What Good Am I?: 70 Reasons Why Bob Dylan is Awesome

Originally posted 2011-05-24 20:00:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

(or, Writing 70 Reasons is a Long Time)

By Chris Moore & Nicole Fekete:

Unlike just about every other Dylan article in existence (some of mine included), we’re going to resist the urge to rattle off some witty Dylan-themed puns and cut directly to the point.

Bob Dylan is 70 today!

It’s a bit odd for me to accept that my all-time rock music icon is a septuagenarian, but, even at seventy, Dylan is still making headlines, unpeeling yet more layers of the so-called Never-Ending Tour with a top notch band, and releasing new material at a surprising rate.

Tonight, in no particular order, we celebrate Bob Dylan — holder of the record for most songs by a single artist covered at the Laptop Sessions (63) — for being awesome, for…

1) Coining the phrase, “Keep a good head and carry a light bulb,” after carrying an over-sized light bulb to a press conference.

2) “Going electric” and doing so at maximum volume.

3) Sneaking marijuana innuendo into the major radio hit, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

4) Getting arrested for looking like a hobo.

5) Spawning co-founding Wallflower and outstanding lyricist Jakob Dylan.

6) Inspiring, in his words, a gazillion books.

7) Remembering words when high, yet forgetting when sober.

8 ) Assembling what is perhaps the first creative, true music video in “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in the opening credits of Don’t Look Back.

9) And for including Allen Ginsberg in it!

10) Having the bitchin’-est background singers around.

11) And for becoming romantically involved with each of them.

12) Coming out with a self-proclaimed terrible album to shirk attention and shed devotees (Self Portrait).

13) Being (one of?) the most covered artists of all time.

14) Having a song called “The Cough Song” (“Suze”).

15) Punning off stoned while being stoned.

16) Dropping my favorite f-bomb of all time (“Play effin loud!” live in 1966).

17) Recording the only country album by someone other than Johnny Cash that I enjoy (Nashville Skyline).

18) Being friends and dueting with Johnny Cash.

19) Being friends and dueting with George Harrison.

20) Making the first Traveling Wilburys session possible.

21) Taking the lead role on Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 3.

22) Writing popular rock songs that feature lumberjacks, sword swallowers, and one-eyed midgets.

23) Inspiring a song about his beard (Wilco’s “Bob Dylan’s Beard”).

24) Busting out a song like “Billy 1” from the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for the first time live in concert… nearly four decades after it was released.

25) Inspiring that National Lampoon parody song about the “spangled dwarf in his bowtie.”  (And the infantry don’t ask why!)

26) Walking off the Ed Sullivan Show when he was prohibited from playing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”

27) Writing Chronicles, Volume 1.

28) Giving us hope that there’ll be a volume two!

29) Rearranging any song from his catalog as though it were the year 1942.

30) Giving the Byrds the boost they needed to truly hit it big.

31) Conceptualizing the Rolling Thunder Revue.

32) Composing some of the most notable protest songs in American history.

33) Avoiding titles like “voice of a generation.”

34) Playing “Oh Sister” at the Hard Rain (1976) concert in response to a request that he play a protest song.

35) Continuing to write subversive protest songs throughout every period of his career (“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking,” “Neighborhood Bully,” etc.).

36) Recording what is perhaps one of his best albums at the age of 59.

37) Being in the midst of a Never-Ending Tour.

38) Playing with the Band, which is best when working with Dylan.

39) Still knowing how to rock out. (see: the version of “High Water” on Tell Tale Signs)

40) “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end? / To be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again…”

41) For recording “Spirit of America” with Brian Wilson!

42) Surprising everyone with Christmas in the Heart, the creepy, raspy-voiced curmudgeon’s guide to yuletide tunes.

43) Inspiring a fairly uninspired collection of covers titled Tangled Up in Blues.

44) Inspiring that most ridiculous of cover collections titled Tangled Up in Bluegrass.

45) Sporting a mullet during the only decade that it was even remotely forgivable to do so.

46) Not being ashamed to wear that sequined jacket in the seventies.

47) Developing an aura that led to wild rumors regarding subjects like his legs (amputated in the motorcycle accident?) or the motorcycle accident itself (did it ever even happen?).

48) Recording and writing with the Band (heard of the Basement Tapes, anyone?).

49) Rarely swearing, then dropping just about every swear and slur of his catalog in “Hurricane.”

