Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series goes from strength to strength

When I first learned the content of Bootleg Series vol 8 Tell Tale Signs, I was, I’ll admit it, slightly underwhelmed.

Having lived with the release for some weeks, my doubts have long since evaporated. This is a very strong Dylan album indeed. I’d rank it as third strongest of the Bootleg Series volumes – after vols 1-3 (a masterpiece) and vol 4 Live 1966 (another masterpiece).

Let’s hope Columbia/Sony will keep releasing treasures from the vaults for many years. The Bootleg Series just keeps underlining the depth and breadth of Dylan’s peerless art.

Gerry Smith

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hidden riches on your Dylan shelves – encore #1 & #2

>>I’ve … probably missed some gems - please let me know.<<

* Thanks to Martin Cowan:

“Further to your post, check out the notes to Tell Tale Signs by Peter Stone Brown on the Dylan website:

“They read like liner notes but, as we know, Ratso's ramblings adorn TTS. So, not sure what these are but they make interesting reading all the same.”

* And thanks to Simone Brill:

“Not sure many would describe it as ‘riches’, but the ‘deluxe photo book of Bob Dylan singles from around the world’ included in the Tell Tale Signs Exclusive Deluxe Edition probably qualifies for a mention.”

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hidden riches on your Dylan shelves

Becoming acquainted with Tell Tale Signs – the packaging as well as the CDs – reminded me that I routinely overlook hidden riches on the Dylan album shelves.

Quite apart from the high quality recordings, the various album and DVD box set products include well-executed, extensive booklets full of expert discussion of the music, plus beautiful photographs.

I have a high regard for this aspect of Columbia/Sony’s tending of the Dylan legacy.

In case you also tend to overlook these riches, here’s details of what’s under your nose, but largely invisible:

* CDs
Liner notes pp4-41 by Cameron Crowe; About The Songs pp42-62,
Cameron Crowe with Bob Dylan, 64pp, 1985

Bootleg Series vols 1-3
Liner notes by John Bauldie, 72pp, 1991

Bootleg Series vol 4 Live 1966
Liner notes by Tony Glover, 56pp, 1998

Bootleg Series vol 5 Live 1975
Liner notes by Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman, 56pp, 2002

Bootleg Series vol 6 Live 1964,
Liner notes by Sean Wilentz, 56pp, 2004

Bootleg Series vol 7 No Direction Home: The Soundtrack
Liner notes by Andrew Loog Oldham, Eddie Gorodetsky and
Al Kooper, 60pp, 2005

Bootleg Series vol 8 Tell Tale Signs
Liner notes by Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman, 64pp, 2008

The Essential Bob Dylan
Liner notes by Patrick Humphries, 12pp, 2001

DYLAN Limited Edition Box Set
Liner notes by Bill Flanagan, 40pp, 2007

* DVDs
Bob Dylan - Don’t Look Back (‘65 Tour De Luxe Edition)
Reprint of 1968 book, by D.A. Pennebaker, 159pp, 2007

The Other Side Of The Mirror:
Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965
Liner notes by Tom Piazza, 20pp, 2007

Masked And Anonymous: music from the motion picture
Liner notes by Alan Light, 16pp, 2003

I’ve purposely excluded the Traveling Wilburys box, but probably missed some gems - please let me know.

Gerry Smith

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tell Tale Signs: the verdict – encore #3

Thanks to Jeremy Blackstone:

“Martin Cowan deserves warm thanks for his detailed examination of the three CDs of Tell Tale Signs. While I agree with many of his conclusions, here are some where my views differ:


* Duncan and Brady: “A superb way to kick off the most expensive disc Dylan has ever released!”

Doesn’t work for me at all.

* Most of the Time # 2: “Superfluous.”

One of the best tracks on the three discs!

* Things Have Changed: “the vocal is lacklustre - not a great performance, Dylan sounds on autopilot here.”

A wonderful version.

* Born In Time: “inferior in every way to the superb Under The Red Sky version.”

I prefer this to all other versions.

