A song list to celebrate the music poet’s 80th birthday
Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday kind of sneaked up on me. While as I have noted before my sentiments are mixed about his music, there is no doubt Robert Zimmerman is one of the most significant artists of our time. I feel Dylan’s life has been extensively covered, so instead of putting together yet another biographical write-up, I’d like to celebrate the music poet’s birthday with a list of songs I dig.
It’s hard to believe Dylan has had a close to 60-year recording career. That’s just mind-boggling! I’m generally more drawn to his early work. I will also admit I’m much less familiar with his post mid-’70s catalog. This playlist starts with the first Dylan song I ever heard many moons ago: Blowin’ in the Wind. I still think it’s great. The post wraps up with a tune from his last album Rough and Rowdy Ways, a true late career gem that really surprised me!
Blowin’ in the Wind – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (May 1963)
The Times They Are a-Changin’ – The Times They Are a-Changin’ (January 1964)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965)
Like a Rolling Stone – Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965)
Just Like a Woman – Blonde on Blonde (June 1966)
Lay Lady Lay – Nashville Skyline (April 1969)
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (July 1973)
Tangled Up in Blue – Blood on the Tracks (January 1975)
Hurricane – Desire (January 1976)
Goodbye Jimmy Reed – Rough and Rowdy Ways (June 2020)
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
A busy week that hardly left any opportunity to read and comment on posts from fellow bloggers, not to mention post anything myself, is coming to an end. At least, I managed to carve out some time to write my weekly feature about newly released music. All of the picks in this installment fall into the rock realm. Each tune appeared on albums that were released yesterday (April 23), in some cases delayed due to COVID-19. What else is new?
Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’
Kicking off this Best of What’s New are Dirty Honey, a great rock band from Los Angeles that was founded in 2017. Apple Musiccharacterizes them as a hard rock combo in the grand, riffy tradition of stadium titans like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, [which] rose out of Los Angeles’ club scene in 2019 with their self-titled debut EP. Singer Marc Labelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone cut their teeth developing a classic hard rock sound deeply indebted to the aforementioned rock giants as well as second wave purveyors like the Black Crowes. Their 2018 debut single “Fire Away” earned some national exposure and was followed in 2019 by their eponymous EP, which was produced by rock veteran Nick Didia (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine). Here’s a nice tune from the band’s first full-length album titled Dirty Honey just like their previous 2019 EP: California Dreamin’, which is pretty representative of the other tracks on the album. All songs are credited to the entire group. As somebody who enjoys classic rock, it’s easy for me to dig this music.
Art d’Ecco is a Canadian singer-songwriter from Victoria, B.C., who thanks to his fondness for makeup and platform shoes looks like a throwback to the ’70s glam rock era. But as Apple Music notes, while it has a retro vibe, his music blurs the boundaries of genres rather than capturing one specific style. D’Ecco’s web bio is primarily focused on his new album In Standard Definition and doesn’t provide much background on him. It notes a predecessor from 2018 titled Trespasser. Discogs also lists 2016 album Day Fevers. Here’s an excerpt from D’Ecco’s bio about his newest release, a concept album revolving around the role of entertainment in (some) people’s lives: Joining forces with producer/ engineer Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, New Pornographers, Destroyer) in ocean-side studio The Hive, In Standard Definition sees d’Ecco packing his heftiest punch yet. Through Stewart’s vintage set up, a decoupage of authentic sounds was recorded to 2-inch tape on a 50-year-old console. Embellished with slick ‘70s drums production, it echoes with the textural ambition of Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets or Toni Visconti on Bowie’s Scary Monsters. Here’s the opener Desires, which like all other tunes of the album was written by d’Ecco. It’s not exactly in my core wheelhouse- still, it has something!