50) For inspiring controversy over his first performance in China (see: Maureen Dowd’s editorial, Ron Rosenbaum’s reaction on Slate.com, etc.).

51) For becoming deathly ill… right after releasing an album that was all about death… and shortly after saying that the album wasn’t necessarily about death.

52) Writing “All Along the Watchtower” and admitting to the superiority of Jimi Hendrix’s version.

53) Writing “New Pony,” and enabling Jack White and the Dead Weather to create the rare arrangement that, by far, surpasses Dylan’s own.

54) Having one of the wildest rock star heads of hair ever.

55) Introducing the Beatles to drugs.  Imagine how the sixties would have been different without that…

56) Transforming and altering the public perception and memory of the Newport Folk Festival.

57) Having more talent in his left jowl than the sum total of most popular contemporary artists.

58) “Mississippi.”

59) Hardly acknowledging the stage invader during the SOY BOMB incident (1998).

60) Writing “Masters of War” (1963), a song that would eventually (2004) cause the Boulder, CO high school band Coalition for the Willing to be investigated by the Secret Service for allegedly threatening President Bush when alarmists overreacted to the final lines of the song.

61) Releasing an album on September 11, 2001 with an eerily timely amount of twin imagery.

62) Imagining and filming the incredibly lengthy and as-yet unavailable on DVD Renaldo and Clara, yet another artifact from the Rolling Thunder Revue era (the Bootleg Series live album being the premier artifact).

63) Inspiring terms like Dylanologist, Bobolator, and more.

64) Adding sound and voice to a Victoria’s Secret commercial and releasing a limited edition compilation CD via store locations.

65) Writing and recording what is arguably the best “break-up album” of all time.  Twice. (see: Blood on the Tracks)

66) Playing lead and soloing during the 1995 MTV Unplugged concert.

67) Inspiring tales such as those told by Highway 61 Revisited-era electric guitarist Mike Bloomfield, the best of which are inappropriate for a family-friendly blog.

68) Accumulating such an impressive vault of alternate versions (most recently, beautiful versions of “Mississippi,” “Most of the Time,” and others have emerged), live tracks, and more.

69) Having the guts to leave his hometown, travel east, change his name, and reinvent himself as an authentic performer and, eventually, songwriter.

70) Living a life that is more the stuff of legends and rock star biographies than any of us will ever experience or even be able to imagine.

This is, admittedly, a limited list.  It was developed and written on a whim in one draft, so we encourage you to add reasons via the comment box below.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this, and until next May 24th, a happy Bobby’s B-day to one and all!

P.S. I almost forgot! 

71)  Inspiring an outstanding website such as Expecting Rain, which enabled my two installments of “Together Through Life: A Look Back at Ten (Officially Released) Bob Dylan Rarities” to earn the record for first and second most views in a single day of any post at LaptopSessions.com!

The Weekend Review: January 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-05-15 23:30:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Hello and welcome to the first Weekend Review of the new year.  I hope you’ll enjoy our new monthly format, optimized for ease of use with the hope that you’ll be able to turn to LaptopSessions.com for new music news in 2011.  Hurry back next weekend for the February report!

The King is Dead
The DecemberistsProducer:
Tucker Martine

Released:
January 14, 2011

Rating:
4.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Rox in the Box” & “Rise to Me”

After the impressive – and yet distracting – complexity of 2009’s The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists return to kick off 2011 with what may very possibly be the best album of the year.  The King is Dead, referred to as a “barn album” by band members in the deluxe edition doc Pendarvia, is an album of simple and yet profound beauty.While, to be fair, it lacks the mind-blowing scale of recent previous efforts, there is something to be said for a cohesive and eminently listenable collection of tracks.

Think of it as an acoustic rock masterpiece, headlined by the soaring “Rox in the Box” and the sing-along anthem waiting to happen “This is Why We Fight.”  Even the fully acoustic, balladic tracks like “Dear Avery” are gorgeous to such an extent that you won’t be able to skip the track, even if you’re on the road looking for a rock song.  Although the lead single, “Down By the Water,” lacks something of the “x factor” that makes songs truly great, it is still a tightly packaged, catchy tune indicative of the best of the King is Dead sound.  Oh, and if you think “Calamity Song” sounds like an aural love-child of R.E.M., you won’t be surprised to learn that it actually features Peter Buck on lead guitar.

Good, good stuff, and a high bar to be set this early in the year.

