with the fantasy I might not love an album made up of a remastered version of one of my all-time Favourite Springsteen albums and 20-odd new tracks from the same sessions might not be one of the best things I’ll hear this year.


The Vaccines, English Graffiti
48 minutes of New Wave influenced punk pop perfection. I feel happy every time I hear it. What more is there to say?


Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
I quite enjoyed Katie Crutchfield’s first album as Waxahatchee, American Weekend, but her second, Ivy Tripp, is on a whole other level. Grungy, 1990s influenced guitars meet intimate lyrics and delicate melodies. It’s great stuff.


Matthew E. White, Fresh Blood
Matthew E. White’s new album is really just a second helping of the retro-soul-influenced rock and roll that made his first album, Big Inner, so much fun, although it’s richer and more accessible than Big Inner. But what it does have is one of my favourite songs of the year, the sneakily catchy ‘Rock and Roll is Cold’. Put memories of Warren Zevon out of your head, give it a whirl and enjoy.


The Beatles, 1+
And finally, I’m not sure whether they really count as an album, but it was difficult not to love the rerelease of the Beatles’ 1, if only for the two discs of beautifully restored videos that accompanied with it. I haven’t had a chance to listen closely to the Giles Martin remasters of the songs themselves (and I’m not sure I wholly approve of that particular exercise) but the videos are an absolute joy.


Favourite Music 2014: Part Three

Here’s the third and final part of my list of my favourite albums of 2014. You can also check out Part One and Part Two.

Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness
I haven’t heard Olsen’s debut album, Half Way Home, but if it’s half as good as Burn Your Fire For No Witness it must be pretty fantastic. Olsen has one of those very sixties voices that quaver with vulnerability, and there’s more than a little of the 1960s and 1970s in the songs on Burn Your Fire For No Witness, but there’s nothing derivative about their intensity and intelligence, the deft way she marries elements from the music of the 1940s to garage rock and even glam, or even the wit of her lyrics, which gesture, with delicious irony, toward the self-aware gloom of Leonard Cohen. The net effect is pretty damn special.

Spoon, They Want My Soul
They Want My Soul is classic Spoon: lean and muscular, spaciously produced and totally addictive. If you like Spoon you’ve probably already got it, if you don’t, do yourself a favour and grab a copy. I love all of it but the electric harp (at least I think it’s an electric harp) on ‘Inside Out’ gives me chills every time I hear it.

St Paul & the Broken Bones, Half the City
As the KEXP mini-concert below suggests, St Paul and the Broken Bones are probably one of those bands you really need to see live for the full experience, but all the same, their debut, Half the City is pretty bloody electrifying. Produced by Ben Tanner, of the Alabama Shakes (and just by the way, what is the story with the Shakes’ apparently-recorded-but-still-not-released follow-up album?), it shows off the band’s ferocious brass section and lead singer Paul Janeway’s blistering vocals to brilliant effect. It’s so good.

St Vincent, St Vincent
There’s a reason Annie Clark’s fourth album as St Vincent is at the top of most lists of the best music of 2014, and that’s because it’s seriously good. Smart, rhythmic, intellectual pop that’s both steely and tender, it’s filled with songs like ‘Digital Witness’ and the beautiful final track, ‘Severed Crossed Fingers’ that snake your way into your brain and then sinuously unravel themselves. And she’s dead cool, which never hurts.

The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
I already owe The War on Drugs a favour  for propelling Kurt Vile into the solo career that produced one of my favourite albums of 2013, Wakin’ on a Sunny Daze, but now I love them twice over for creating the shimmering, propulsive Lost in the Dream, an album that manages the unusual trick of being both highly textured and soaringly emotional. It’s a fantastic record.

Lucinda Williams, Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
At 61 Lucinda Williams seems to just gets better and better with each album, and Where the Spirit Meets the Bone continues the trend. Featuring 19 tracks over two discs, and almost twice as long as her last album, 2011’s achingly beautiful Blessed, it’s yet another testament to Williams’ capacity to write wonderfully tender songs about damage and loss and love, and although I occasionally get a little frustrated with her strangled phrasing, it’s a wonderful showcase for her distinctive voice and the talents of her band. There are any number of highlights, but if you have a listen make sure you stick around for the final track, an almost ten minute cover of J.J. Cale’s ‘Magnolia’. You might also want to check out The Believer’s 2012 interview with Williams, in which she speaks candidly about her process and career.

Honourable Mentions
Damon Albarn’s post-Blur career has been interestingly schizophrenic, bouncing from projects like Gorillaz and the under-appreciated The Good, The Bad & The Queen to less commercial projects like his opera about Elizabethan alchemist Dr John Dee, but with Everyday Robots he seems to have decided to make a conventional solo album. Except, of course, being Albarn, it’s not particularly conventional: instead it’s a series of introspective songs about alienation and technology. It’s deliberately downbeat, but surprisingly absorbing and heartfelt, and it’s enlivened by a couple of fabulous tracks, most notably the delightful ‘Mr Tembo’.

