Rough and Rowdy Ways is 79-year-old Bob Dylan’s 39th studio album, and his first of original material since 2012’s Tempest. The title of the album comes from the 1929 song “My Rough and Rowdy Ways” by Jimmie Rodgers. Between Tempest and the new album, Dylan released three albums (one of them being a triple album), of traditional pop standards covers, many of which had been recorded by Frank Sinatra, as well as seven volumes in his ongoing Bootleg Series. The ten new songs here, which cover nearly 71 minutes, have themes of love, mortality, menace, and doom, and make allusions to many historical figures and works of art. Dylan is backed by his touring band, he wrote all songs, and it is assumed that it was self-produced, though there are no producer credits given.
The album, his first album of new material since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, is one of my favorite releases of 2020 thus far. Below are a few comments about each song: I Contain Multitudes – This was the second song released prior to album’s release. The title comes from Song of Myself, 51 from Walt Whitman. Dylan sings the song beautifully in a low register over an acoustic guitar and cello. He’s a man of contradictions, a man of many moods, he contains multitudes
Key lyric: I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones And them British bad boys, the Rolling Stones
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More of this review and a review of Blues with Friends by Dion
American Standard is James Taylor’s 19th studio album, and first new album since 2015’s Before This World. The songs on the album are songs he has always known. He writes in the liner notes that most were part of his family’s record collection, the first music he heard as a kid growing up in North Carolina.
Work on the album began a little over two years ago when John Pizzarelli joined Taylor at the Barn, his recording studio in Massachusetts to work on a few songs. Taylor loved the sound of their two guitars together, and that forms the basic sound of these songs, giving it the feel of Taylor’s early recordings. As he reinterprets these songs, he is supported by his regular family of players who tour and record with him, as well as contributions from Viktor Krauss (upright bass), Stuart Duncan (violin) and Jerry Douglas (dobro). The album is produced by Taylor, along with Dave O’Donnell and John Pizzarelli.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs on the album:
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More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 – Bob Dylan
Just as he did with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beatles (The White Album), Giles Martin, son of the long-time Beatles producer George Martin, has given us a remixed anniversary project on the 50th anniversary of the release of Abbey Road. The Super Deluxe Anniversary Edition includes a new mix of the original album, which was produced by George Martin, which includes the famous closing suite on side 2, John Lennon’s “Come Together” and two of George Harrison’s best songs – “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”. In addition, this edition includes 23 outtakes and demos, which was what I was most excited about. Continue reading →
I love music in a number of different genres, including contemporary Christian music, Christian hip-hop/rap, worship and classic rock. Here are 8 new and upcoming albums that I’m excited about.
A Great Adventure – Steven Curtis Chapman
The latest project from Steven Curtis Chapman, arriving less than two months after his Deeper Roots: Where the Bluegrass Grows album, comes in both a DVD and audio recording format, filmed and recorded at the Gaither Studios in Alexandria, Indiana. The album chronicles Chapman’s life in song through live solo acoustic performances of some of his most popular songs, but no between song comments. Chapman has toured extensively performing solo concerts the past few years, and is very comfortable performing his songs backed only with his acoustic guitar. Listening to these songs, originally released between 1987 and 2018, reminds the listener of the blessing his music has been for more than thirty years now. Continue reading →
As has been my practice for a number of years, I am sharing some of my favorites from 2017 in a variety of categories. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, from worship to rap and hip-hop. Here is a list of my favorite music for 2017:
Top Pick: Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 (Deluxe Edition) – Bob Dylan. The deluxe edition of this release features 100 previously unreleased live and studio recordings from Dylan’s “Gospel period”.
Here are the rest of my ten favorite albums, in order:
Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Vol. 13 / 1979-1981 – Bob Dylan (Box Set, Deluxe Edition) ****
I had only been a Dylan fan for only a few years, and not yet a Christian, when Slow Training Coming was released in 1979. He would follow that album with Saved in 1979 and Shot of Love in 1981, in what has become known as his controversial “Gospel Period”. I saw two shows on his 1981 tour. By that time, he had started including some of his older songs in the setlist.
This new collection had been rumored to be the next Bootleg Series release for some time, and I was eagerly anticipating it. It was definitely worth the wait and is one of my favorite albums of the year.
