The Best of the Bob Dylan Covers – Playlists on Parade

Originally posted 2010-11-20 12:40:07. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

With some sources placing Bob Dylan as the #2 most covered artist (behind the Beatles, of course), there are some excellent performances of his songs.

Predominantly, though, there are hundreds and hundreds of inferior versions of his work, ranging from mediocre all the way down to openly offensive.

As a Dylan fan now for over a decade, I have accumulated quite a number of covers.  Folk?  I have it.  Bluesgrass?  Regrettably, yes.  Gospel?  You betcha!  Reggae?  For reals.

Suffice it to say, there’s some utter crap.

I’ve been thinking for weeks now about putting together a playlist of my favorite Dylan covers.  Finally, after coming across a Jimi Hendrix recording of “Tears of Rage” on iTunes today, I sorted through the archives and pieced together eighteen of my favorite recordings.  For those who don’t know me, you should understand that I’m often the guy who will remind you that, “This song was actually written by…” or ask you, “Have you ever heard the original?”  So, for me to say I love these songs means that they’ve truly made the cut for me.

And I hope you’ll enjoy them as well!

The artists are as wide ranging as George Harrison and Beck.  They go back as far as the sixties, with a sampling of classics by the original masters of the Dylan cover the Byrds, and are as recent as the Dead Weather, that super-ish-group co-fronted by Jack White.  In the case of the former, I love the Dylan versions about as much as Roger McGuinn and company’s, but in the case of the latter, a forgettable Street Legal track was revived and successfully reimagined.

There are some that you absolutely must listen to the originals – “Simple Twist of Fate” for one, and “Born in Time” for another (that is, if you find the Bootleg Series version).  There are some that are, frankly, better as covers – I’m thinking of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” here.

So, go explore.  Visit Amazon and iTunes.  Expand your Dylan horizons.  And, most of all, remember why Bob Dylan was, is, and forever shall be the freakin’ man.

1)  “Mr. Tambourine Man” – The Byrds

2)  “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” – Beck

3)  “All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix

4)  “If Not for You” – George Harrison

5)  “Mama You’ve Been on My Mind / A Fraction of Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” – Jack Johnson

6)  “Masters of War” – Pearl Jam

7)  “New Pony” – The Dead Weather

8)  “Simple Twist of Fate” – Jeff Tweedy

9)  “My Back Pages” – The Byrds

10)  “Absolutely Sweet Marie” – George Harrison

11)  “Tears of Rage” – Jimi Hendrix

12)  “I Shall Be Released” – The Band

13)  “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” – Eric Clapton

14)  “Mississippi” – Sheryl Crow

15)  “John Wesley Harding” – Wilco

16)  “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – The Byrds

17)  “Born in Time” – Eric Clapton

18)  “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Warren Zevon

Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (2002) – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2009-12-27 23:57:53. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

** This is the fourth in a five part series of music reviews, counting down from the #5 to the #1 albums of the decade, 2000-2009. On January 2nd, 2010, the #1 album will be revealed, along with the complete Weekend Review picks for the Top Thirty Albums of the Decade. **

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 5/5 stars

There are those albums that are easily inserted into categories, labeled by genre.  Then, there are those albums which do not, those veritable square pegs hovering above round holes.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot belongs to the latter.

Being that this is one of the most written-about albums of the decade, there have been just as many genre classifications as there have been reviewers.  Regardless of the fact that much of Wilco was formed from ex-Uncle Tupelo members, it is certainly not alt-country, although the trademark rough edges are present in all the right places.  It is not the country-tinged folk rock of Wilco’s debut release, A.M., although Tweedy’s leads sometimes attain that same wonderful raw quality that was so prominent on their first album.  It is not the acoustic rock of Being There, though the acoustic guitars are still quite prominent in the mixes.

Indeed, Summerteeth, their third album, can now be viewed as the proving grounds and a stepping stone to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — in a sense, as the Today! to their Pet Sounds, the Highway 61 Revisited to their Blonde on Blonde.

It is the clarity of overall vision and focus, as well as the variety of sounds and styles on this record that makes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot one of the best rock albums of the decade.  In many ways, Wilco’s previous recordings were all leading up to this masterpiece, an album that yielded a slew of alternate takes, arrangements, outtakes, and additional mixes.  They poured all they knew about songwriting, performing, and recording into this album, and that is what is most apparent in the tight, finely crafted tunes, every bit as much as it is evident across the sprawling, chaotic landscapes of songs like the opening track.

It has become somewhat difficult to separate the music of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot from the controversy that surrounded it at the time of its release.  Certainly, when they set out to record their fourth studio album, they couldn’t have predicted the poor reception of the record label that would lead to them being dropped from their contract.  They couldn’t have envisioned breaking ground on the now-standard practice of streaming their album in full before its official release.  They couldn’t have known that the story around the album would sell so many copies and overnight transform their band’s image from a fairly obscure alt-country band to the folk/alternative rock trendsetters that they are known as today.  And yet, all the same, these things came to pass, filmed every step of the way by Sam Jones for the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco.