“So there you go – over the three discs of the Deluxe version of Tell Tale Signs, there are many points of agreement and many disagreements between Martin and me.

“Does this indicate Dylan has just delivered another richly layered masterpiece? I suspect the answer’s ‘yes’.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasonal greetings!

Seasonal greetings to you and yours, dear reader.

Whether you’re celebrating the birth of Christ, the winter solstice, or just a well-earned break from everyday toil, it’s time to slow down, be kind to yourself and reflect.

No blog here tomorrow, 25 Dec, but the site will be back to normal on Friday, 26 December. I hope you’ll be calling in!

Gerry Smith

Tell Tale Signs: the verdict – encore #2

Thanks to Jeremy Blackstone:

“Martin Cowan deserves warm thanks for his detailed examination of the three CDs of Tell Tale Signs. While I agree with many of his conclusions, here are some where my views differ:


* Series of Dreams – ‘in every way inferior to the previous Bootleg Series version’. Not to me; an interesting new take which underlines the song’s majesty.

* The Lonesome River – ‘A nice recording, with Dylan on fine form vocally’. I think Martin is slightly ungenerous here: musically this is the pick of the crop. The exquisite harmonies with Ralph Stanley contradict the Dylan-can’t-sing bores.

* Cross The Green Mountain – ‘late-period Dylan gem… - emotional, a cinematic tour de force. Superb.’ I like this one, but to me it falls short of epic status.

“More disagreements - about songs on CD3 - to follow.”

… to be continued…

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tell Tale Signs: the verdict - encore

Thanks to Jeremy Blackstone:

“Martin Cowan deserves warm thanks for his detailed examination of the three CDs of Tell Tale Signs. While I agree with many of his conclusions, here are some where my views are the exact opposite – I think Martin gets it wrong in each case:

* Dignity - slight, Dylan-by-numbers song.

* Everything is Broken - a slight song in Dylan's canon.

Both, especially Dignity, sound like important, high quality songs to me.

* Huck's Tune - One of the gems of this set, this song packs a huge emotional punch in the way the wistful lyrics, the folky tune and Dylan's heartfelt vocals all come together.

* 32-20 Blues - great outtake from World Gone Wrong.

Both sound overrated to me – under-written, slight.

“More disagreements about songs on CD2 and CD3 to follow.”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tell Tale Signs: the verdict – CD3

Thanks to Martin Cowan:


1) Duncan and Brady
A stonking cover from the Bromberg sessions - has much of the gut-bucket flavour of Under The Red Sky. Loose as a goose vocal from Dylan, great smears of guitar, great fun, fantastic. A superb way to kick off the most expensive disc Dylan has ever released!

2) Cold Irons Bound
A great live version of this Time Out Of Mind classic - Dylan is fully focussed as he attacks the vocals, and the backing from his band swirls and soars like a great rattling stagecoach - fantastic.

3) Mississippi # 3
A dreadful reggae lilt adorns this, the weakest version of this song collected here. Lyrically all over the place, Dylan has yet to focus his late great narrative. One for completists only.

4) Most of the Time # 2
Rather like the version of Series of Dreams over on CD 2, this sounds to me like exactly the same vocal as the released Oh Mercy version. The phrasing and intonation is identical - the only difference is a couple of lyric changes, which were obviously "dropped in" prior to the release of Oh Mercy. In fact, listening again to this, it sounds like the new words are actually "dropped in" to this version. Superfluous.

5) Ring Them Bells # 2
A longer intro, less cluttered, naked vocal from Dylan - this kicks off starting like a superb alternate take. However, we've been had. While the first verse is clearly a different version, the rest of the song is the same vocal track as the officially released Oh Mercy version. Shame.

6) Things Have Changed
I've never been as much of a fan of this song as Dylan obviously is and this version is a case in point. The backing from the band is great, but the vocal is lacklustre - not a great performance, Dylan sounds on autopilot here.

7) Red River Shore # 2
Another version of this masterpiece, more muted than that which appears earlier on CD1. Dylan sounds like he's maybe sung it one time too many, and the arrangement is not as sympathetic as the earlier version.

