By a Muddy Furlong, FEELS’ “Post Earth” Is the Best Record of 2019 So Far

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 22, 2019 by johnbuckley100

In the summer of 2016, FEELS — an L.A. punk band we would never have discovered but for the fact that their eponymous first album was produced by Ty Segall — made us grin from ear to ear. Their musical lineage was as easy to identify as a freckle-faced redhead standing between two auburn-haired adults. Hole must have married X, we thought, and spawned a precocious young ‘un. It was one of those instantly fun records for which you willingly risk permanent hearing loss, because the only way to listen to it was to crank it through your earbuds loud enough that your public transport seat mates stare straight ahead even as they edge away. Did that for about a month solid, and promptly forgot about them.

Well, not entirely. A year later, the estimable Kevin Morby released Shannon Lay’s solo album on his Woodsist imprint, and it was a pretty, folky wonder all the more notable for the fact that the lovely singing and acoustic finger-picking came courtesy of one of FEELS’ two guitarists. Living Water was a complete non sequitur, like learning that before Nick Drake released Pink Moon, he played lead guitar for Free or something. Shannon Lay’s solo album was delicate and melodic, and BORE ABSOLUTELY NO RESEMBLANCE to the raucous, minimalist band that Segall had taken to the studio the year before.

Those two records were sufficiently great, and the musical distance between them was as alluringly broad as the Grand Canyon’s North and South Rim, so that when Post Earth was released in late February, we didn’t need to be asked twice to listen to it. It’s the best record we’ve heard so far this year, and by a muddy furlong.

Concept album, sorta, it starts with an obvious reference to our current situation: “All smiles DJT/War dogs on the street/The land of the free/One nation under fraud.”

By the end of the record we are “Post Earth,” and why not? If these guys are rocking on Mars, it would be well worth the trip.

Like getting your DNA profile back from 23 and Me, on their second album, we’ve discovered FEELS has relatives we never knew they had, and of course Sleater-Kinney gets a prominent branch on the family tree. But aside from placing them in their rough taxonomy, the only things you really need to know about FEELS are these: their songs pack a post-punk punch. And whereas on their first rec some of the tunes might take odd detours from the melody, on this ‘un, Laena Geronimo and Shannon Lay never veer far from hummability, and they are warbling angels even if they candy-crush it for a few measures before returning us back to a state of Pylonesque grace. There isn’t a dull moment on the record. It is absolutely astonishing, and deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Gang o’ Four’s Entertainment and Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out, to name two records you know they’ve listened to.

Look, this is shaping up to be a good year. We love Hand Habits’ gorgeous placeholder and The Brian Jonestown Massacre hits at least a few points better than Anton Newcombe’s late-season batting average. We just this morning downloaded Its Real by D.C. homegirl Mary Timony’s Ex Hex, and it is a powdered party in a packet, ready to be added to nitroglycerine. Capsula are back with Bestiarum, and the best punk band in Bilbao is once again rocking Spain so hard, we expect to see Iberia floating toward the Canary Islands. Yes, of course, it will be a national holiday when Wand’s Laughing Matter gets released, and what the Cosmonauts have let us hear from Star 69 gives us veritable chills. And Great Googlymoogly, the Mekons return to the scene in the weeks ahead.

But if the year ended today, Post Earth would grab the laurels, and we’d be happy. Coming around the track near the end of the first quarter, FEELS leaves everyone else wiping their goggles.

Understanding Black and White Photography In a New Way

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 5, 2019 by johnbuckley100

All photographs taken with the Leica Monochrom

When I was a young photography enthusiast and learning to take pictures with an SLR camera, I loved black and white photography principally because I could develop and print photos in my school’s crude darkroom. I had no real appreciation of black and white per se, no consciousness of tones of grey, or to “thinking in black and white.” Black and white was the medium of journalism, and we all saw pictures every day in newspapers and magazines. I didn’t trouble to think about monochrome photography in the great tradition of an art form I barely understood. I was aware that if photography was “art,” surely its greatest artists all shot in black and white, and the classic pictures I saw — Paul Strand lived one town away from me — looked better than what was on the front page each day of the New York Daily News. Naturally, as soon as I was in a position to take pictures and pay to have them developed, I began shooting Kodachrome. And when many years later I got serious again about photography, I exulted in Fuji Velvia film, with its deep blues and reds.

