Together Through Life: A Look Back at Ten (Officially Released) Bob Dylan Rarities – PART TWO

Originally posted 2009-04-11 22:07:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

With just over three weeks to go before the release of Bob Dylan’s thirty-third studio album, Together Through Life, anticipation is high.  A couple weeks ago, a free download of the lead track “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” was released as a temporary free download at bobdylan.com.  In typical Dylan fashion, his music remains enigmatic, even in the age of digital music and online samples.

Even iTunes does not provide the standard 30-second preview tracks for any of the songs on Together Through Life — aside from the aforementioned first song, of course.

What we do have — and what is somewhat surprising — is Dylan’s own words about the upcoming release.  In Bill Flanagan’s ten page interview, Dylan reflected on some of the new songs and upon the overall ideas and themes of the upcoming album.  When asking about the lack of guitar solos, Flanagan referred to the integral aspect of solos in Aerosmith recordings.  I had to laugh at Dylan’s response.  He said, “What can I say?  If I had Joe Perry with me, everything would obviously be different. As it is though, he wasn’t there. Soloing is not a big part of my records anyway. Nobody buys them to hear solos. What I try to do is to make sure that the instrumental sections are dynamic and are extensions of the overall feeling of the song.”

While this was an interesting response, I most enjoyed reading about his take on dreams.  He said, “Dreams can lead us up a blind alley. Everybody has dreams. We go to sleep and we dream. I’ve always thought of them as coming out of the subconscious. I guess you can interpret them. Dreams can tell us a lot about ourselves, if we can remember them. We can see what’s coming around the corner sometimes without actually going to the corner.”

In a lot of ways, that’s what Dylan’s songs have always done for me and what they seem to have done for many of his fans — lead us to corners that we couldn’t even dream of and take us around them, if only for the duration of the performance.

So, what is a person to do while waiting for this new release?  In my case, I decided to listen to all 678 Bob Dylan tracks on my iPod.  This included all seven tracks of Dylan and the Dead, so you know I’m serious!  The only rules to this little game are that I couldn’t skip any tracks, even if I ended up listening to fifteen versions of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” in one day.

Three weeks ago, I brought you the first five in my list of ten Bob Dylan rarities that I had either forgotten about or hadn’t listened to in a long time.  Today, I bring you the final five in my list.  I hope you enjoy this trip down Obscurity Lane, and I hope this helps you cope with the wait until April 28th…

Ten (Officially Released) Bob Dylan Rarities:

6) “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” (with Mavis Staples) – Okay, I know what you may be thinking.  Yes, this is the version from the compilation album Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan.  While I’m not a gospel enthusiast, I had to hear this new recording by the man himself.  I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t what I got.  This version of “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” is no more gospel than it is hip hop.  It is 100%, pure rock’n roll with a driving beat, ragged vocals from Dylan, and a heavy-handed drum beat from George Receli. The most soulful part of the song is the guitar solo.  Not only is it an amazing track, but it has an unprecedented breakd0wn 30 seconds in, complete with Dylan inviting Mavis Staples onto the recording, admitting to her that he’s been reading “Snooze-Week” with the blues, and Mavis telling him that he’s got to sing!  Then, they proceed to duet for the remainder of the track.  (Some may disagree with me on this choice, but it has a soft spot in my heart — what a great rarity!)

7) “Goin’ to Acapulco” – I hadn’t listened to The Basement Tapes in full for a few years.  I had sort of forgotten about this simple, but wonderful track.  “Goin’ to Acapulco” is one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar.  I always loved how it (along with many other songs from the sessions) appeared non-sensical at first and yet offered so much after a close listening.  I mean, come on.  There is certainly a double meaning to lines like “She gives it to me for a song” and “Rose Marie, she likes to go to big places and just set there waitin’ for me to come…”  Classic Dylan.

8 ) “Country Pie” (Live) Bob Dylan Live 1961-2000: Thirty-nine years of great concert performances, the compilation from which this track hails, was my initiation into the world of Bob Dylan bootlegs.  Or, so I thought at the time.  It turns out it’s just an import and therefore a semi-official release…  Regardless, this is a great track for anyone who enjoys seeing Dylan play live these days.  Recorded in 2000 in Portsmouth, England, this track is a nice example of why I’ve been anxiously waiting for a live Dylan release based in the new millennium.  And, of all tracks to dust off, “Country Pie” is an interesting choice.  As per usual, Dylan reinvents and reinvigorates this Nashville Skyline classic and made me love it all over again.