8) Born In Time
Another Lanois stab at this tune, long available to collectors and inferior in every way to the superb Under The Red Sky version.

9) Trying To Get To Heaven
This is one to get my pulse racing as Dylan does that which he is often accused of - completely reworks a song's melody so it becomes another song. This is Dylan as Sinatra, a lounge version of the Time Out Of Mind masterpiece. Committed vocal, superbly realised alternate tune, he's done to this what he did to I Want You and Tangled Up In Blue during the 1978 tour - magical and heartbreaking.

10) Marchin’ to the City # 2
Kicks off with some Rainy Day Women drums, and bounces along to an organ-driven back beat; not as good as the version that graces CD 1 but intriguing none the less.

11) Can't Wait # 2
Spooky organ intro, spooky Dylan vocal. Mesmerising, this meanders along in mysterious and moving ways. Dylan as supreme blues singer, just great.

12) Mary and the Soldier
Another fantastic and touching performance from the sessions that spawned the superb World Gone Wrong album. Flawless.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tell Tale Signs: the verdict – CD2

Thanks to Martin Cowan:


1) Mississippi # 2
Again, lyrically intact, but the arrangement is all over the place here. Dylan seems to be singing in a key which doesn't suit his voice - way too low - this version of what is probably Dylan's last great masterpiece makes you realise why he didn't release it on Time Out Of Mind.

2) 32-20 Blues
A great outtake from World Gone Wrong. Nice to have this at last.

3) Series of Dreams
This is where the pickings start to get slightly slim. This is in every way inferior to the previous Bootleg Series version. In fact, the vocal take sounds to me exactly the same as the Bootleg version (I don't believe Dylan would be able to sing a song the same way twice even if he wanted to.) The only thing this includes is a second verse which was obviously excised from the previously released version.

4) God Knows
As with Born In Time, this is Lanois' version of what became a vastly superior song in the hands of the Was brothers on the criminally underrated Under The Red Sky LP. Forgettable.

5) Can't Escape From You
This kicks off like Can't Help Falling In Love - Dylan growls and croaks in his best Tom Waits fashion, and the lilting melody recalls the folky nature of Huck's Tune. My only reservation about this is that is that he does sound in trouble vocally and there is perhaps one too many verses. But overall, an interesting selection.

6) Dignity
Dreadful rockabilly version of this Dylan-by-numbers song. Horrible rubbery sounding bass, with Dylan sounding like he couldn't care less - a clunker.

7) Ring Them Bells
Dylan's 1992 Supper Club shows have gone down in folklore, especially as the shows were billed as Dylan unplugged (before he recorded his contribution to that franchise) and were allegedly filmed. It was widely hoped that an audio/visual release for these shows would make up a future Bootleg Series release. The fact that this heartfelt version of this song appears here would seem to suggest that this is all we are going to get. Dylan is vocally committed and this performance highlights Bucky Baxter's sympathetic steel guitar. Lovely.

8) Cocaine Blues
A similar version to this has been previously released on the Love Sick CD singles, and this version adds nothing.

9) Ain't Talkin’
Very similar in pace to the Modern Times version, though this has a rockier edge - in fact, the backing track sounds very similar to What Was It You Wanted. Not sure that this adds much to the previously released version.

10) The Girl On the Green Briar Shore
A nice live version. Remember when Dylan would play acoustic guitar on his own? This is a reminder of those days.

11) Lonesome Day Blues
This sounds like a field recording - somewhat tinny - and collectors have already got this version as it used to be available as part of the now sadly defunct performances section of the official Dylan website. That said this is a smoking version of the “Love And Theft” song, with Dylan attacking the vocals and the soaring guitars kicking up a right old racket behind him.

12) Miss the Mississippi
More sessions that have gone down in folklore, those recorded by Dylan with Dave Bromberg in 1992 - before he released Good As I Been To You. This has been available to collectors for some years but is a very good song - nice production and superb singing from Dylan. Not sure where this leaves us for the rest of the Bromberg sessions ever being officially released.