The box set edition features 102 songs, includes 14 previously unreleased songs (including the outstanding “Making a Liar Out of Me”), unreleased live performances and rare studio outtakes. In fact, with the exception of “Ye Shall Be Changed,” which was included on the first in this series, 1991’s The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3), none of the tracks here have been previously released. The live versions include Dylan with a strong and animated voice, supported by an excellent backing band with female backing singers, bringing an energy to the new songs that the studio versions didn’t. In addition, I felt that the outtakes were often better than the officially released versions. Fans of Dylan know that he is always changing the arrangements of his songs in concert. This is demonstrated in the six versions of “Slow Train” included here, all of which have their own strengths.
Trouble In Mind: Bob Dylan’s Gospel Years – What Really Happened by Clinton Heylin. Lesser Gods. 320 pages. 2017 ****
The author writes that this book is very much about Dylan’s own response to both his newfound religious beliefs and the reaction it engendered by a cynical media. It serves as an excellent companion to Dylan’s recently released eight-disc edition of Trouble No More: The Gospel Years (The Bootleg Series Vol. 13). I enjoyed listening to the 102 songs on the box set as I read this book.
I had only been a Dylan fan for only a few years, and not yet a Christian, when Slow Training Coming was released in 1979. Dylan would follow that album with the poorly recorded Saved in 1979 and Shot of Love in 1981, in what has become known as his controversial “Gospel Period”. I saw two of the Midwest shows on his 1981 tour.
The author provides a detailed look at this fascinating period, detailing these three recordings, and the various other songs that Dylan wrote and recorded, many of which have just now been released. He also provides a very interesting look at Dylan in concert, from the early shows in which he only performed his new Christian songs and none of his older songs.
So, what really happened? The author states that Dylan, through the ministry of the Vineyard, accepted Christ as his Savior and was baptized. He then attended an intense three-and-a-half-month course studying about the life of Jesus and principles of the faith. Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth seems to have been a significant influential part of Dylan’s discipleship. This was a particularly prolific time of songwriting for Dylan.
The author tells us that the reaction from the fans and critics on the first night in San Francisco when he played only his Christian songs, would set the tone for six months of shows and define the likely critical reception when Slow Train Coming’s follow-up album, Saved, was released the following June. For that album, for the first time in his career, Dylan planned to go straight from the road to the studio. Although the album had some very good songs on it, the official release was poorly recorded, with little of the passion the songs had in concert. It was also a critical and commercial failure, and included cover art that Dylan’s label wasn’t happy with. The cover art was later replaced. Continue reading →
The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert – Bob Dylan ****
The album’s rather strange title is based on the fact that for decades a famous Bob Dylan bootleg known as The Royal Albert Hall Concert was incorrectly labelled, having actually been a performance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966. That performance was officially released in 1998 as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”. This is actually the recording of the Royal Albert Hall concert, recorded May 26, 1966, and originally recorded by Dylan’s CBS label for a live album. This is the 2-CD version, which is also included in the massive 36-CD 1966 Live Recordings box set.
From a historical context, Dylan was fresh off of the release of his classic Blonde on Blonde double album just ten days prior to the concert. His set included material from his incredible trio of albums from that period Bringing It All Back Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
The first CD is the acoustic set and contains seven songs, including an epic version of “Desolation Row”. Dylan’s voice sounds great, and he is backed only by his acoustic guitar and harmonica. The sound quality is excellent, and you hear the crowd’s appreciative but somewhat restrained applause.
The second CD is the electric set and has Dylan backed by the Hawks, who would become better known as The Band. The sound quality is not as a good as the acoustic set for some reason. The set begins with Dylan and the Hawks ripping into “Tell Me Momma”, a song he would never release a studio version of, and would play only 15 times on the 1966 tour, the final time being the concert after this one at the Royal Albert Hall. The music is raw and intense, led by Robbie Robertson’s guitar, and Dylan’s expressive vocals, spitting out the lyrics, quite a difference from the acoustic set. The crowd is energized and you hear Dylan interacting with them, stating before the start of a blistering “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”, “Are you talking to me? Come on up here and say that”. The blistering eight-song electric set ends with “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone”.