9) “I Was Young When I Left Home” – A traditional song that Dylan recorded on the “Minnesota Hotel Tape” in December 1961, I first heard this track when it was released in the limited edition packaging of Love & Theft.  Aside from presenting such a stark contrast — both vocally and instrumentally — to the material on his 2001 album, this song immediately stood out to me.  It has a warm quality, probably due to the fact that the recording quality is limited.  There is something fitting about releasing this early track so late in his career.  The main focus of the song is leaving home and heading out to the world at large, only to find that things are not going well at home.  Still, the singer is broke and feels he “can’t go home this a-way.”  There are some great lines, such as the double meaning in “I’m playin’ on a track…” (he means a railroad track, but it also carries the musical reference of recording a song).  Fortunately, this song was released on the No Direction Home soundtrack, so much more of Dylan’s fanbase has been able to hear this little gem.

10) “Maggie’s Farm” (Live at the Newport Folk Festival, July 1965) – Last but certainly not least — and also from the No Direction Home “Bootleg Series” release — this version of “Maggie’s Farm” finally, officially presented we latter-day Dylan fans with a primary document of sorts.  From all the stories that have been told about that year’s Newport Folk Festival (the Pete Seeger ax story being my personal favorite legend), I think I honestly expected more.  This performance is fairly straightforward, complete with a Tennessee Three-esque static bass line.  And yet, I can understand from hearing this track what a shock it must have been to have the typically solo Dylan appear with a full band and with amplifiers cranked to the maximum to boot.  This is truly a historic track that I was thrilled to finally hear — and in those terms, it’s really second only to the “Judas!” 1966 Royal Albert Hall performance of “Like A Rolling Stone.”

** Even as I type the final words of this post, I realize just how many other amazing tracks that I have omitted from this list.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my choices, and please feel free to share any other tracks you think should have made the cut! **

“Keep On Going” (Original Wednesday Acoustic Song)

Originally posted 2009-04-29 20:32:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

And welcome one, welcome all to my Laptop Session for this very special Original Wednesday here at your source for the best acoustic cover and original song music videos available on the internet today!  (That’s a mouthful…)

You may be wondering, why is this day so special?

Well, for one, this is the birthday of Laptop Sessions series creator Jim Fusco.  On behalf of the other contributors and the loyal viewers of this blog, I’d like to wish him a very happy 25th birthday!  Only a quarter century in, and he’s accumulated quite a back catalog of music, writing, and side projects.  If you haven’t already, you should head on over to jimfusco.com.

Take it from me: the best gift you can get Jim this year is to spend a measely $10 on his brand new album Halfway There.  Go ahead, check out the album in streaming audio at his official website, or use the search function at the top of this page to listen to Laptop Sessions of many of the Halfway There tracks, read a full review (another one from Jeff coming soon…), and see the beautiful, custom artwork he used for the cover.

Okay, that’s enough plugging for one post.

Tonight’s session is based on a song that I never recorded for an album.  “Keep On Going” is an early track, as you will most likely be able to tell!  Although the words are straightforward and the chord progression is simple, I’ve always liked this little tune.  I originally wrote this song as a direct statement to my best friend (Jim, if you haven’t made the connection yet), assuring him after a rough week that things really will turn out all right, even though people — particularly high school aged people — can be cruel.  I hope he’s seen that to be true, as he’s moved on to college, made many lifelong friends, and become engaged to Becky Daly.  For all you former Pine Loft faithfuls: yes, this is indeed the same Becky Daly of Chris, Jim, and Becky fame!

I still sing “Keep On Going” when I feel stressed out or begin to think something — a relationship, a professional endeavor, etc. — won’t work out.  I hope you like it.

As a final note, stepping back into the present, I just started listening to the new Bob Dylan album, Together Through Life.  In case you’re questioning my devotion, there’s only one reason why I didn’t start listening yesterday: I pre-ordered the album on Amazon.com and didn’t spring for any more than Free Super Saver Shipping.  So, I’m cheap.  What do you want???  :-)

Did I mention I’m loving the album?  As I type, it’s blaring through my room and probably throughout the condo complex.  I may even get a letter in the mail from the condo association condemning me for noise pollution or disturbing the peace or some other such nonsense, but it will be worth it!  I spent the day at school today wearing the Best Buy exclusive Together Through Life t-shirt that Mike so graciously passed along to me from his purchase of the album (thanks again, Fusc!!).  I made certain to wear a white button down shirt today and a narrow tie, so as to have the Dylan t-shirt show through.  Thanks to at least one inquisitive student in each class I taught, I got to talk about the new album at least once every 82 minutes today!

I’ll save my commentary on Together Through Life for the review that will most certainly come, but allow me to share a couple comments.  First, this is not what I was expecting after Love & Theft and Modern Times.  Then again, that’s pretty much what Dylan himself suggested, so I’m not really surprised.  My favorite line thus far is the chorus to track three: “Hell is my wife’s home town.”  As if there’s any question as to whether Dylan’s dry sense of humor is still intact, just listen for his chuckling — yes, his chuckling — in the outro of that song.  Finally, although it’s a slow album to start, just wait for “Jolene” and “Shake Shake Mama” to really get your foot tapping.

And, with that taste of this new Dylan album, I’ll emphatically suggest you need to buy both Halfway There and Together Through Life and be on my merry way.

See you next session!

Music Review: “Together Through Life” by Bob Dylan

Originally posted 2009-05-04 23:29:25. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  3.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

For many avid music listeners, it feels as though Bob Dylan has indeed been together with us through life.

He started out simple in the sixties — just an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and his aged-before-its-time voice.  By the end of the decade, he had gone electric, gone back to acoustic, and gone to Nashville to aid in the popularization of country rock.

Before the seventies were out, he recorded covers, rediscovered rock, discovered female background singers, and found God.  The next two decades were hit and miss — although any true Dylan fan will tell you that even Knocked Out Loaded has its charms…

Since 1997, Dylan has released what many refer to as his comeback trilogy (Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times), although he has cryptically referred to Love & Theft as the first in a trilogy.

Now, less than a year away from a new decade and one more than that from his 50th anniversary in the recording business, Dylan has released his most fun and accessible album in years.  “Together Through Life” may have the nostalgic sound and rusted, creaky voice that has been characteristic of Dylan’s recent work, but the subject matter and the tone of the songs is refreshingly light…

…for Dylan, that is.

Upon first glance, the title of the third track – “My Wife’s Home Town” – suggests a song of fond recollection about a spouse’s origins.  And yet that is not the case at all.  As Dylan repeats in the chorus, “I just want to say that hell is my wife’s home town…”

The song concludes with a chuckling sound from Dylan that is reminiscent of the gutteral laugh in Elvis Presley’s Christmas classic “Santa Claus is Back in Town.”  This song is a prime example of the alteration in tone on this most recent Dylan release.  As the cover would suggest, love is a recurring topic that is approached with directness and a sense of humor that wasn’t evident on Modern Times.

For many reasons, Modern Times is a technically superior album — lyrically, instrumentally, and in terms of overall progression.  That being said, Together Through Life is perhaps the most accessible of Dylan’s post-millenium recordings.  The songs are short — most are in the 3-4 minute range — and the album only gets better as you listen, track after track.

“Beyond Here Lies Nothin’,” the album starter, is a nice opening that lyrically toys with the listener, seeming at its face to be a song about a dedicated relationship.  Dylan sings, “As long as you stay with me, the whole world is my throne.”

“Beyond here lies nothin’,” he continues, “Nothin’ we can call our own.”

By the end of the song, you are left to wonder whether the narrator is staying in his relationship for love — the kind of love that reduces all outside elements to “nothin'” — or because there is simply nowhere else, nowhere better, to go.

The true highlights come during the second half of the album (side B, for those of you who purchased the vinyl edition).

“Jolene” fits firmly into my long list of favorite songs with a girl’s first name for a title — BnL’s “Maybe Katie,” the Beach Boys’ “Wendy,” and Fountains of Wayne’s “Hey Julie” to name a few.

Likewise, “Shake Shake Mama” is perhaps the most rockin’ number on the album, although it is a fairly standard blues progression.

Finally, “I Feel a Change Comin’ On” is the best song on the album.  Lyrically, instrumentally, and compositionally (a middle AND a solo!), this song has a catchy chorus and comes as a bit of a surprise as the ninth and penultimate track.

“Life is Hard” and “It’s All Good” act as bookends of sorts to the album as a whole, the former setting the theme early on and the latter bringing it all to a conclusion.  As is typical of the album, Dylan plants his tongue at least lightly in his cheek and turns a cliched phrase into the perfect chorus.