13) The Lonesome River
A nice recording, with Dylan on fine form vocally. However, this has been previously released on a Ralph Stanley album.

14) Cross The Green Mountain
Another late-period Dylan gem. Stirring lyrics, sympathetic arrangement, and a superb vocal performance from Dylan. This song exudes the American Civil War from its every pore - emotional, a cinematic tour de force. Superb.

… to be continued…

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tell Tale Signs: the verdict – CD1

Thanks to Martin Cowan:

I thought now the dust had settled it would be a good time to take a look in detail at the latest volume of Dylan's Bootleg Series.

Having had the opportunity to live with this CD set for the last few months, it seems to me that Sony have wanted their cake and to eat it too. I believe that pickings are too thin to spread across three discs and while there are some gems on Disc 3, it is disgraceful that Sony saw fit to charge such an inflated sum for the 3 disc version.

My view is that there is a cracking 2 disc set here and one can only speculate on what further gems still remain in the archives. If anything, what this set suffers from is uncertainty about what it is.

Is it a collection of unreleased songs? Is it a set of "never ending tour" live versions? Is it a set of "never released before on a Dylan album" songs? Well, some of all these, and that could be the problem.

Funny also that the cover photo recycles an image previously in the deluxe version of Modern Times!


1) Mississippi #1

The pick of the versions of this song. The lyrics are in place (as heard on the later Love and Theft) but the simplicity of the twin guitar arrangement suits the song perfectly. An intimate vocal which shows how poorly served Dylan was by Lanois' production of his voice on Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind. Superb.

2) Most of the Time # 1

Possibly the most radical thing here, Dylan sounds fresh out of the 70s, with heartbreaking harmonica to match. Again, the intimate vocal is superb and it is remarkable to hear this song in an acoustic setting.

3) Dignity

Again, the best version of this admittedly slight, Dylan-by-numbers song. This version gains immensely from the intimate vocal (he sounds like he's in the room with you!) and the solo piano accompaniment.

4) Someday Baby

Hypnotic, with Dylan's older than God vocals. The melody line is flattened to the point of being one note throughout, but as this has a more up to date backing, it hides its origins as Muddy Waters' Trouble No More - the Modern Times version was too much of a straight lift for my liking.

5) Red River Shore # 1

One of the gems of this collection, this is classic Dylan. Again, the vocal is intimate and demonstrates that rumours of the demise of his voice are greatly exaggerated. The arrangement of the songs builds as it progresses and it is hard to find any fault with this at all. It reminds me of Angelina, and again you have to wonder how this didn't find its way onto Time Out Of Mind.

6) Tell Ol Bill

Marvellously out of kilter piano, and a fine, understated vocal. Again, this is an improvement on the previously released version of this song. Lyrically, this is one of the more interesting songs on this collection as it eschews Dylan's recent habit of recycling old blues lyrics.

7) Born In Time

Here is the Under The Red Sky gem dressed up in its Lanois shimmer. Not as good as the previously released version as it has none of that performance's light and shade.

8) Can't Wait

Another of this set's gems, we hear Dylan suggesting they "do it in B flat" before a Dirge-like piano signals the opening of the song. Again, a superb vocal performance from Dylan, naked without Lanois' studio trickery, and a song that makes more sense lyrically than the released version.

9) Everything is Broken

There's not much to recommend the inclusion of this - a slight song in Dylan's canon in any case. The lyrics are not as polished as the Oh Mercy version and much of the backing track sounds the same as the previously released version. Very much a work in progress.

10) Dreamin of You

This kicks off with a snap of snare and a hypnotic piano figure, before Dylan's upfront vocal launches into what clearly sounds like a dry run for the (inferior) Standing In The Doorway which saw the light of day on Time Out Of Mind. This version is head and shoulders above that - Dylan in total control vocally, some fantastic lyrics, and a great production. Superb.

11) Huck's Tune

This sounds like an old folk song - a beautiful melody, a sensitive arrangement, and Dylan's superbly cracked vocals. One of the gems of this set, this song packs a huge emotional punch in the way the wistful lyrics, the folky tune and Dylan's heartfelt vocals all come together.

12) Marchin to the City

Another highlight, this is an early version of Til I Fell In Love With You but is greatly superior to the TOOM version. Shorn of Lanois' production, the vocal is vintage Dylan - up close and in your face - and kicks off like a song from Saved. The lyrics are mysterious and magical and vastly superior to the rather ordinary cliche-ridden Til I Fell In Love With You. Another of Dylan's "why on earth didn't he release this?" moments.

13) High Water

A smoking live version of this “Love And Theft” tune. It takes Dylan a few lines to get going, but once he is warmed up he attacks the lyrics with gusto. A showcase for his live band, 2003 vintage, Dylan leans into the vocals and whoops and hollers in the finest way possible.

… to be continued…

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: a nice addition to the Christmas stocking

Thanks to Tricia J:

“I chanced on Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric: The Lost Manuscript, by Dylan and Barry Feinstein recently at my local bookstore and was very
pleased with it, especially since it was a spur-of-the-moment purchase.

“The photographs are excellent and the accompanying words by Dylan work in sometimes unexpected ways. A quirky, poetic treat for anyone with a taste for black and white photography and the grungy underbelly of LaLaLand.

“Would be a nice addition to the Christmas stocking!”

Monday, December 15, 2008

Drawn Blank: delightful new set of collectable postcards now available from Woking gallery

If you couldn’t afford the £50-100,000 for an original painting from Dylan’s Drawn Blank series, you could have settled for a signed, limited edition print, at a mere £1,000-2,000.

If that’s also too expensive, there’s always the pair of catalogues from the London and Chemnitz shows, and the smaller UK booklet. But if the superb £30-40 coffee table catalogues and the £10 booklet are still too pricey for your pocket, then how about £4.50 (plus postage) for a set of 12 collectable postcards - now available from the The Lightbox gallery in Woking, Surrey?

Packaged in a card wallet, the new postcard set (published by London’s Halcyon Gallery) has faithful reproductions of 12 of the images in the Drawn Blank show, notably Train Tracks, Woman In Red Lion Pub and Man On A Bridge.

They’re beautiful, delightful little artefacts: you will simply not want to send them in the mail as postcards.

The postcard set is available from The Lightbox shop, at £4.50 per set, plus £1.50 post and packaging (UK). They’re taking telephone orders - tel: +44 (0)1483 737800.

If you haven’t yet seen Drawn Blank, and can get to Woking - it's near London - I’d recommend you pick up a set at the gallery - The Lightbox has extended Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series exhibition until January 11 – not 6 Jan as originally advertised. Entry is £1.50 and a fully illustrated guide accompanies the exhibition of paintings.

Gerry Smith

Friday, December 12, 2008

Big screens at Bob Dylan’s London O2 show next April: “slim chance”

Thanks to Matthew Zuckerman:

"But if the big screens aren¹t used the Dylan show could be embarrassingly poor."

The chances of Dylan allowing screens to be used at the London O2 gig are slim. How slim? Well, he has insisted that the screens be turned off at just about every festival he has played over the years, so it would be a big turnaround. (Mind you, he did allow cameras at Woodstock 2, and how many of us would have bet their mortgages -- even in the present economic climate -- against the possibility of Bob writing his memoirs, hosting a radio show or advertising ladies underwear . . . right up until the moment when he did it?)

This may be annoying for those in distant seats, particularly if Bob stays behind his keyboard all evening, as he has done most of the time in recent years, but that's the way he works.

That's what he's doing on stage, working, and like every successful worker, he takes the opportunity to arrange his working conditions the way he likes them. And the way he likes them is to have everything conducive to his being able to put maximum concentration into his performance.

This means:

1) No cameras flashing in his eyes [There are countless mobile phones
pointed at him, to be sure, but they don't flash -- at least, not with the strength of a professional photographer's camera -- and they are far enough away to be ignored]

2) No cameramen dressed in black creeping around his stage on the periphery of his vision, cameras Quasimodo-like on their shoulders [I hear that he likes as few people as possible around the stage, and even insisted that the likes of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard cleared the backstage area when he was touring with them a few years ago]

3) No distracting chatter with the audience [Just one 'thank you' and the names of the band members, plus a smattering of words every dozen or so concerts if there's something he really wants to say -- eg on election night]

4) No eye contact with the audience [This is, I would guess, one of the reasons he likes to stay behind the keyboard, on the side of the stage and angled away from the audience. A few times a concert he might come to centre stage or look out at us, but he can choose the times and curtail them whenever he wants]

Now if you are stuck at the back of Earl's Court, the NEC or the O2 arena, the gig will be a whole lot less affecting than if you were lucky enough to get a seat up front, but that's the way the man works.

Would it be better if he played smaller venues and left the arenas to the Rolling Stones, U2 and -- since he is at ease with the cameras and with reaching out to large crowds -- Leonard Cohen? As long as you can get a ticket it would be, but if Dylan stopped playing arenas, ticket demand would be fierce and many would be left with nothing at all. (He can hardly double the number of shows to compensate!)

I have seen Dylan at Portsmouth Guildhall and the Urawa Bunka Centre just outside Tokyo, both small halls, as well as his residency at the Brixton Academy, and the performances have been wonderful. But no more wonderful than his 2005 performance at the cavernous NEC in Birmingham, possibly the finest of the 50 or so shows I have witnessed.

P.S. I know I am a bit of a Luddite (I prefer vinyl to digital and shellac to vinyl, for example), but when I saw the Rolling Stones at Tokyo Stadium in 1994 I had an excellent seat about 10 rows from the front, and yet still found myself drawn to watch the giant close-ups of the screens. The result? It might have been a great cinematic show, but it was not the kind of 'live' performance that I would expect from a Dylan concert. In order to achieve a standardized attractive appearance, supermarket produce often sacrifices the true flavour of the fruit and we are frequently in danger of doing the same with music. If you're looking at a screen, something in your mind tells you that this is cinema or a TV programme, and you become less present in the moment. Enjoy being in the same room as Bob, even if you are at the back of the room.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

London O2 gig: spectacular or potential embarrassment

The 25 April 2009 London O2 gig could be a spectacular - if the sound quality and big screens are as good as they were for the recent Leonard Cohen shows.

But if the big screens aren’t used the Dylan show could be embarrassingly poor. My seats at the back of the top deck of the 20,000-seater hall were perfect for Lenny. But if the Dylan show fails to use big screens, the musicians on stage will be virtually invisible. I’ll be very disappointed.

Several Dylan Daily readers share my worries:

* Martin Cowan: “It will be interesting to see how Dylan compares to Cohen at the O2 and I for one will be very surprised if Dylan agrees to the big screens - knowing his phobia for cameras etc.

“Can't help but feel his music would be better served by the smaller more intimate venues. Brixton Academy in 1995 springs to my mind.”

* Gordon Macniven: “Having ended up with what seem to be crap seats for the O2 I'd be very interested in relieving anyone of better or unwanted seats!

“Do you, or any of your readers know:

How many concerts Bob has performed over the years?

In how many countries he has performed?

In how many cities? and

In how many different venues?

* Cornelia Grolsch: “I wish you a pleasant evening in London O2 Arena. Isn't that the ancient Millenium Dome? (Yes it is – Gerry Smith.) I saw Leonard Cohen too, in October in Berlin O2 World, huge new arena with 15.000 visitors. I was a bit afraid of this arena, but it was really the best concert I ever visited.

“Very good sound (at least in front of the stage) and the huge screens let us forget all around :-).

“Unfortunately, Bob Dylan plays in another arena in Berlin, Max-Schmelinghalle, same place as 2007, with not such a good sound. But because the hall is nearly sold out, maybe they can change to O2 World? And maybe Bobby learnt something from Lenny? Lenny was so nice to the audience...”

Gerry Smith

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bob Dylan - The Songs He Didn't Write: strongly recommended

Thanks to Johanna Moore:

”Regarding the Dylan books that you mention, I can strongly recommend Bob Dylan - The Songs He Didn't Write.