Moreso than ever, this is an album that now needs to be taken, at least initially, on its own merits.  Nine years after it was recorded and eight years after the controversy and hype have subsided, we are left with the task of locating Yankee Hotel Foxtrot among the greatest albums of the decade, and perhaps of all-time.

Thankfully, it has stood the test of time.

Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2002)

The Weekend Review's pick for the #2 album of the decade, 2000-2009, is Wilco's 2002 release, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."

Listening to this album is an entertaining, sobering, and all-around interesting experience from the fade in on track one to the fade out on track eleven.  “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is, of course, the flagship song of the record, establishing both the tone and the mood for the other ten tracks to come.  On the one hand, it is a song with such a simple chord progression and melody that it could be — and has been — easily translated to a solo acoustic performance.  Still, something is lost without, on the other hand, the reluctant bass lines, synthesized sounds, and haphazard yet steady drums.  The sum total of the instruments and vocals introduces a narrator who sounds decidedly detached, inviting us into a realm where we imagine and remember our saddest moments, the conflicts that have defined our romantic lives.

After the final burst of distortion, the second song, “Kamera,” wastes no time in laying out a much more polished folk-rock sound, describing uncertainty as to “which lies I have been hiding, and which echoes belong.”  Tweedy continues, “I’ve counted out days to see how far I’ve driven in the dark with echoes in my heart.”  It is a pretty song; it is a catchy song.  My only reservation here is lyrically — for instance, why spell the title with a “K” rather than a “C”?  As Robert Christgau seemed to point out in his own review of the album, any major concerns about the album’s quality will most likely be focused around the lyrical quality.  While I think he is, as per usual, deaf to the quality of this excellent album, I will admit that I vacillate as to the meaningfulness of some of the lyrics.

Overall, the album speaks to me, and yet, some of the songs may be found shaky on an individual inspection.

But this should be for you to decide as you listen.

“Radio Cure” is next, bringing the pace down to a crawl, expounding on the effects of distance on love.  It is followed by “War on War,” a protest song of sorts that seems to attack simple-mindedness with simplicity.  If nothing else, Tweedy cries the universal truth that, “You have to learn how to die if you wanna be alive…”  One can suppose that this is not necessarily meant as a commentary on physical violence, but moreso in the context of the romantic relationship in shambles that is described throughout the album.

In “Jesus Etc.” and “Ashes of American Flags,” the lyrics rely on allusions to Christianity and the American dream, respectively.  In the former, the singer attempts to reassure a Christ-like lover who is set on leaving, “last cigarettes” being all she can get before she sets about “turning your orbit around.”  The mournful quality of the latter is unsurpassed, particularly as Tweedy repeats the chorus: “All my lies are only wishes; I know I would die if I could come back new.”  Again, there is the Christian — or perhaps Buddhist — metaphor of a death leading to a rebirth.  We can assume that this relationship being referred to is dying or already dead, and the question, of course, remains: what will be reborn in its place?  The song ends with the singer “saluting” the ashes of American flags, “and all the fallen leaves filling up shopping bags.”

Anyone who has gone through a breakup after a meaningful relationship has undoubtedly undergone this phase of the healing process.

The seventh and eighth tracks sidestep a bit, the first — “Heavy Metal Drummer” — taking a nostalgic and upbeat flashback to memories of past summers filled with rock concerts and parties and the second — “I’m the Man Who Loves You” — coming across as a manic return to the present, the singer declaring, “If I could, you know I would just hold your hand and you’d understand: I’m the man who loves you!”

Subsequently, we learn that the singer’s declaration of love has not had the desired effect.  Indeed, “Pot Kettle Black” is an important transition point on the record as Tweedy sings of coming to terms with the realities of the relationship that exists between these two people.  Its abstract lyrics are no attempt to dodge specificity; rather, this is a great case study for how the mind perceives the breakdown of something so dear.

The final two tracks provide another excellent couplet in this eleven line album.  “Poor Places” establishes itself as an anthem for isolation, with the singer ultimately decreeing, “It’s hot in the poor places tonight; I’m not going outside.”  This is not an entirely unexpected turn of events.  After all, the album has covered a lot of melancholy ground, including what can arguably be construed as failed attempts at jump-starting a broken relationship.

When the final track arrives, it is somewhat of an enigma.  “Reservations” is one of the simplest, saddest, and most sincere love songs in the Wilco catalog.  The refrain, “I’ve got reservations about so many things, but not about you,” can be interpreted in several different ways — as a final attempt at reconciliation, as a statement after having reunited with the person (although there is less evidence for this), or perhaps most directly as parting words.  Judging from the ominous silence that follows, complete with sounds that can only be compared to a violent wind, the final interpretation seems the most likely.