 

Mine is Yours
Cold War KidsProducer:
Jacquire King

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
2.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Royal Blue” & “Flying Upside Down”

2008’s Loyalty to Loyaltywas the album that introduced me to and left me in awe of the Cold War Kids.  Their unique sound and keen sense for mixing the slow and off-center with the straightforward and single-worthy led me to high expectations for their next release.Well, as is often the case with high expectations, the reality rarely compares.

Whether my reaction is due to what I had expected to find on Mine is Yours is honestly too early to say, but what I’ve heard here is a collection of underwhelming tracks, many of which seem to promise more than they deliver and are often longer than they deserve to be.  Tracks like “Royal Blue,” “Sensitive Kid,” and “Flying Upside Down” stand out as excellent without need of qualification, but others like “Broken Open,” “Louder Than Ever,” and “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor” beg for more consideration, more development, in order to reach the heights established on the previous record.

This is not to say that it should be like a sequel to Loyalty to Loyalty, but the songs of Mine is Yours should at least be as interesting.  While I was initially turned off by the slicker production values, I’ve entirely come around on that, which makes me wish that more attention to detail had been paid.

 

The Party
Ain’t Over

Wanda JacksonProducer:
Jack White

Released:
January 25, 2011

Rating:
3.5/5 stars

Top Two Tracks:
“Shakin’ All Over” & “Nervous Breakdown”

Slogans like “The Queen of Rockabilly” don’t typically entice me to purchase music, but in this case, it was bookended by Jack White’s name in the production credits and a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Thunder on the Mountain.”In short, I couldn’t resist at least one listen.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Party Ain’t Over holds up to repeated listens, fronted by the outstanding “Shakin’ All Over,” a track that aptly blends the gritty alternative sound for which White is so well known with the sonic signature of 50s rock and, I suppose, rockabilly.  Here, as on the rest of the record, riffs abound and Jackson’s ragged voice establishes her in my mind as the female equivalent of a contemporary Dylan, in vocal delivery if not in lyricism, craftsmanship, etc.  In the area of originality, it is clear she doesn’t hold a candle to aforementioned Bard, but her choice of covers is impeccably fitting: a devastating take on “Busted” (see: Johnny Cash), the closest anyone has come to covering a 2000s Dylan track without earning a sneer from me, and a redefining arrangement of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good.”

Even the latter half tracks are enjoyable, foot-tappers like “Nervous Breakdown” and “Dust on the Bible,” as well as slower tunes such as “Blue Yodel #6” (not to be confused with #4, or my personal favorite, #9).  All in all, for an impulse purchase out of raw curiosity, The Party Ain’t Over is a testament to Jack White’s capabilities as producer and studio musician; it may not be the best album of 2011, but it bears a certain quality and strength of arrangement (both within tracks and across the album) that it deserves to be noticed.

The Weekend Review: June 2011 Report

Originally posted 2011-12-29 20:40:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

June was a quiet month, and I didn’t initially appreciate some of the great work that is represented below.  This is one of the only benefits to posting these reviews so belatedly this year: that my criticism has had months to percolate and develop.  I think that is revealed below…

 

Suck It And See (Arctic Monkeys)

Producer: James Ford

Released: June 6, 2011

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “She’s Thunderstorms” & “Piledriver Waltz”

With so many individually excellent songs – the opening electric barrage of “She’s Thunderstorms” and the gorgeously  Suck It And See should be an instant classic.  There’s something lacking, though: predominantly, a sense of momentum.  Individual songs achieve momentum relative to themselves, but there just isn’t a sense of ever-mounting energy as the tracks continue.  Still, the retro-rock/punk groove of tracks like “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala” is undeniably catchy, and the Arctic Monkeys certainly haven’t lost their range, one which runs from the mean distortion of “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” to the placid ballad “Love is a Laserquest.”


Alpocalypse (“Weird Al” Yankovic)

Producer: “Weird Al” Yankovic

Released: June 21, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “CNR” & “Skipper Dan”

With Poodle Hat (2003) and Straight Outta Lynwood (2006), Weird Al raised the bar considerably, and it would seem to be a setup for failure to compare all future work by the watermark of discs like these.  Still, Alpocalypse rises to the occasion: there’s the dual-layered parody of “Born This Way” and Lady Gaga in the opener “Perform This Way,” style parodies of Weezer (“Skipper Dan”) and the White Stripes (“CNR”) that will stand up to his best work, and of course, a wittily titled polka medley (“Polka Face”).  Weird Al even manages to make the catchiness of that celebratory, patriotic Miley Cyrus tune accessible to the rest of us in “Party in the CIA.”  With Alpocalypse, Yankovic has also caught up on a few items that, in retrospect, I’m surprised haven’t fallen under his radar previously:  “Craigslist,” performed in perfect Doors/Jim Morrison fashion, and the appropriately faux-epic “Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me.”