“Yes, it's a kind of encyclopaedia that you could dip into for facts, but still it is very readable for those who, like me, want to read it straight through.

“Sure, I was sceptical at first, thought maybe I'd better read another book about Dylan than one about a bunch of other people's songs, but of course those songs are the basis of Dylan's work and he has been inspired by them from his youth and throughout his career.

“Oftentimes when played in concert, the cover songs were treated with more care and respect than his own songs and most of the time turned out beautifully.

“Anyone with any interest in Dylan's musical background and also anyone interested in more information about many of the songs played on Theme Time Radio Hour should certainly read this book.

“There are a couple of (mostly very minor) errors, but to be fair to the author, with a book so full of facts, this is bound to happen. Generally, it's very well written and researched.”

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New Dylan books – your impressions?

The printing presses keep rolling and the Dylan bookshelves groan ever more loudly.

Recent/forthcoming titles I’m keen to get my hands on include:

* I Was So Much Older Then

* The Songs He Didn’t Write, from ISIS/Chrome Dreams

* Series Of Dreams, by John Burns

* Hollywood Foto-Rhetoric - Dylan writing, Feinstein photographs

* Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan, due Jan 09

* The Political Art of Bob Dylan, due in pbk Feb 09

Has any Dylan Daily reader bought/seen any of these? Your impressions will be gratefully received/published.

Gerry Smith

Dylan’s weakest song #11: Huck’s Tune

Much as I’m into Tell Tale Signs, and learning to regard some of the tracks – most notably Red River Shore - as Bob epics, it does have the odd weak song.

Huck’s Tune, in particular, is destined for my list of weak Dylan compositions. It has one of the hallmarks of uninspired lyric writing – the first time you hear the song, you can finish some lines after hearing the first few words. And some lyrics seem to be used merely because they rhyme, not because they add meaning.

Such shortcomings are untypical of Dylan’s lyrics; they’re certainly absent from masterpieces like Red River Shore.

Gerry Smith

Friday, December 05, 2008

London O2 arena could be a top Bob show: UK tour dates

Dates have just been announced for Dylan’s spring 2009 UK tour:

Fri 24 Apr Sheffield Arena

Sat 25 Apr O2 Arena, London

Tue 28 Apr Cardiff International Arena

Wed 29 Apr National Indoor Arena, Birmingham

Fri 1 May Liverpool Echo Arena

Sat 2 May SECC & Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow

When I first saw the venues, I groaned out loud. Arenas? Anyone who loves music just loathes arenas, don’t they? Sheffield Arena is my idea of Gig Hell.

Then I remembered seeing Leonard Cohen at the O2 Arena this summer – one of the best gigs of my life (article for, below). So I’ve booked cheap seats at the back of the arena, in the gods. They were great seats for the Leonard show.

Dylan’s management/the venue will need to replicate the sound quality and the big screens which turned the Cohen gig into such an intimate show, despite the other 20,000 people in the room. Or it will seem like an awfully big space; even strong binoculars will be rather pointless.

But if they get it right, London O2 Arena in April 2009 could be a top Bob show.

Gerry Smith



London’s O2: a grown-up music venue

Don’t get me started about arena gigs. I f**king hate ‘em.

Rubbish sound. Nasty buildings. Crap sightlines. Muck served as food and drink, poor access, overpriced parking… . They make me feel like a conforming ant, a ripped-off consumer who’s lost all self-respect, just by being there.

Arenas are appalling places: you couldn’t design a worse environment for enjoying music for grown-ups if you tried.

So, after being repeatedly alienated by the worst concert-going experiences on offer in England – Wembley Arena, Newcastle Arena, London Arena (now closed), NEC, Sheffield Hallam Arena et al – I decided some years ago that enough was enough, regardless of who was playing.

Even if it was the Second Coming, they’d have to manage without me.

Then Leonard Cohen announced his tour, but bizarrely decided to waste four nights in far-flung Manchester, limiting his performances in English England to the O2 Arena (aka the Millennium Dome/New Labour’s Folly).