From beginning to end, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of those rare albums that connects on both mental and emotional levels, calling on the listener to think in order to deconstruct meaning from the songs and utilizing all the right sounds to convey all the right feelings.  This was the album that singlehandedly led me into a breakup, nursed me through the depression that followed, and brought me back to the love of my life. (“What was I thinking when I let go of you?…”)

As the disclaimers read in those lovely commercials about diet pills, my results may not be typical, but my life is better for having experienced this album.  I hope — and have faith — that this album will have even half the effect on you that it did on me.

The BEST MUSIC VIDEOS of 2011 (The Year-End Awards)

Originally posted 2012-01-23 10:00:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Although the music video may have slid significantly farther down in relevance since its heyday in the eighties and nineties, there are still artists making them.  In fact, it seems to be fairly standard procedure, and the venue of choice appears to have become YouTube’s VEVO provider.  I spent a long time watching more videos than I’m willing to admit here.  The result, below, is a streamlined list of only the best.  To be truthful, I have recognized more than I believe are truly notable, if only because I felt they were worth mentioning after I had taken the time to watch them.

If you like music videos and miss them, I encourage you to take the time to watch those listed below, especially the top ten, all of which are available via YouTube.

1) “Give It All Back” – Noah and the Whale

2) “Calamity Song” – The Decemberists (Inspired by David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest)

3) “Perform This Way” – “Weird Al“ Yankovic

4) “This is Why We Fight” – The Decemberists (Directed by Aaron Stewart-Ahn)

5) “Call” – Joseph Arthur (Directed by Joseph Arthur)

6) “Stay Young, Go Dancing” – Death Cab for Cutie

7) “Born Alone” – Wilco (Directed by Mark Greenberg)

8) “Monarchy of Roses” – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Directed by Marc Klasfeld; inspired by the work of Raymond Pettibon)

9) “Wake and Be Fine” – Okkervil River (Directed by Daniel Gibb)

10) “Thunder on the Mountain” – Wanda Jackson (Directed by thirtytwo)

11) “Jejune Stars” – Bright Eyes (Directed by Lance Acord)

12) “Suck It and See” – Arctic Monkeys

13) “Rope” – Foo Fighters

14) “Get Away” – Yuck (Directed by Michael)

15) “Lotus Flower” – Radiohead (Directed by Garth Jennings)

16) “CNR” – “Weird Al” Yankovic

17) “White Limo” – Foo Fighters

18) “Casting Lines” – Jack’s Mannequin (Directed by Claire Marie Vogel)

19) “Monsters Anonymous” – Kevin Hearn (Directed by Dr. Minz)

20) “Words I Never Said” – Lupe Fiasco

21) “Louder than Ever” – Cold War Kids

22) “Comeback Kid (That’s My Dog)” – Brett Dennen (Directed by Ben Moon)

23) “Paradise” – Coldplay (Directed by Mat Whitecross)

24) “Summer Place” – Fountains of Wayne

25) “Longing to Belong” – Eddie Vedder

26) “You and Me” – Parachute

27) “Amy, I” – Jack’s Mannequin (Directed by Chloe Fleury)

28) “Waiting for My Chance to Come” – Noah and the Whale

29) “What I Know” – Parachute

30) “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” – Red Hot Chili Peppers (Directed by Marc Klasfeld)

 

Honorable Mention:

“Satisfied” – Tom Waits (Directed by Jesse Dylan)

“Blue Tip” – The Cars

“Royal Blue” – Cold War Kids (Live at Third Man Records)

 

Also of Note:

Nine Types of Light – TV on the Radio (60 minute feature)

 

“Chris’ Mix (Vol. 2): Music I Discovered in 2009” – Playlists on Parade

Originally posted 2010-04-03 13:23:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

In April 2009, I decided to put together a playlist for a friend, one which would represent my favorite music that I had discovered since I began paying close attention to new music, as well as expanding my range of interests.  This had all started in the middle of my first year of teaching; now that I made a regular salary, I realized I could budget out enough money for regular music purchases.  So, it all started in January 2008 with Ringo Starr’s Liverpool 8.  I would have bought that album anyway, but I went on to buy albums that I never would have paid much attention to in the past.  Some, like R.E.M.’s Accelerate, are albums that I consider to be among the best of all time.

I’m glad I didn’t miss them!

Now, of course, there were many mediocre (and worse) albums along the way, but in the end, this decision has been fruitful.  I look forward with excitement to each “New Music Tuesday,” waiting to receive the Newbury Comics newsletter in my inbox.  Many weeks, there is music that piques my interest, and I set off on the journey to pick it up and listen.