It was only relatively late in the process of rediscovering photography that I recaptured my early love of black and white images, only this time for a completely different reason. I had begun studying in earnest many great photographers, ranging from Cartier-Bresson to Ansel Adams. For the first time, I became conscious of tones, of the minute differences in what Adams divined as a 10-point scale between white and black.

If there was one thunderclap moment, an epiphany when my life as a photographer changed, it was when Leica did the craziest thing, producing, in 2012, a camera called the Monochrom. The Leica Monochrom is digital, but it does not record photos with color. Walking out the door with it is like leaving home with only black and white film in your camera. Once I began using a Monochrom, more and more, I began visualizing images in black and white, began to focus on luminance values, not chromatic information. About half of all the pictures I took were now in black and white — street photography, landscapes. It didn’t matter. I began instinctively to understand the concept of tonal values.

Although there is a wide range of color photographers whose work I love in part because of their color palate — Alex Webb, William Eggleston, Steve McCurry, and in particular, Saul Leiter — the photographers I wanted to study were the ones who shot in black and white. Sebastião Salgado was an inspiration not only for his humanism, but because the pictures he took, even scenes of jungles and flora and fauna, looked so much cooler in black and white than they ever would have in color. I became a huge fan of a local D.C. photographer named Astrid Riecken whose use of chiaroscuro on streets I knew filled me with inspiration and awe — how did she do that? Through Black+White Photography magazine I learned about a young photographer from London named Alan Schaller whose work is simply extraordinary. When the Leica Store DC hosted a two-day photo workshop with him in February, I went.

It would be unfair to Alan, from whom 12 of us learned an enormous amount, to relate what he taught us here. Study his photos. Attend one of his workshops. I’ll say only this. He got me to understand in a way I never had before that black and white photography is just that. Black and white. Blacks. Whites. Shades in between. Accentuating any of those elements is one key to making a memorable photograph.

I know this sounds obvious. And it’s not precisely what he taught us. He had very specific advice for us on both how to take pictures and how to process them in Lightroom. I don’t think I’d ever previously understood how using exposure compensation to amp up the darkness in an image puts emphasis on what is in the light. And of course, once I thought that through, I went back to photographs I’d collected, to work I’d worshipped, and I began to get it, began to understand “black and white photography” specifically not as monochrome photography. B+W as the combination of intense blacks, intense whites, and shades of grey in between.

Since that workshop, the weekends have been rainy. I haven’t been able to test the techniques I learned at that workshop at the magic intersection of bright afternoon sunshine and the shadows caused by buildings. Nonetheless, I’ve been out there, exploring. Taking some bad photographs. But also photographs that astonish me because I can see things in a way I never did before.

I’ve had to take a number of photos indoors. In so doing, though, I’ve gotten a much better understanding of the magic you can create accentuating the blacks and the whites in an image. And new ways of exploring tonality: the range of shades that Ansel Adams would think of as Zones 3-7 are all the more satisfying if you anchor them with Zones 1 & 2, and Zones 8-10.

I’m just getting started. Learning how to see in black and white, which is what I thought I’d begun to do when I purchased a Monochrom six and a half years ago, is just the beginning. Learning to see in BLACK and WHITE is an incredible discovery, and I’m grateful to Shaller for having gotten me to think this way.

John Buckley is a photographer and writer in Washington, D.C. whose images can be seen at John Buckley: In Black and White and Color.

Coming To Terms With Tim Presley of White Fence

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Let’s start this here. The most interesting modern music since 2010 has been created by three Californian men, John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall of 1000 bands, and Tim Presley, mostly of White Fence. Of the three, Presley is — to me — the most enigmatic, the most frustrating, and in many ways, the greatest genius. We come here not to bury Presley, but to praise him.