Simple choice: keep avoiding arenas or get to see the great Leonard Cohen for the first, maybe the last, time.

So I booked the O2 - very reluctantly, baulking at the inflated ticket price. And I had very mixed feelings as the gig got nearer, even on the Tube approaching the venue.

My mood lightened immediately on alighting at North Greenwich station. Impressive, I conceded: looks great, works… . The mood was maintained on the short walk to the venue – a quality environment, vision, design, investment… .

And inside the O2 perimeter it was just as good – an exciting, well-specified building, housing a wide range of high quality food outlets, relaxed atmosphere, loads of helpful staff.

Agreeably surprised, but still harbouring doubts, I entered the arena and found my seat. Very, very high, but not vertigo-inducing, as I’d feared.

Hmmm! Amphitheatre beautifully designed: there were 20,000 people in, but in didn’t feel like it. Access clear and easy, seating comfortable, sight lines perfect, though the stage was miles away.

Then the acid test: the gig itself.

The show was outstanding – a great setlist and Cohen performance helped, but it was outstanding technically, too: crystal clear sound, probably the best I’ve heard outside a village hall; three enormous video screens, filled all night with broadcast-quality pictures; and beautiful lighting.

A mighty gig – in an arena: I was mightily surprised. The show was obviously a Leonard organisation production. But the point is – the O2 Arena accommodated it, comfortably.

London’s O2 is a wonderful grown-up music venue. If you ever see a bum gig there, blame the artist’s management, not the venue.

I’ll be going again.

Gerry Smith

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dylan: seventh greatest singer of all time - Rolling Stone says so

The new issue (1066, 27 Nov) of the redesigned Rolling Stone has a mid-‘60s Dylan photo on its cover (he’s one of four different collectors’ covers) announcing its Special Issue – The 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time.

Dylan manages seventh place in the top 100, which was compiled by polling a couple of hundred celebs/music bizzers. I didn’t bother reading any of the short articles on the “great singers” (Dylan’s praises are sung by Bono), but the issue is a lovely addition to the collection of Dylan cover issues.

Surprisingly, there’s no place in the top 100 for tenors like Pavarotti, sopranos like Callas or lounge greats like Sinatra and Ella. Rolling Stone must have run out of space to insert the qualifying adjectives “Baby Boomer-plus rockpop” between “Greatest” and “Singers Of All Time”. Without them, the title of the otherwise admirable 40-page feature is laughable.

Gerry Smith

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Johnny Moynihan, the Troubador and The Life and Music of Bob Dylan

Thanks to John Egan:

“I was looking at blogs on Johnny Moynihan, one of which mentioned Johnny meeting Dylan at the Troubadour and this was linked to The Daily Dylan.

“I just wanted to say that Johnny spends some of his time visiting friends who live next door to me in Ennistymon in west Clare.

“In a previous lifetime, in 1983, I think, I represented RTE in BBC TV's "International Mastermind" where I took as my specialist subject "The Life and Music of Bob Dylan"!

“I'm listening now to Radio 2's Dylan's freezing winter programme.”

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Red River Shore – best song on Tell Tale Signs?

Of the dozen or so songs on Tell Tale Signs which were new to me, Red River Shore has had the biggest impact so far. Some of the new stuff, notably Huck’s Tune, is slight, but Red River Shore’s Dylan-ish gravitas demands microscopic scrutiny.

Dylan poetry blogger Larry Epstein agrees:

“Your readers might be interested in the latest post on The Dylan Watch. It's an interpretation of "Red River Shore.”

Gerry Smith

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Basement Tapes - Bootleg Series vol 9 #2

Thanks to Andrew Kelly:

"Any chance of a complete, well-annotated set of the Basement Tapes (the recordings from the period from the "bike crash" to the JWH sessions in Nashville) as Bootleg Series vol 9?

“The 1975 release under this title was inadequate, and what has since appeared officially has been tantalisingly piecemeal and scattered across several anthologies.”