I will feature this first playlist of 2008 music on next week’s edition of “Playlists on Parade,” but I felt the strong urge to start with my latest playlist.  This is a collection of songs that I discovered in 2009, either because they were released that year, were recommended to me, or I stumbled upon them.  I hope you enjoy the brief liner notes and consider picking some of these up!

1)  “Got Some” – Pearl Jam

This is the song I thought should have been the lead-off track on their 2009 album Backspacer.  I first heard it performed live on the first-ever Late Night with Conan O’Brien show, and I was head-over-heels for it from the first snare shots.  The studio version didn’t disappoint, and thus, it’s the lead-off track for this playlist.

2)  “Wilco (the song)” – Wilco

I’ll admit it:  I laughed when I first heard this song performed live on the Colbert Report, but I simply fell in love with the album version.  The band is clearly so comfortable with themselves that this very direct, very cheesy statement comes across as consoling and encouraging.  I needed it last year, and I continue to sing along every time.

3)  “Help Me, Suzanne” – Rhett Miller

I vividly remember hearing this song for the first time on Mike Fusco’s iPhone.  He was playing this because it was a song he had to share.  He had heard it on the Hollister store soundtrack, and I was surprised by just how good it was.  How could such excellent music slip by unnoticed?  Well, Mike noticed it, and I picked up the album shortly after.  There are a couple other great songs, but although the album is enjoyable, there’s no song that competes with this gem.

4)  “Singing Joy to the World” – The Fruit Bats

This is one of the most stripped down performances on the Fruit Bats’ brilliant 2009 album The Ruminant Band.  You just don’t hear too many ballads like this one, and I’m hooked on the lyrics and melody every time I listen.

5)  “Part of It” – Relient K

Why this song wasn’t released as a single from 2009’s Forget and Not Slow Down, I’ll never know.  It is easily one of the best performances on the album, and it is one of my favorite Relient K songs of all time.  My favorite line?  Gotta be: “I’m the Cusack on the lawn of your heart.”  Now THAT is a metaphor for the ages!

6)  “Jonathon Fisk” – Spoon

Mentioned in an email by former student Geoff Troup less than a month before the New Year, I set out to hear Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight before their scheduled 2010 release of Transference (which is fantastic, by the way).  I realized I did know “That’s the Way We Get By,” probably from watching The O.C. with my sister.  (Did I just admit that in an official post?  Wow.)  The album was a bit odd to me at first, but after a few listens, I couldn’t get enough of their unique style.  “Jonathon Fisk” is among the best, and I hold a special place in my heart for this track since I learned it for a recent Laptop Session.

7)  “The Mob Goes Wild” – Clutch

Clutch came highly recommended by my colleague Dan O’Brien, and although I liked Blast Tyrant very much (so much that it just missed charting on my favorite 50 albums of the decade list), “The Mob Goes Wild” immediately stood out from the rest.  It is one of those songs for which you feel compelled to learn the lyrics so you can competently sing along.  It also adds a nice, harder edge to this playlist that balances out the quieter tracks.

8)  “Cornerstone” – The Arctic Monkeys

Like “Singing Joy to the World,” I instantly fell in love with the story told in this song.  Not only did I listen with rapt attention that first listen, but I was fascinated by the instrumental and vocal blend.  “Cornerstone” is a wonderfully quirky, hauntingly skeevy, and addictively entertaining track, one that softened my distaste for the Arctic Monkeys,’ an opinion I had based on their early work.

9)  “Life of a Thousand Crimes” – Echo & the Bunnymen

If you believed the critics that write for the major music magazines, you would have ignored the 2009 release (The Fountain) that yielded this Echo & the Bunnymen gem.  McCulloch’s vocals are in gritty, perfect form for leading this upbeat romp.

10)  “Peacemaker” – Green Day

There were so many standout tracks on Green Day’s 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown that it was difficult to choose just one for this playlist.  Overall, though, “Peacemaker” is one of the most instrumentally and vocally interesting, not to mention one of the catchiest.  When I recorded my Laptop Session cover song version of this track, it certainly gave me a workout as I figured out how to fit in all the vocals and still breathe!

11)  “Cream and Bastards Rise” – Harvey Danger

Remember “Flagpole Sitta”?  Well, it seems that this is about the only Harvey Danger song that anyone remembers.  And it’s a shame because 2005’s Little by Little… is an outstanding disc, one that featured this catchy, killer performance of their lead single.  (And, sadly, they’re so right!)

12)  “Jocelyn” – Kevin Hearn & Thin Buckle

If you liked the hidden track on the Barenaked Ladies’ 2000 album Maroon, then Kevin Hearn and Thin Buckle are for you.  This, as you may have guessed, is Hearn’s side project, and their second album (2004’s Night Light) yielded this beautiful little song.  After the frenetic buildup of “Peacemaker” and “Cream and Bastards Rise,” I thought this was the perfect track to relax on before “Got Some” returns again for another go-round.