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NEAR TRUTHS: OFF AND RUNNING
The lay of the land at the top of 2022 (1/20a)
O-ROD MANAGEMENT
IN PLAY?
America's most wanted (1/20a)
TAYLOR'S LATEST "VERSION": RECORD STORE DAY
A nod to the Vinyl Queen. (1/20a)
WEEKLY CURRENT LABEL SHARE
Monte's up where he belongs. (1/20a)
SONG REVENUE: SOME ENCHANTED DAWN
Winning hands in the early action (1/20a)
OOH, LAS VEGAS
You're gonna make a poor boy outta me.
HOW I WISH THAT THERE WERE MORE
...than 24 hours in a day.
PALMS SWEAT, BLACKJACK
on a Saturday night
SIN CITY
Lamborginis and caviar Dry martinis, Shangri-La
Critics' Choice
CAN’T LET GO: MY ENDURING
MIXTAPE OBSESSION
1/4/22

By Bud Scoppa

For some of us, making lists of the movies, TV series, books and records that capture our attention is more than a pastime—it’s an addictive way of expressing ourselves through our taste.

In that sense, my interactive relationship with music has changed very little over the years. As soon as I got my first Sony stereo cassette deck in the early ’70s, I began assembling mixtapes of songs that grabbed me. I was obsessive about this activity, spending hours meticulously transferring tracks from vinyl albums to tape, giving each compilation a title and decorating each J-card with ink and highlighters. The fact that I knew and often worked with the musicians whose music I was compiling made the process that much more intimately involving.

A few months back, my vinyl-collecting grandson’s purchase of a Walkman inspired me to dust off a bunch of the scores of cassettes in my garage, buy a new tape deck and revisit them. Some of them still sound surprisingly good and bring the memories flooding back.

With the advent of iTunes in the early aughts, the process became much less labor-intensive, as I made playlists, burned them onto CDs and gave them to friends. Now, it’s practically effortless to make and share playlists, thanks to Spotify.

Even so, a part of me is still drawn to collecting what’s now referred to, inelegantly, as “physical product,” and admiring those increasingly uncommon bands and artists whose ambition leads them to create coherent albums. In 2021, there were five LPs that conjured worlds I wanted to explore from one end to the other—records that magically compressed the distance the 1970s and the 2020s for me: The War on DrugsI Don’t Live Here Anymore, Big Red Machine’s How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night SweatsThe Future, Robert Plant & Alison KraussRaise the Roof and Kings of Leon’s unexpected return to peak form, When You See Yourself. Haven’t spent enough time with Lindsey Buckingham’s self-titled LP yet, but from the echoes of Tusk and and Out of the Cradle in the delectably twisted tracks I’ve sampled, I suspect it’ll make the cut as well.

Diving deeper, I also found the box set Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal—containing renditions of 41 songs from the discography of the last artist I signed during my years at Zoo Entertainment—to be a consistently moving tribute to this gifted, sensitive artist, who died in 2019. And Tom Petty’s Finding Wildflowers (Alternate Versions) hits me just as hard. Can’t believe those guys are gone.

All of the above and more are represented on—what else?—a playlist of my go-to tracks released in 2021.

 

DYLAN IN THE '80S REDUX
9/18/21

If there is a consistent element in the bulk of Bob Dylan studio recordings released in the first 15 editions of Columbia/Legacy’s Bootleg Series it’s the sense that had Dylan had an astute command of when a song was finished.

Particularly when one listens to alternate takes of the songs from the mid-1960s when he added electric instrumentation to the mix and his ‘90s material when he was on the brink of churning out a series of brilliant albums, there’s evidence that Dylan was just a hook, a new tempo or an altered chorus or arrangement away from a definitive take.

That’s not the case with Springtime in New York, 1980-1985, released Friday as a five-CD set with a fabulous book of photos and as a two-CD “best of.”

In Vol. 16, Springtime in New York, we’re treated to outtakes that may as well be titled Another Side of Bob Dylan were that title not already taken. Through covers of blues, gospel and folk old songs plus rehearsals and alternate versions of songs that appeared on Shot of Love, Infidels, and Empire Burlesque, the five-CD set provides a thorough reappraisal of an oft-dismissed period that came on the heels of his Christian-themed albums and finds the Bard adapting to recording styles that prevailed at the dawn of the MTV era.

The revelation from the Christian era Bootleg Series was how strong a band Dylan employed for those tours and recordings and it continues on Springtime’s offerings with bands that included Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Ringo Starr and the reggae masters Sly & Robbie. Similarly, over the five years covered here, Dylan’s voice is remarkably consistent in timbre; he alters the intensity rather than the range to make point, song after song.

Since each recording is a full take, the five CDs feel like complete artistic statements; it’s one of the most listenable editions of the Bootleg series featuring studio recordings. And from start to finish, it’s a great sounding set.

Particularly revelatory are the sparse reading of “Lenny Bruce”; “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love)” stripped of its au courant 1985 production sheen; a striking reading of The Temptations’ hit “I Wish It Would Rain”; a haunting piano-guitar version of “Blind Willie McTell”  with Knopfler; “Clean Cut Kid” run through the throwback machine that landed at an early Chuck Berry Chess session; and “I and I” sounding like it was pulled from a choir’s hymnal. The truly never-before-released gem “Julius and Ethel,” from 1983, is a post-“Hurricane” romp and precursor for the more recent “Murder Most Foul,” a sign Dylan never lost his story-telling abilities.

The set closes with two of his best songs of the decade, “New Danville Girl” and “Dark Eyes” in versions that resemble the Dylan his fans loved in the ‘60s and again in the 21st century: Raw, urgent, vibrant records that out the songs and the singer at the fore.

 

KEYS TO THE HILL COUNTRY BLUES
5/11/21

By Bud Scoppa

Spotify’s scintillating new playlist Hill Country Blues is now streamable, with the inaugural list co-curated (in collaboration with either humans or algorithms) by The Black Keys. The Hill Country Blues playlist illuminates the history and heritage of an exotically funky subgenre indigenous to Northern Mississippi that inspired The Black Keys back in their Akron days and comes full circle with their new covers album, Delta Kream, out Friday on Nonesuch.

The playlist includes two tracks from the LP, including a kickass falsetto reimaging of from R.L. Burnside’s “Going Down South” featuring incendiary slide work from local hero Kenny Brown, alongside classic and obscure cuts from the likes of Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Little Jr. Parker, Jessie Mae Hemphill, T-Model Ford and Robert Belfour

If we’d been co-curating with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, we would’ve insisted on a selection or three from modern-day perpetuators the North Mississippi Allstars, but perhaps they’ll get a shot when the list turns over. 

"There would be no Black Keys without this music,” Dan and Pat readily acknowledge. “Hill Country Blues represents the concentric circle where we crossed over musically as teenagers. Artists like Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, Mississippi Fred McDowell and T-Model Ford are heroes to us. We made Delta Kream with Kenny Brown and Eric Deaton to remember where we come from and celebrate the music we love. The raw sound of Hill Country Blues and songs represented on this list are some that kept us going in those early days of touring, driving all night in the van. We hope fans can do a deep dive on these artists and realize how important they are to the canon of American Music.”