It’s not a competition, really. In his various incarnations around Thee Oh Sees, Oh Sees, OCS, etc., Dwyer has produced a world of music that is never uninteresting. Ty Segall has made the classic rock’n’roll of our time, his impressive work ethic and protean abilities dazzling us with his growth into a towering industry unto himself. Both Dwyer — by recording 2013’s White Fence: Live in San Francisco — and Segall — by teaming up with Presley for two albums, Ty Segall and White Fence’s 2012 Hair and last year’s Joy, not to mention going into the studio with him and playing drums on the 2014 White Fence masterpiece, For The Recently Found Innocent — have helped their genius pal record the work that, were a comet to hit Los Angeles tomorrow, he’d be remembered by for all eternity.

Presley is the Bode Miller of rock’n’roll, often frustrating because he doesn’t live up to the potential others define for him — okay, me — but when he’s on, he gets gold medals, he is astounding. As with Bode, you get the feeling that Presley doesn’t really give a shit. Several of the albums he’s recorded under the name White Fence consist of tapes made in his room and released into the world in underwhelming lo-fi. Yet on Live in San Francisco, backed by an ace band, at the 2015 Levitation festival in the mud outside Austin where we first saw him, and — we’re getting there — last Monday night in Baltimore — its clear that Presley’s all in, that he can take those slight songs recorded in his bedroom and owing to his genius as guitarist, songwriter and performer, transform them into intoxicatingly weird punk rock grit. He knows what he’s got, he’s casually confident even if somewhat reticent. His talent is not something he wants to just throw away.

If so, though, then why are the two albums he recorded with Cate LeBon under the name Drinks so unsatisfying? Why is the most recent White Fence album — released by “Tim Presley & White Fence” as I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk — ultimately reduced to a few great songs, two fascinating electronic music experiments, and some noodling you won’t listen to twice? Why the inconsistency? Does he have equally strong convictions about each of his incarnations?

We don’t know. But we know this. Monday night with Ty Segall at Ottobar in Baltimore, the two played glorious psychedelic punk rock. It was occasionally sloppy, a mess. And it was often transcendent. It became evident that in a strange parallel to the role Nick Lowe played with Dave Edmunds when they toured as Rockpile, Segall — the far bigger name, the person who’s cracked at least satellite radio — was there to actualize Presley. Like yeast making bread rise, Segall did his thing, which was to let the 300 thrashing bodies in a little firetrap with un-ironic signs forbidding crowd surfing appreciate the genius that is Tim Presley.

We’ve given up worrying about Tim Presley. We’re taking the long view. His 2010 album with Darker My Love, Alive As You Are, was Tulip Frenzy’s Album O’ The Year, as was White Fence’s For The Recently Found Innocent four years later. The White Fence live album ranks for us up there with Get Yer Ya-Yas Out and Live At Leeds as the best concert recordings ever. Seeing him with Ty this past week made me realize that about 25 minutes of their two albums together is pure and unadulterated bliss, among the best work either has ever made. Among the best music of the past decade.

We’re willing to sit through lo-fi albums made in Presley’s bedroom, underwhelming combos, slight solo albums and the like to get to the good stuff. You see, Tim Presley’s good stuff is for the ages.

On Tulip Frenzy’s 11th Birthday

Posted in Leica Images with tags , , , on January 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Snake River Overlook NYD 18-5Eleven years ago tomorrow, the very first post of Tulip Frenzy featured a frozen image of the Grand Teton taken from the Snake River Overlook north of the town of Jackson, Wyoming. That first posted picture was taken early in the morning on the day after a snowfall when it was too cold to ski. It was taken with a Leica M8 and, I’m betting, a 50mm Summilux lens.

The picture above, and those that follow, were taken at sunset — which means around 4:45 in Wyoming on New Year’s Day — and using a Leica SL, a different kind of camera, but with the same lineage and spirit.  Along the way, hundreds of posts, many of them photographs, not rock criticism, which was the site’s original purpose. Much has changed in my life and our country.  But I am very happy to have the opportunity to take photos of the Tetons, on freezing cold days, in the company of my family.