 

Is For Karaoke EP (Relient K)

Released: June 28, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Surf Wax America” (originally performed by Weezer) & “Baby” (originally performed by Justin Bieber)

While I usually cannot condone an album of covers, much less an EP, and especially from a band that has only recently put out some of the most mature and masterful original material of their career, Relient K’s Is For Karaoke EP is actually quite good.  In seven brief songs, they span the decades, from as recent as last year and stretching all the way back to April 1980 with an impressively spot-on take of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Here Comes My Girl,” not forgetting the nineties in between, particularly with their not to Weezer in “Surf Wax America,” an excellent choice of band as well as song.  Frontman Matt Thiessen shows off his vocal range on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” and Relient K renders another annoying track listenable in their cover of Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” a resuscitation of a cover that can only be compared with Fountains of Wayne’s version of Britney Spear’s “Baby… One More Time.”  Overall, a masterful little EP, and not bad at all to tide us over until their follow-up to 2009’s outstanding Forget and Not Slow Down, my pick for number one album of that year.

 

Rave On Buddy Holly (Various Artists)

Producer: Randall Poster & Gelya Robb

Released: June 28, 2011

Rating: 3/5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care” (Cee Lo Green) & “Changing All Those Changes” (Nick Lowe)

As with all tribute albums, the quality is uneven throughout.  And, buyer beware, there are some real clunkers here (Lou Reed’s distortion-drowned “Peggy Sue,” to name only one of several).  However, there are also some gems, and some hail from surprising corners.  Cee Lo Green’s take on “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care” is easily the best track on the record, followed quickly by a plethora of pleasing yet unsurprising covers by an admittedly impressive array of artists, from Paul McCartney to Modest Mouse and Fiona Apple to the Black Keys.  There are too many strong tracks here to write Rave On Buddy Holly off, yet there are too many forgettable (at best) flunkers to offer up too much praise too easily.

The Weekend Review: July 2011 Report

Originally posted 2012-01-01 11:03:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

 

The Grand Theatre: Volume 2 (Old 97’s)

Producer: Salim Nourallah

Released: July 5, 2011

Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Manhattan (I’m Done)” & “Brown Haired Daughter”

Oddly enough, it is my pleasure to report on the rockin’ mediocrity of The Grand Theatre: Volume 2.  I do, though, need to revise a previous statement.  In my Weekend Review of Volume 1, I posited two questions: “Are the best songs being split between both records?  If so, then why not make some difficult decisions on the chopping block and release one album that will be the best possible Old 97′s record?  If not, then will Volume Two emerge as a sort of b-sides and unreleased tracks compilation that is destined to disappoint in the shadow of Volume One?”  In retrospect, I should have added a third question to account for another possibility: that Volume 2 would be an enjoyable record, but with an entirely different feel than Volume 1.  Unlike the Barenaked Ladies double-album Are Me/Are Men (which had a united feel throughout both records and the best recordings split between the volumes), the Old 97’s recorded this music during the same set of sessions yet clearly divvied up between two distinct categories: songs that are polished, more artistically rendered and songs that are fun, with a “live” sound.  For my personal preference, Volume 1 will always stand out, but Volume 2 is a solid record.  I, thus, go on the record as saying that this was the perfect release strategy for this body of music.

 

All of You (Colbie Caillat)

Producer: Greg Wells, Ken Caillat, Ryan Tedder, Toby Gad, Jason Reeves, & Rick Nowels

Released: July 11, 2011

Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Shadow” & “What If”

