Posted in Album Reviews, Singles Going Steady

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

Our Bob Dylan journey continues as we work through The Complete Album Collection Vol. 1.  Here we arrive at his first classic disc, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  Released in May of 1963, a year after the self titled debut, it sees Dylan make a startling leap forward as he moves from mostly covers to mostly originals including several of his most important songs.  I did own this album before buying the box set but had never given it more than a few scattered listens throughout the years.

The first three songs alone seal the greatness of this album.  “Blowin’ in the Wind” takes the tune of “No More Auction Blocks” and creates one of the greatest folk songs ever written.  One that seems like it has been around forever, not just since The Beatles were singing “Love Me Do”. “Girl From the North Country” is influenced by old folk tune “Scarborough Fair” and is a lovely track of looking back on an old love, perhaps a high school sweatheart from back in Minnesota.  “Masters of War” is laser focused on the politicians in charge of pulling the war strings.  The anger at those who send kids off to war comes through in several scathing lines –  “come you masters of war… you that hide behind desks…I just want you to know, I can see through your masks”

Recognized by music scholars as one of his most complex, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” is episodic in nature.  Upon hearing it performed at the Gaslight Café, singer Peter Blankfield commented that “every line kept building and bursting”.  It’s hard not to stop what you’re doing while this plays and just listen. Still powerful 50+ years later. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” speaks of the loves that pass through one’s life for a short but intense time then disappear. “I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul” ….but that’s alright, it was good, now it’s time to move on. 

The first half of the album hits harder but the second half does have a few understated gems. “Oxford Town” is a short two minute track about James Meredith being the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962.  “Corinna, Corinna” is refreshing after the much longer “Talking World War III Blues”.  A traditional song with a few Robert Johnson lyrics thrown in. All the other songs leading up to this just feature Dylan so it takes a few seconds to realize there are drums and a band playing behind his impressive harmonica work. Based on a Leadbelly song, “I Shall Be Free” adds a bit of levity at the end of an album that addresses many serious topics that were at the forefront of 60’s culture.

The cover photo of Dylan walking down a street in the West Village with then girlfriend Suze Rotolo is iconic and one of the best album covers of all time.  Still ranking high in most lists of the greatest albums of all time, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan has not diminished at all. While not perfect, Dylan’s first classic album containing several towering songs is one that should be in all serious music collections.

10/10

Posted in Singles Going Steady

Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (2019)

Titanic Rising

One of our favourite tracks from 2016 was the cosmic “Do You Need Me” from 24 year old American singer-songwriter Natalie Laura Mering who goes by the name Weyes Blood.  Earlier in the year, she released her fourth studio album Titanic Rising on Sub Pop Records. Listeners are greeted with just vocals and piano to start album opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change” which is teleported from the early 70s and would fit in well on any radio station playing The Carpenters.  First single “Andromeda” has a hazy, off kilter sound that is balanced by an uplifting chorus. “Everyday” ‘s jaunty bounce really shows off Mering’s vocal range.

“Movies” sounds like a slowed down Muse track and might be the most epic song written about a love of popcorn summer movies.  “Mirrors Forever” states, “no one’s ever gonna give you a trophy for all the pain you’ve been through”.  I made the mistake of listening to the album a lot while walking the dog where the sumptuous sound of tracks like “Wild Time” did not fit. At home, listening on headphones as the music envelopes you, fits the mood much better.

8/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Liz Phair – Girly Sound To Guyville (2018)

I’m not sure of the exact timeline but I have a distinct memory of buying The Juliana Hatfield Three’s Become What You Are disc on the same day I bought Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville.  Released in 1993, the debut album from Liz Phair, is an all-time classic indie rock record.  25 years later, Matador Records brought out an anniversary edition that added two extra discs that compromised much of the Girly Sound tapes. 

All these years later, the power of the original album is still intact.  “Fuck and Run” and “Divorce Song” still cut straight to the bone and are devastating in their emotional directness.  While those tracks are wise beyond their years, “Help Me Mary” sees a mid-twenties Phair pleading for help with lousy roommates. “Flower” saw Phair talk about sex in a way that had many indie rock males aroused while they listened in their bedrooms with the lights off.  “Stratford-On-Guy” still disorients and sounds like an updated version of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight”. 

Much was made at the time of Exile being Phair’s response to The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.  Perhaps a bit of hyperbole but for the first minute on “Johnny Sunshine”, Phair’s crunching guitar drives straight through rock’s heart. In 1994 Phair performed “Never Said” on the old David Letterman show and it felt like a major win for indie rock fans everywhere, like one of our own was making it. There is no praise that is too high for Exile in Guyville, this is one of the best rock albums of the 1990s and of any decade.   10/10

The rest of this three disc collection is music from the Girly Sound era that appeared on three cassettes in 1991.  Years later Phair told Rolling Stone magazine that these demos act like a library that she has gone back to throughout her career.  Many of these songs appear not only on Exile but also on the next two albums – 1994’s Whip-smart and 1998’s Whitechocolatespaceegg.

With just an electric guitar as accompaniment, some of the tracks like the aforementioned “Divorce Song” and “Johnny Sunshine” lack the power of the versions that would later appear. The bizarre first track, “White Babies”, a song about black market babies is a highlight.  “Dead Shark” and “One Less Thing” are also standouts.  Where things pick-up is when the tracks move to the GirlsGirlsGirls tape. “Hello Sailor” and “Wild Thing” that incorporates part of the famous Turtles track is ultra lo-fi coolness. The version of “Fuck and Run” that appears here with “Ant in Alaska” sound more professional and serious, like Phair knew she was writing really great stuff. 9/10

The second disc offers up more of the same.  These tracks would have been extraordinary to have heard in the early 90s as the tapes got passed around from music fan to fan. Third disc highlights include “Miss Mary Mack” and “Gigolo” which almost sounds like a lost melody from The Beach Boys. Later career single “Polyester Bride” appears in a slower seven-minute version whereas the original “Whipsmart” is a mature take on raising children. 9/10

Listening to it almost 30 years later, it’s interesting to hear the demo tracks with fresh ears having listened to the finished versions 1000s of times.  What really comes through is the power in these tracks and the enthusiasm that music fans would have had in 1991 is spot on. It’s an extraordinary batch of songs recorded in a short amount of time and to have it all in one box set is priceless.

Girly Sound to Guyville –  10/10