2019 is getting off to a nice start.  Enjoy these images. More to come.

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Ty Segall’s “Freedom’s Goblin” Is Tulip Frenzy’s 2018 Album O’ The Year

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Who are we kidding? Everyone knows the best record of 2018 is the reissue of The Beatles. Unless it was Bob Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks. But given that technically neither album saw its original release in 2018 — the Beatles record came out half a century ago, and you’d be middle aged if you were born the year of Dylan’s album — let’s make way for the young ‘uns. And in this, 2018 was a good vintage.

1. Ty Segall     Freedom’s Goblin

We could not be happier that Ty released a double album that was chock full o’ classic songs, cooked up on his own or with the usual suspects, Mikal Cronin in particular.  We have been waiting for the better part of the decade for Ty to put everything together, and on Freedom’s Goblin he really did.  Full-band renderings of complete songs, stylistic impatience that heard him sound like Neil Young and No Wave bands nearly back to back, Freedom’s Goblin cemented Mr. Segall’s standing as his generation’s brightest light, even as it stood heads and tails above all others as the Album of The Year. That he subsequently released a prett-y fine rec of covers only brought even deeper appreciation for his version here of Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s A Winner,” which would have had Prince clamoring to join Ty’s funky band.

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2. Amen Dunes    Freedom

When Damon McMahon released Love in 2014, it might have landed from outer space; it was so original, so unique in its Freak Folk sound that  it was hard to get a grip on it. We looked forward to its follow up, and when it didn’t arrive the next year or the one after that, we got concerned. In January, though, “Miki Dora” was released and it was astonishing, a song about a real-life ’60s surfer that literally crested at the end, crashing on the beach with melody and power sufficient to sweep us all to sea. Freedom is a beautiful, ambitious and accomplished album, an attempt by McMahon to reach a bigger audience.  It succeeded on all fronts: strong songwriting, incredible singing, and a band that Dylan could snatch for his Never Ending Tour and it would all make sense.

 

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3. Menace Beach      Black Rainbow Sound

We admit that we’d never heard of the Leeds duo until Brix Smith, ex-Fall and current chief pirate in Brix & the Extricated, tweeted in August that she’d contributed to the new Menace Beach album.  One listen and we canceled our summer plans. Black Rainbow Sound may have spent more time in our earbuds than any other record the whole year long. While there were some reference points those of us lucky enough to have heard Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark the first time round, and even Young Marble Giants, could use to place them in their proper taxonomy, we’ve previously written that the combo of AC Newman and Neko Case, otherwise known as the New Pornographers, may be the portal through which to approach Menace Beach. All we know is that there wasn’t an album we listened to the whole year long that trawls as many hooks. Despite its synthetic composition, Black Rainbow Sound is the most natural power pop album of this year and many others.

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4. Brian Jonestown Massacre      Something Else

The Tulip Frenzy conference room erupted in more charges of cheating than were heard anywhere this year other than in the North Carolina Board of Elections, but the prevailing consensus, if not the rulebook, dictated that Anton Newcombe gets special credit unavailable to others.  The fact is, we listened to more good music produced by Anton this year than any other artist, but he’s so fucking prolific, he tends to drop songs that should go on the main album just because they’re done and he has a single he wants to put out. So in our mind — and in our judging — we included “Drained,” the B-side to “Hold That Thought,” which was both the first single and the first song on Something Else, the umptyumpth BJM album of the last decade.  And this put it over the top. Adding just that one song rendered an album featuring “Who Dreams of Cats” — among the best songs of Anton’s career — into something really special.  (The Full Newcombe this year would have included the second album Anton made with Tess Parks, plus that combo’s E.P. featuring “Grunwald,” a song so great Iggy Pop covered it in August.) So, yes, we apply special rules to Anton’s records.  He deserves it, and if you don’t know that, we have nothing to talk about.