Recommended for Dylan fans and music fans who might not already have heard the earlier The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall Concert”. Continue reading →
You can never put Bob Dylan in a box. He will always surprise you. After 2015’s Shadows in the Night, he followed up with 2016’s Fallen Angels, a similar album of his unique interpretation of standards that had been recorded by Frank Sinatra. His last album of newly written material was 2012’s Tempest. So after winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, what does the 75-year old legend follow Fallen Angels up with, just over 10 months following that album? One might expect a stunning new album of songs about the state of our nation (racial tension, election of Trump, etc.). But Dylan rarely does what we expect him to do. Instead he returns with the excellent Triplicate, his 38th studio album, a 30-song, three-album (his first triple album), project of newly recorded covers of mostly pre-World War II/rock and roll music songs known as the Great American Songbook.
Dylan, his touring band – guitarists Charlie Sexton and Dean Parks, bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George Recile and steel guitarist Donnie Herron – and arranger James Harper, went to Hollywood’s Capitol studios to record live (vocals recorded with instrumentation) hand-chosen songs from American songwriters such as Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Harold Hupfield, and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. The project is thematically-arranged in three 10-song albums titled “’Til the Sun Goes Down,” “Devil Dolls” and “Comin’ Home Late”, each 32 minutes in length, which Dylan has said is the number of completion, a lucky number, and symbolic of light. Dylan has stated that the albums came out at the same time because thematically they are interconnected, one being the sequel to the other and each one resolving the previous one.
Interestingly, Sinatra released Trilogy in 1980, a three-album which too had a different theme for each album, “The Past,” “The Present” and “The Future.” The new project was produced by Dylan, under his usual pseudonym Jack Frost.
The 30 songs on Triplicate include classics such as “Stardust”, “As Time Goes By,” “September of My Years,” “Stormy Weather” and “Sentimental Journey” as well as less well-known songs such as Alec Wilder and Edwin Finckel’s “Where Is the One” and Jack Lawrence’s “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me.”
While many of the songs are slow ballads, often solemn and about loss, there are also a handful of more upbeat songs here as well. Dylan’s now road-weary voice, always an incredible instrument in itself, and which sounded really rough on Tempest, seems perfectly fitted for these songs and arrangements. He delivers vocal performances on these last three standards albums that I never thought I would hear from him again. Listen to his vocal and phrasing on “My One and Only Love”, for example. His touring band never gets in the way of Dylan’s heart-felt vocals within Harper’s intimate arrangements. Herron’s steel guitar is a highlight throughout. Horns are used sparingly, but effectively on songs such as “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Sentimental Journey”, and “My One and Only Love”.
I preferred the more upbeat songs on the album, with some of my favorites being “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Stardust”, “Day in and Day Out”, “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me”, “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans” and “That Old Feeling”. Dylan ends the album with “Why Was I Born?” written by Kern and Hammerstein in 1929. It includes the introspective lyrics “Why was I born? Why am I living? What do I get? What am I giving?”
While I would prefer new music from Dylan, I enjoyed and appreciated Triplicate, songs that Dylan says are meant for “the man on the street, the common man, the everyday person”. Will you enjoy it? My assessment is that if you enjoyed Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels, you’ll enjoy Triplicate. If you didn’t, you’ll probably want to pass on this one, though I would encourage you give it a listen before immediately dismissing it. Continue reading →
Bob Dylan’s 37th studio album is his second volume of songs that he has recorded that have been mostly sung by Frank Sinatra. In fact, of the twelve songs here that were personally picked by Dylan, only “Skylark” was not recorded by Sinatra.
The album was primarily recorded at the same time and with the same core band as 2015’s acclaimed Shadows in the Night, which reached the top ten in seventeen countries and debuted at number one in the U.K. So Shadows could have been a double album. Should we consider Fallen Angels an album of songs not good enough to be included on Shadows and only released because of the success of the initial release? Are these the leftovers? No, this album is a triumph, a masterpiece, from an artist that never fails to surprise. Dylan, who will turn 75 four days after this album is released, has done something like this before with two albums of folk covers, 1992’s Good As I Been to You and 1993’s World Gone Wrong.
The low-key arrangements of the songs, with Dylan being backed by his excellent touring band, with great work by Donny Herron on pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar and light drum, puts Dylan’s weathered but effective voice up front and center. It was self-produced by Dylan using his Jack Frost pseudonym. As with Shadows, his voice sounds the best it has in years. If you enjoyed Shadows you’ll enjoy this excellent new album.
Here are a few thoughts about each of the twelve songs: