Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review of Dylan Sheffield and 1st London

So, this uneven but relatively interesting tour winds it's way to the UK, and kicks off with a surprisingly high standard show in the less than inspiring venue that is the Sheffield Arena.
1st 3 songs were a bit of a snoozefest, but, from Boots of Spanish Leather through It's Alright Ma was as good a run as I can remember.
A simply gorgeous Boots; Bob out front on guitar, with the stage backdrop bathed in some sort of bizarre lighting. Great vocal too. Levee was as hot as ever. Sugar Baby, one of the best songs from it's album, given a nice rendition.
Tweedle was great (wow, did I really just say that?!) - Bob out front, sans guitar, cowering and diving like an old bluesman with a hand held harp, doing this thing where he sings and blasts the harp almost in the same breath. Quite innovative really, similar to Lovesick earlier in the tour.
Po' Boy though, was the song of the night. This complicated song (melodically anyway) has been given a fine subtle new arrangement, and Bob nailed the lyrics.
It's Alright Ma has gained from a new punched up riff, but after this, the show became more predictable.
A good opening UK night though.

On to London, and the o2. A lot of people hate the venue, and it is ENORMOUS. But, I kinda like it. A very iconic structure, all out on it's own down there in north Greenwich. And post-gig, I'm happy the Underground was off, as travelling by boat down the Thames (as many did) sure was a novel way to attend a Dylan show.
Anyway, gig wise, possibly a shade under Sheffield in overall quality, and nothing extraordinary setlist wise, but again at least 4 or 5 songs that were worth the trip hands down.
Chimes of Freedom is not always sung well, great song or no, but tonight was the best I've seen, since the songs re-introduction. ie it was nearly as good as those great 2000/2001 versions.
I won't dwell on the songs that bore me as it is possibly my own fault for seeing too many shows, but stuff like Hattie Carroll, Things have Changed, Rollin Tumblin, Highway, Mobile.. you get the picture. Anyway, there were only a few nap opportunites tonight.
Other highlights were a slower quieter (almost acoustic) Hollis Brown, an amazingly well nailed vocal in Workingmans Blues, and tonights great visual moment - Bob out front on his own for Till I Fell in Love with You. I haven't seen him strike so many poses since 1995! He's still no Mick Jagger needless to say, but good to see him come out from his batcave in behind that keyboard, have some fun, and actually interact with the audience. Well, almost!
Oh, and the sound was perfect tonight. Incredibly well mixed, Bob's voice booming out on top of the band. Sheffield had been good too, albeit marginally too loud.

Band wise, they are ok. Doing well on the new arrangements, and Stu Cimpball is slightly more to the fore than in the past. Even gets to play a 'classic rock' style solo in Watchtower, which I suppose makes a change from Denny Freeman's more rootsy endeavors. Don't get me wrong though, I am a big Denny fan, but why on earth has Bob stopped him playing his amazing solos in Spirit on Water and Deal Goes Down?!! Surely, it could'nt be because he used to get spontaneous rounds of applause from the audience?!
Anyway, onwards and upwards.. Roundhouse tonight..

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review of the new Bob Dylan album 'Together Through Life', April 2009

Here is a quick review of ‘Together Through Life’. Hot off the press, just one listen, and even that was in the car! But, it sounds great in a car. It’s a fun record.

Sound wise, it is not far off the last 3 albums, but sweetened by the predominant accordion of David Hidalgo. As other reviews have said, it is a Tex-Mex bordertown sounding album. Bob’s voice is good. Dog-rough, but good. Doesn’t seem to be any harmonica. Lyrically, not sure yet.

My first general impression songwise is that it is not quite up to the (accepted) high standard of Time out of Mind nor even to the (less accepted!) high standard of Modern Times. I love these two albums. Together Through Life for me is I think going to be closer to Love & Theft, which I thought of as an interesting exercise in genres, with one outstanding song (Mississippi).
And this album, too, has one outstanding song in ‘I Feel a Change Coming On’.

So I’ll start with that one – what a song! There’s very little I don’t like about this song. It is upbeat, optimistic, lyrically possibly a reflection on how good life and love can be, despite ageing. It’s the best band performance on the album, and probably the best vocal too. Also in an album short of guitar solos, this song has a lovely one, presumably played by Mike Campbell.
If all this album has given us is this song as an addition to the canon, then it’s definitely worth your 20 euros. A song that I think is one of his best latter day major songs, to file with Workingmans Blues, Nettie Moore, Missisippi, Not Dark Yet, Trying to get to Heaven and Standing in the Doorway.

Beyond Here Lies Nothing is an excellent album opener. Kind of rock-y and swinging but also swampy and murky if that makes any sense – it’s the only song on the album that in any way reminds me of ‘Oh Mercy’.

The much touted Life is Hard doesn’t live up to expectations. It is quite European sounding, but has he ever written a slower song. It’s almost moving backwards! Jury out on this one.

My Wife’s Hometown is my vote for worst song on the album. A mediocre re-write of a Willie Dixon song (duly credited, to be fair), presumably I Just Want to Make Love to You? Waste of time. He’ll probably play the bloody thing to death in concert too.

If You Ever go to Houston – nice song. The way he uses the accordion on songs like this reminds me a bit of the way people like Bruce Springsteen, John Prine, even latter day The Band, have used this instrument. I thought I wouldn’t like such a reliance on accordion, which is an instrument I am ambivalent about, but it seems to work I must say..

I won’t review every song, but two that I love (and suspect other people will not!) are Shake Shake Mama and Jolene. These are in the field of recent Dylan songs that veer between rockabilly and a kind of jump blues (not straight blues), which I love, and are great great dance numbers. His recent day musicians seem to have really got good empathy with each other in making these numbers swing. So, in other words, these two songs are this albums Summer Days/Thunder on Mountain/Someday Baby/Levees Gonna Break..

There are a few mid paced typical brooding gloomy type songs on the album that I quite like, such as Forgetful Heart. Not much else to say about them at the moment.

And, finally, I hate to finish on a negative note, but another of my least favourites is the closing track ‘It’s All Good’. Sadly, the title is somewhat inaccurate. This sounds like an Under the Red Sky outtake. Hopefully my opinion of it will improve.

Overall, though, I’m happy. 8 out of 10. Lousy album title though!