 

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5. Wand      Perfume

It was a free for all, the judging room this year.  Some of our editors held out the verdict that, at just under 30 minutes, Wand’s Perfume was more like an E.P.  At least not like a proper album, especially since last year’s Plum was clearly deserving of its (Co-) Album of the Year status.  But then we sat down the recalcitrant judges and played them the beautiful “I Will Keep You Up” and they began to weaken, one of the holdouts even willing to say, “That’s the most sublime song Cory Hansen has ever written and Wand’s ever released.” It was when we all listened together to the Tom Verlaine-like guitar perfection of “The Gift” that towels were thrown in and it was clear: Wand’s Perfume is a real album, and the 5th best of 2018.

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6. Spiritualized      And Nothing Hurt

Jason Pierce famously claimed that And Nothing Hurt would be his final album, until people listened to it, went crazy, and petitioned him to do some more. Happily, we think he’s agreed. This was not as fine an album as 2012’s Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, but that was Spiritualized’s best album since Ladies and Gentleman, We Are Floating In Space, which was only the best album of the 1990s, which was only the best decade of music since the ’60s. So, you can see what And Nothing Hurt was up against, and what it pulled off: a soulful album, sung in Pierce’s typically exhausted voice, but backed up once again with a big band and chorus revolving around the tracks he put down in a home studio. This is a road album, something to put on the cassette deck strapped to the dashboard of the dark green 1971 XKE as you motor on up to the Cotswolds.  Gorgeous stuff.

 

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7. Oh Sees       Smote Reverser

John Dwyer has now recorded five albums with this version of Thee Oh Sees, and in the studio, the double-drum arrangement with him playing guitar like some combo of Hendrix, John McLaughlin and Pere Ubu’s Tom Herman really works.  Smote Reverser had the same combination of well-strategized opuses and songs that crush the skull.  On a song like “Last Peace,” which opens up into free-wheeling punk jazz that thrills the soul while still stunning the senses, it works.  On Deep Purple-inflected crushers like “Enrique El Cobrador,” we admit we yearn for the comparative delicacy of earlier incarnations. Still, in a year when Ty Segall takes top honors, we’re glad that Dwyer’s still in scoring distance. Next year could be his year.

 

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8.  Parquet Courts     Wide Awaaaake

The Parquet Courts have, since 2013, been such a reliable producer of great records we’ve overlooked ’em when it comes time to hand out the prizes.  Parquet Courts? Oh yeah, sure, I only listened to their record for, like, the entire summer, but now I’ve moved on to other things… Not this year! Like fellow Brooklynites Woods, Parkay Quartz have figured out how to incorporate reggae, Latin and ’70s funk into their output, and it’s all really good! These guys are so much of an institution that a band like Bodega could put out an album that is to Parquet Courts as, say, Teenage Fanclub were to Big Star, and no one even mentioned the pure homage! We love this band, and Wide Awake is just begging for the uninitiated to take the plunge.

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9. Calexico       The Thread That Keeps Us

Seeing Calexico again was one of the highlights of 2018, and so was listening to The Thread That Keeps Us, their best album since 2008’s Carried To Dust. The sheer conceptual grandeur of Joey Burns and John Covertino’s particular take on music that straddles our southern border had tremendous resonance in a year when evil forces tried to turn that permeable membrane into cement. When we hear the Mexicali horns on “Under The Wheels,” synapses fire like our taste buds after biting into a pepper. This is the soundtrack of America as it actually is, not as it is wished to be by MAGA-hatted assholes.

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10. The Limiñanas      Shadow People

Our year began in the cold of January listening to the hypnotic, glorious sounds of The Limiñanas, a duo from Perpignon, France caught deep in Anton Newcombe’s orbit, Praise the Lord. In fact, the song “Istanbul Is Sleepy” features Anton on vocals, and it may be his most powerful singing performance of the year. There is something about the infectious, garage propulsion of this band that makes one think of late night bacchanalia after the grapes are in, when Peter Hook plugs in his bass, as he did on this record, and Anton plugs in his guitar, and we’re all crawling over the stage in some cavernous warehouse, grokking deeply the global glories of rock’n’roll where you don’t even need to speak the language to know what’s great. Shadow People was incredible, and so are The Liminañas.