At the end of the day, Together Through Life will not be remembered as one of his best albums.  In a sense, though, it was never intended to be.  It came on quickly, surprising even me when its existence was announced a month before its release in Rolling Stone.  Apparently, Dylan hit upon inspiration after co-writing “Life is Hard” with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter for the Olivier Dahan film My Own Love Song.

Dylan’s spacing between album releases has been 4-5 years for as long as I can recall, and this one came a mere three years after its predecessor.

While the time between releases is a unexpectedly brief and the fact that he collaborated on all but one song (“This Dream of You”) is surprising, it was perhaps not a shock that Hunter is the collaborator.  After all, Dylan and the Dead have a longstanding relationship and mutual respect.  Truly, according to Dylan, his tour with the Dead in the eighties revitalized his passion for performing at a time when he was losing that particular spark.

Now, like an all-star pitcher who is starting on fewer days’ rest than usual, Dylan’s performance on Together Through Life may not be epic, but it is still amazing.

Bob Dylan Summer 2009 REVIEW – New Britain Stadium: Wednesday, 7/15/09

Originally posted 2009-07-16 01:00:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the Set List, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

Willie Nelson sounded as good as he ever has, and John Mellencamp brought a tremendous amount of energy to the stage with his talented band (he described them as being built for playing in garages and bars, but they handled a ballpark quite nicely).

But then Bob Dylan broke the roof in and set fire to the place as a parting gift.

(Well, there wasn’t a roof to begin with, but let’s not quabble over details…)

After more than three hours of opening acts and transitions between sets, Dylan came out just after 9pm on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 at the Rock Cats’ baseball stadium in New Britain, CT.  At the precise moment the lights came up, I also took in my first breath of a suspicious smelling smoke…

Anyway, Dylan kicked off the first two songs on electric guitar, soloing along with his band members.  (There’s a great photo in a recent online Rolling Stone article that looks just like what I saw tonight.)  He added new lines to “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” — “Everybody must get stoned,” for the layperson — and rollicked through “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” — a true Fusco-Moore favorite — as if it were a new song on his most recent album.

There’s always something special about seeing Dylan play guitar, but he wasn’t the only one in the band whose skills on the axe were highlighted.  Both of the other guitarists in his Never-Ending Tour band were allowed to bring more of their guitar work into the mix than in past concerts — take the infectious new guitar riff in “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven” or the simple but catchy licks in “Jolene.”  More than once throughout the evening, an acoustic guitar could be heard high in the mix, which has become a rarity in recent years.

By the time Dylan retreated to his keyboard, the momentum had already been established and only continued to build.  He romped through “The Levee’s Gonna Break” and soon after beat out a typically heavy version of “High Water (For Charley Patton).”  Although his set included mid-tempo (“I Feel a Change Comin’ On”) and slower (“When the Deal Goes Down”) songs, Dylan’s predilections certainly lay in the in-your-face, bass-pounding-through-your-chest, guitar-and-harmonica-solos-wailing variety.

That's as close a picture I could get with the police in full force around the ballpark...

That's as close a picture I could get with the police in full force around the ballpark...

Last year was a great show.  But what impressed me this year was just how clear Dylan’s vocals were tonight.  Now, I’m not suggesting a possible vocal cord surgery has occurred to restore him to his Nashville Skyline crooning, but he annunciated each word and clearly showed more respect for the tunes and melodies of his songs than he has in the past decade or more.

For years, I have been defending the gruffness of Dylan’s voice as simply one more of the many voices he has taken on over the years.  However, I have never been able to justify his oftentimes uniform low-to-high singing of each line of every song.

Tonight, with only a couple exceptions, he truly broke that mold all over the place.

Although the show was heavily weighted toward his newer material — 8 of the 14 songs were from his most recent four albums — the crowd seemed to enjoy the concert as much as I did, and although it was difficult to see from the outfield where we were standing, it looked as if most people stayed until almost the very end.  (Why anyone leaves before the encore, I’ll never know.  Dylan by now famously leaves “Like A Rolling Stone” and “All Along The Watchtower” for the additional set.)

I can’t believe it’s over.  It was an excellent concert, made all the better for having someone to go with this year.  Now, I have only to set the timer and wait in anticipation for next year’s Dylan tour schedule.

Until then, I’ll have to be content to continue listening to Together Through Life and revisit Modern Times, Love & Theft, Time Out of Mind, or, as I did on the long ride home through traffic, the Bootleg Series recording of the 1966 Royal Albert Hall electric set with Dylan and the Band (my favorite concert recording of all time)!