How many rock bands from Iceland you know? I had not been aware of any until I came across KALEO and their new album Surface Sounds. The band was formed in 2012 in Mosfellsbær, a small town in south-west Iceland, seven miles east of the country’s capital Reykjavík. JJ Julius Son (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Daniel Kristjansson (bass) and David Antonsson (drums), who had been close friends since elementary school, began playing music together when they were 17. Lead guitarist Rubin Pollock joined soon thereafter. Þorleifur Gaukur Davíðsson (harmonica, bongos, keyboards) rounds out the current line-up. In late 2012, KALEO signed with Iceland’s main record label Sena and recorded their eponymous studio album, which came out the following year. In early 2015, the band got a deal with Atlantic Records and relocated to Austin, Texas. Their sophomore album A/B, which appeared in June 2016, marked KALEO’s international breakthrough. It climbed to no. 16 on the Billboard 200, peaked at no. 2 in Canada, reached no. 29 in Australia, and charted within the top 30 in various European countries. Alter Ego, written by JJ Julius Son, is a tune from the aforementioned Surface Sounds, the band’s third album. Initially, it had been scheduled for June 2020, but the release was pushed back because of you know what. Alter Ego was first released as a single on March 20, 2020.
Dinosaur Jr./I Ain’t
Let’s wrap up things with some more rock. Dinosaur Jr. were founded in Amherst, Mass. in 1984. Initially a four-piece called Mogo, the band dissolved after their first gig and reformed as a trio shortly thereafter, consisting of J Mascis (guitar, vocals), Lou Barlow (bass) and Patrick Murphy (“Murph“) (drums) and calling themselves Dinosaur. They released their eponymous debut album in July 1985 on Homestead Records, the label by Mascis’ college friend Gerard Cosloy. Due to legal reasons, the band tweaked their name to Dinosaur Jr. in late 1987 shortly after their sophomore album You’re Living All Over Me had come out. By the time the band’s sixth studio album Without a Sound was released in August 1994, Mascis was the only remaining original member. The band, which essentially had become his project, released one additional album, Hand it Over (March 1997), before Mascis dissolved it and launched a solo career. In 2005, Mascis reunited with Barlow and Murphy to revive Dinosaur Jr. They have since released five additional albums including their latest Sweep It Into Space, another record that initially had been scheduled to appear last year. Here’s the opener I Ain’t, a melodic rocker written by Mascis.
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Art d’Ecco website; Discogs; YouTube
Hurricane has been among my favorite Bob Dylan songs for a long time. I’ve always dug the amazing violin playing by Scarlet Rivera, which gives the tune a very distinct sound. And while the lyrics take some creative liberties, I think Hurricane represents excellent cinematic story-telling and is one of the most compelling protest songs I know.
Co-written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, Hurricane is the opener of Dylan’s 17th studio album Desire that came out in January 1976. The above clip is from Dylan’s appearance on the American live concert TV series Soundstage in December 1975.
Hurricane tells the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, an American middleweight boxer who along with his friend John Artis was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder that occurred at a bar in Patterson, N.J. in 1966. After he had been sent to prison, Carter continued to maintain his innocence and, helped by a writer, published his autobiography in 1974. Knowing about Dylan’s civil rights engagement, Carter had a copy sent to Dylan.
Prompted by the autobiography, Dylan visited Carter in prison in December 1975. He and Levy wrote Hurricane thereafter, based on the book and news accounts. Dylan also raised money for Carter’s legal defense during two shows of his Rolling Thunder Revue tour at the time.
Following the autobiography’s publication, two of the prosecution’s key witnesses changed their testimony. In 1976, Carter’s and Artis’ convictions were overturned, but only a few months later, both men were found guilty again during a second trial. Appeals continued. Artis was paroled in 1981. In 1985, a U.S. district judge in New Jersey exonerated Carter, noting the prosecution had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.”
Carter was finally set free in November 1985, after 19 years in prison. He relocated to Toronto, earned Canadian citizenship and became an advocate for people who like him had become victims of judicial injustice. From 1993 until 2005, he was executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. Carter passed away from prostate cancer in April 2014.
After Carter’s second conviction, Dylan had moved on and never performed Hurricane live again. Apparently, Carter was still grateful for everything Dylan had done for him and did not hold the artist’s apparent lack of interest after his second conviction against him.