On The Fortnight Between The Beatles’ White Album and the Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on November 17, 2018 by johnbuckley100

 

All week long, we’ve immersed ourselves in the 6-CD 50th anniversary release of The Beatles.  In both Giles Martin’s revelatory new mix and with the legendary Esher Demos finally available, the album opens up in a way that both highlights the collective genius that was The Beatles, and provides a master course in band creativity.  But we had not realized until yesterday that while The White Album came out on November 22nd, 1968, what is likely the Rolling Stones’ greatest album, Beggars Banquet, followed two weeks later on December 6th.  Two weeks that changed our musical world.

They couldn’t be more different.  The Beatles is packed to the gills with creativity, whimsy, at once hard rocking and delicate, a summing up of the pop music Lennon and McCartney had been producing since Rubber Soul and something far different; a carry over from the near psychedelic past of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the off-balance Magical Mystery Tour and something wholly new.  Beggars Banquet, on the other hand, is a quieter, country-blues return to basics as the Stones reconfigured themselves largely without founding member Brian Jones, incorporating Nicky Hopkins, the greatest piano-playing side man in rock, as functionally a full member of the band.

The Beatles were winding themselves up to the explosion that would shut down the band, the inevitable end where the creativity among three of the greatest songwriters the world has known would, like a rocket with a MIRV warhead, shoot off in separate directions.  The Stones, with songs like “Street Fighting Man” and “Stray Cat Blues,” prepared for a run as a live band that would continue to this day.

We don’t want to set this up as a competition.  In some ways, it’s no contest.  The Beatles may be the single greatest album of music the surprisingly long-lasting genre known as rock has ever produced.  And yet Beggars Banquet could well be my entry in the next edition of Stranded, that wonderful Greil Marcus-edited book in which rock critters were forced to choose a single album to take with them to a desert island.

In part because we have the Esher Demos, where we can get a sense of how the Beatles returned from the Maharishi’s Rishikesh retreat with competing notebooks filled with songs, in part because we finally, through the liner notes, understand who played what and how the songs came together, the White Album is comprehensible not just as an iconic, massive collection of songs, but as a single piece of art. A deep dive suggests that John Lennon, in the creative turmoil that was leaving Cynthia and falling in love with Yoko, produced his greatest batch of songs; Paul McCartney, long slagged as a control freak, was the multi-instrumentalist genius that helped both Lennon’s and George Harrison’s songs reach their full potential.

What is perhaps best about the new release is the way that Giles Martin has reconfigured the songs from the inside out, and with a mix that undoes, largely, what his father did with the technology and sensibility of his day.  Martin fils reveals for our ears what long has been hidden.  Quick example: on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Eric Clapton’s guitar, which long dominated our understanding of the song, is reduced in the mix, but the piano and acoustic guitar in the middle now shine brighter.  It’s not subtle, it’s amazing. And that’s just one example among many that take less exalted songs like “Birthday” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and places them on a pedestal, and elevates “Dear Prudence,” likely our favorite Beatles song ever, allowing us to see the whole world in 3:55.

Beggars Banquet wasn’t designed to be a competitor to The Beatles.  Where the Beatles were, less than 18 months later, still building on Sgt. Pepper’s (Magical Mystery Tour having been the rare misstep made understandable by the realization that it came in the immediate wake of Brian Epstein’s death), the Stones were living down their derivative flop, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request.  The Beatles were pushing to see just how far they could go, while the Stones were getting back to basics, playing the blues, woodshedding with acoustic guitars, but also going deep into a new formula of songwriting that, between December ’68 and May ’72, when Exile On Main Street was released, would culminate in their iconic oeuvre.  Both bands had a remarkable work ethic — the Beatles exhausting the studio staff (George Martin went on a holiday to Greece midway through the sessions) as they perfected their album, the Stones setting off on a half-century run of touring, largely off the strength of songs from Beggars Banquet and the next three albums. It’s hard not to admire both bands at some core level, though in part because of the work here, in part because they left us just 18 months later, it’s harder not to think the Beatles were gods, the Stones amazingly talented mortals.