With its layered vocals and interwoven rhythms and textures Alt-J’s follow-up to their Mercury Award-winning An Awesome Wave, This Is All Yours, shifts between delicately sinister tracks like ‘Hunger of the Pine’ and ‘Warm Foothills’, and the stomping electro-blues of ‘Left Hand Free’, but that variety is part of what makes this beautiful, various and complex album so rewarding. It’s great stuff.

Jeff Tweedy’s decision to record an album with his son, Spencer, could easily have been an act of ageing rock star indulgence, and while it suffers a bit from their decision to spread the results over two discs, there are enough gems on Sukeriae to justify Tweedy’s faith in the project. It’s not quite Wilco (who have also just released a very interesting looking box-set of nerd-bait rarities, Alpha Mike Foxtrot) but it’s still pretty terrific. And the film clip for ‘Low Key’ will have a horrible familiarity for an awful lot of writers and musicians.

Also a few I only came across very recently, but which I already adore. The first two are artists I discovered on Amanda Rose’s always incredibly interesting list of her favourites of 2014 over on Flop-Eared Mule (if you haven’t been, go immediately, it’s a veritable treasure trove of fabulous stuff). First up is Light in the Attic’s reissue of a 1969 album of gospel recordings of Dylan songs. The group behind it, the Brothers & Sisters, were put together by Lou Adler (the guy behind Sam Cooke (he co-wrote ‘What a Wonderful World’, The Mamas and the Papas and Carole King (inasmuch as anybody other than King was behind her success), and featured singers such as Gloria Jones and Merry Clayton (who turns up in 20 Feet From Stardom).

The second is French folk singer Alma Forrer, whose self-titled EP contains four stunning songs that showcase her liquidly beautiful voice.

I can also recommend Reigning Sound’s Shattered, a gem of an album which may wear its influences on its sleeve, but is direct and warm and filled with brilliant songs.

And finally a brilliant little punk pop record from UK act Martha. I’m a sucker for this particularly British brand of guitar pop, and Courting Strong is one of the best versions of it I’ve heard in ages.

And although it’s pushing it, a couple of things that date from 2013 and 2010 respectively, but which I only discovered this year.

The first is Memphis-based singer-songwriter Valerie June’s fantastic Pushin’ Against A Stone, an album that June has described as “organic moonshine roots music”, but which sounds both rooted in tradition and completely contemporary in its eclecticism and political instincts.

And the second is Zoe Muth and the Lost High Roller’s Starlight Hotel and her follow-up, World of Strangers. I didn’t know Muth before I heard Starlight Hotel and her follow-up, World of Strangers, but I was a paid-up fan by the time the first song had played.

Favourite Music 2014: Part One

I’m planning to post something about my favourite books of 2014 next week, but in the meantime I thought I might pull together a list of some of my favourite albums of the past year.

I’m not going to pretend what follows is comprehensive or make any claim to objectivity. Instead it’s a very personal list of things I’ve loved over the past twelve months. That being the case I haven’t tried to rank them or pick out absolute favourites; instead I’ve listed them alphabetically, although because the full list is a bit unwieldy I’ve decided to spread it across three posts. This first one covers A to D, the second, which will be published on Wednesday, covers E to L, and the third, which will go up Friday, covers M to Z (together with a few honourable mentions).

Alvvays, Alvvays
Think Best Coast or a dreamy mash-up of Teenage Fanclub and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Gorgeous hooks, fuzzy guitars, shimmering production and gorgeous echoes of the 1950s and the glassy cool of Blondie and New Wave. It could be from 1982 or 1990 or last week, but that nostalgic timelessness is part of what makes it so magical. And ‘Archie, Marry Me’ is worth the price of admission all on its own.

Rodrigo Amarante, Cavalo
I bought this one on a whim but I’m so glad I did. Although he’s recorded several albums with Brazilian band Los Hermanos, Amarante is probably best known in the Anglophone world for his work with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti as part of the underrated Little Joy. Cavalo is his first album and it’s wonderful, featuring songs in French, Portuguese and English, and wending its way through delicately retro numbers like the opener, ‘Nada Em Vão’ and ‘Irene’ to sneaky dance tracks like ‘Hourglass’ and gorgeous, almost unclassifiable creations like ‘Mon Nom’.

Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker
I love, love, love this album. Right from the nod to Chuck Berry in the opening bars of the first track, ‘Violent Shiver’, it’s just electric, using Booker’s raspy vocals and the deliberately rough and ready production to anchor a series of tightly written yet loosely played songs that combine elements of blues, punk and the garage rock of Pavement and The Strokes. There’s not a bad song on it, but the one I come back to over and over again is the glorious, gospel-influenced ‘Slow Coming’, a song that seems to nod implicitly to Sam Cooke’s classic ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.

Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems
I have to confess I was a bit of a latecomer to Leonard Cohen, but over the past few years I’ve become more and more fascinated by him and his work. All the qualities that make Cohen so singular are on display on Popular Problems, which easily measures up to Cohen’s work in the late-1960s and early-1970s (and leaves his work in the early years of this century for dead), and shifts with startlingly ease from the sardonic wit of ‘Almost Like The Blues’ (“There’s torture and there’s killing/And there’s all my bad reviews/The war, the children missing/Lord, it’s almost like the blues”) to beautiful love songs like ‘Did I Ever Love You’ and the delicate restraint of ‘You Got Me Singing’. And the physical version of the album also includes a wonderfully designed fold-out booklet featuring a series of images of a half-dressed Cohen cleaning his shoes, offering a wonderfully restrained tribute to both Cohen’s fascination with Buddhism and the shadow of mortality that helps lend this slyly vital album its particular beauty.

(While you’re listening to the songs I suggest you take a few minutes to check out the photos of Cohen on Hydra in the 1960s that have surfaced in recent years, many of which also feature George Johnston and Charmian Clift, and this excellent piece about them by Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell).

The Delines, Colfax
I’m a huge fan of Willy Vlautin’s work, both as a member of Richmond Fontaine and as the author of novels such as Lean on Pete and The Free, so I was very excited when I heard he’d quietly assembled The Delines, a new group featuring Richmond Fontaine drummer Sean Oldham, Decemberists keyboardist Jenny Conlee and Damnations singer Amy Boone, and that excitement was absolutely borne out by their debut album, Colfax. I’ve written about Vlautin’s songwriting before, but the songs on Colfax show all the emotional intelligence and gift for compressed narrative that make his work with Richmond Fontaine so special, as songs like ‘The Oil Rigs At Night’ make eloquently clear.

Bob Dylan, The Complete Basement Tapes
I’ve never sought out any of the endless bootlegs of Dylan and the Band’s sessions at Big Pink in 1968, which means my exposure to the great white whale of modern music was restricted to the overproduced 1975 collection, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to that now I’ve heard the real thing. I ponied up for the absurdly overpriced six CD complete version (which justifies its exorbitant price tag with two beautiful hardback books of photos, but lacks the extensive liner notes that helped make last year’s Another Self-Portrait so fascinating), and although the slightly less-obsessive fan might well do just as well with the two CD selection, it’s still a thrilling experience, filled with a sense of play and delight in the possibility of the music. I’ll leave it to others to unpick the importance and pleasures of this collection, all I have to say is whether you think you’re a Dylan fan or not, try and lay your hands on a copy: it’s wonderful.

“It’s the devil I love”: Neko Case, Bob Dylan and David Bowie

I’ve just come across this little item on NPR about Neko Case’s new album, which includes a scrap of a song and a bit of her sounding pretty vulnerable about the process of putting a record together. It’s worth a listen, as is this great little featurette I posted a while back about the recording of her last album, Middle Cyclone (and indeed this amazing live version of ‘I wish I was the Moon’).

I’m always slightly bemused by the fact it’s Middle Cyclone that’s ended up being Case’s breakout album, because if the truth be told the album I find myself going back to the most is the one before it, the brilliant and luminous Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, a disc that might be less polished than Middle Cyclone, but is starker and stranger and filled with that very special sense of magic and discovery you get when a writer or musician or artist is suddenly liberated into the possibilities of something new.

Here’s an interview and a live performance of ‘Hold On, Hold On’. Jump to 7:24 for the song.

And while I’ve got you can I recommend you check out the rather hilarious Nash Edgerton video clip for ‘Duquesne Whistle’, the first track from Bob Dylan’s new album, Tempest (and while you’re there Alexis Petridis’ review of the album, which pretty much nails my feelings about it (not least because I’ve spent a lot of the past week listening to the extraordinarily brilliant Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde)) …

And finally you might want to take a look at Dorian Lynskey’s profile of David Bowie, published to celebrate the opening of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Bowie retrospective exhibition (an exhibition that also inspired the now-reclusive Bowie to release one of the funnier public statements I’ve read in a while). You might also want to check out Hugo Wilcken’s excellent 33 1/3 study of Bowie’s Low (available as a book and for Kindle) a book I can’t recommend enough. And if that’s not enough Bowie for one Monday perhaps you should take a look at this post of mine about him from a while back.

And because I can’t resist it, here’s Bowie’s ‘Song for Bob Dylan’, off Hunky Dory (another album I’ve been working hard lately) and a lovely HD video for ‘Life on Mars’.