In All of You, we find yet another case of Wings syndrome, a condition found predominantly in singer/songwriters who are exceedingly happy in their personal lives.  These artists seem to have lost the link to the real world, floating into the blissful ether of cheesy lines and upbeat music untempered by frustration, disappointment, or any other clues to suggest the music is being written by a human being.  I have nothing against a good happy song, but for any album to be nothing but pleasant  — and simply so – can be oddly grating.  It leads an average person to wonder about the writer vaguely burying trouble in “Think Good Thoughts” and optimistically addressing existence in “Dream Life, Life.”  What boundaries are there to the dream life?  Without some fleshing out of those details, the overall effect falls short.  After being introduced to outstanding previous Caillat work, notably “Fallin’ For You,” I was disappointed in the quality of All of You.  The trick to beautiful, happy music has always seemed to lie in the subtle artistry.  The best, happiest Jack Johnson music, for instance, has always suggested a wink around the corner, a clever grin waiting to happen, sometimes even a regret or an irritation.  In much of Caillat’s previous work, there has been a sense of beautiful possibilities on the verge of coming true; on All of You, it seems the fairy tale has taken over.  (Though, to be fair, the closing track “Make It Rain” serves as a reminder of her emotional range.)

 

Sky Full of Holes (Fountains of Wayne)

Released: July 20, 2011

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” & “Acela”

For the first time in eight years, since 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers, I can honestly return to Fountains of Wayne without shaking my head.  It is a testament to the backsliding inherent in Traffic & Weather (2007) that I haven’t been excited about anything from Fountains of Wayne since I heard it.  When I have returned to Welcome Interstate Managers, I’ve been instantly drawn back into its dynamic magnetism.  That being said, I’ve all but ignored their back catalog, haven’t even heard Traffic & Weather all the way through, and was not excited about this year’s Sky Full of Holes in the least.  For some reason, though, I did buy it.  (I’ll go on record here, though, as saying I don’t and have never owned a copy of Traffic.)  So strong was this distaste for their previous record that I’ve only recently grown to fully appreciate Sky Full of Holes: the folksy charm, the range apparent in the instrumentation and even the lyricism.  The same characteristic Fountains of Wayne wit and voice are maintained throughout, yet there is a sense of returning to roots and to rock here in the best sense: embracing the acoustic guitar, lacing the best tracks with guitar solos and lush vocals.  In short, Sky Full of Holes isn’t so much a return to form as it is a step forward in their career.  Does it match the peaks of their 2003 masterpiece?  Not quite.  But it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

 

Rabbits on the Run (Vanessa Carlton)

Producer: Steve Osborne

Released: July 26, 2011

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride” & “Dear California”

Though she can probably best be described, from the public view at least, as a one-hit wonder, Vanessa Carlton continues to labor artistically, successfully in relative obscurity.  To be certain, there are echoes of her previous work here on Rabbits on the Run, but there is also a vitality, an authenticity to her delivery that was probably lacking on her early work.  As the cover would suggest, her new album is simple effort: ten tracks that rely most heavily on the gorgeous triad of vocals, piano (and other real instruments), and lyrics.  Guitars are used to great effect throughout, particularly on a standout like “Dear California,” a track that cleverly employs the “Surfin’” lineup of guitar, bass, and simple drums, with some Carlton-tinged piano thrown in to color the recording to fit her work, immediately flowing back into her characteristic cross between upbeat and murky, soaring and haunting, in “Tall Tales for Spring.”  The pinnacle, though, comes early in “I Don’t Want to Be a Bride,” a sparsely arranged statement of standing apart from societal and family expectations in confidence of one’s self and one’s relationship, expressing an independence from institutions and documents in favor of the abstract concepts purportedly expressed in the aforementioned conventions.

 

Back Pages (America)

Released: July 26, 2011

Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Top Two Tracks: “Caroline No” & “A Road Song”

Nothing smells quite so stale as an album of covers billed as a “new studio album,” released over four and a half years after the previous studio album.  In America’s case, Back Pages is hardly a quality follow-up to the heights of 2007’s excellent, modern-feeling Here & Now or their album before that, 1998’s Human Nature.  I suppose, considering their previous two releases, it should come as no surprise that any album would have a difficult time living up to recent memory.  But a covers album?  Back Pages didn’t stand a chance.  For the true fan, there are obvious high points: particularly on their sweet, sublime rendition of Pet Sounds alum “Caroline No” and in the obligatory “America” cover, which was truly a nice touch.  Probably the best track on the album is “A Road Song,” in the sense that it sounds vital, new… probably because it is: America released this Fountains of Wayne cover a matter of days before they released their recording.  That is what is perhaps most disappointing about Back Pages: it only serves as a reminder of the uniquely excellent work that has come before and the promise of what might be yet to come.  If I wanted to hear an excellent New Radicals cover, I would’ve turned to Hall and Oates.  However, I expect more from an America release.