We love Beggars Banquet, and the new mix, released yesterday to mark its 50th birthday on December 6th, is the one we will listen to now, as we still do often.  But this new mix and six-CD release of The Beatles is the greatest musical event of the season, as it was in 1968.

To have two of the greatest albums in the history of the art form come out within a fortnight of one another shows just how volcanic were the cultural forces in play in 1968.  We face, in 2018, an even greater crisis than we did in ’68, but the music being released this year does not seem likely to be so remembered 50 years from now.  We know a smart 21-year old who, when asked if he can appreciate the Beatles, replies instantly, “The Beatles invented music.”  And so they did.  If you’ve any doubt on that score, just listen to the new release of the White Album.

Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” Finally Lives Up To Its Name

Posted in Music with tags , , on November 2, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Gloss on the tracks may have been a better way of describing Dylan’s greatest collection of love songs, at least as they were first released into the world.  We didn’t know that before, but we do now that the underlying songs, what Dylan first intended to release as a follow up to Planet Waves, have been revealed.

I had known from Clinton Heylin’s excellent biography Behind the Shades that Dylan recorded most of these songs, in September 1974, in the familiar confines of the Columbia Records studios in New York, several with just his guitar and harmonica as accompaniment.  And I knew that somewhere along the way, he’d scrapped those versions, recorded in less than a week, only to re-record them with a band in Minneapolis. His brother, as I recall, had predicted the album would be a commercial flop, and after the success of Planet Waves and his ’74 tour with the Band, Dylan wanted his comeback, and his return to Columbia after his interlude with Geffen Records, to continue.

What I didn’t know until I read Jon Pareles’ surprisingly good piece this week in the Times was that when Blood On The Tracks was released in 1975, Dylan had the tracks slightly speeded up, which to me accounts for why, classic song that it may be, “Tangled Up In Blue” has never been completely satisfying.  It has always seemed just a little off.

On the one-album set, released today, of outtakes entitled More Blood, More Tracks, the version of “Tangled Up In Blue,” with just Dylan and his acoustic guitar is a revelation.  Hearing it in this version has a similar impact to hearing the versions of “Someday Baby” or “Can’t Wait” on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.  You can never again go back to listening to the “original,” never go back to the song that was released.  In almost every case, the versions Dylan, or his management and record company, chose not to release are more raw, more emotionally affecting, less commercial than what we first heard.

As with those songs, and so much of what comes out on his remarkable Bootleg Series, all of the songs on More Blood, More Tracks are the way we should have heard them.  The real Blood On the Tracks, finally available, consists of simple, blues-based acoustic folk songs, enraptured memories of the women in his life — Suze Rotolo, Sara Lownds, Ellen Bernstein — narrated by a series of characters invented for just this occasion.

Instead what we got in 1975, and what was still good enough that it has long been considered one of Dylan’s classic works, was a sped-up, fairly slick pop album, even if the instrumentation was dependent on its folk underpinnings.

But this is the real thing — “Meet Me in the Morning” containing all the pain of Dylan having to explain to his children why their mother wasn’t with them, “Simple Twist of Fate” cutting deep enough for real blood to drip from the turntable’s needle.

Dylan once had to chase away the likes of A.J. Weberman, who was intent on literally going through his garbage in order to find out more about the resonant cultural figure of his age.  We live now in an era in which, due to the miracles of technology, scientists and restorers can look under the paint to see Leonardo’s original brushstrokes.  Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate, has for more than 20 years freely flung open the vaults and shown us everything that was in there, sparing us from having to go through his garbage or operate an X-ray machine to find out what’s underneath the art that was released into the world.  Little by little, bit by bit, he’s giving us everything.

Today we learned how much was missing from an album already considered one of the high points of the ’70s.  Today we learned how great Blood on the Tracks really is.  This is a revelation and we are, all of us, so much better for it.

 

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