Sunday, February 7, 2016

Like a Rolling Stone

So I guess this has been a thing for ten years and I'm just now coming across it. In an effort to make up for lost time, I've listened to it on repeat for 5 hours now. And it's not getting old.

This is probably the finest cover of this great song I've ever heard—although that's actually kinda damning with faint praise, since I've heard a few good covers (Jimi Hendrix, Green Day), a couple okay (the Rolling Stones' version actually was better than I'd expected if still not exactly transcendent) and a bunch of terrible (John Mayer, sure, but David Gilmour?! What were you thinkin', man?), but few if any great. (Maybe Hendrix simply set the bar too high with "All Along the Watchtower," but I find his "Like a Rolling Stone" good—of course it is, it's Jimi—but far from great).

But the Drive-By Truckers make this their own without changing a damn thing. The finest southern rock band since the heyday of the Allman Bros and Lynyrd Skynrd, one listen makes it clear that they've heard the original hundreds of times. And like Dylan, they're fluent in rock, country and blues, as well as alternative. And the fact that each verse is sung by a different band member is sheer gold, bringing to mind the glory days of The Band, not inappropriately. Having the finest singer-songwriter of the past decade, Jason Isbell, taking a verse certainly doesn't hurt, but so good are the others that his doesn't even (especially) stand out (much); Patterson Hood's Henleyesque voice fits perfectly, and the addition of Shonna Tucker is always a welcome one, while Mike Cooley's country punk caps things off perfectly. And when they all shout the final chorus, it brings it all home in a way the song hasn't often since being played fuckin' loud at the semi-apocryphal Royal Albert Hall gig.


So how does it feel? Pretty sweet, actually.

(Also, the pumpfake of the snare shot at the beginning's pretty damn funny.)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Life on Mars?

Well, this choked me up more than I was expecting.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie

"In the event that this fantastic voyage 
Should turn to erosion and we never get old,
Remember it's true:
Dignity is valuable,
But our lives are valuable too." 

- David Bowie, "Fantastic Voyage" 1979

Well, this really sucks.

Pick the word or phrase that best described David Bowie. Innovator. Performer. Talent-magnet. Envelope-pusher. Punk forerunner. Glam forerunner. New wave forerunner. Blue-eyed soul. Master producer. Fearless actor. Musical genius.

Any one of them fit. And none of them tell the full story. Just as it's hard to count the range of artists he influenced and inspired. Iggy Pop. Mick Jagger. Lou Reed. John Lennon. Madonna. Lady Gaga. And keep going. They are all brilliant musical artists. And all were made better by having known, or having been influenced by, David Bowie.

It's hard to believe we're now speaking of him in the past tense, that he's gone just two days after turning 69.

Farewell mate. Thank you for the music and for so, so much more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

There is so much to love about this clip. In fact, there is absolutely nothing not to love.

Carole King's out of her skull joy.

The president crying before the song's even 30 seconds in.

The Queen of Soul's piano playing, of which there is never ever ever enough. (Dear Unplugged people: why in the hell didn't you get her? Justifiably afraid no other would ever come close to measuring up?)

How she owns the lower register for the first 2/3rds the song, leading one to understandably recognize that she's 73 and no longer has the force of nature vocal chords she did as a young woman but can still more than bring all the emotion any singer could ever dream of?

Or when she stands up and shows that, yeah, no, she may have lost a few miles per hour off her fastball but she can still bring the heat with all the authority there is.


Or maybe it's at the end, when George Lucas, standing next to Carole King, is clearly thinking, "well...shit. My tribute wasn't nearly that awesome." Don't feel bad, George. Nobody's was. Nobody's could be.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Junk

I've always had something of an aversion to jazz covers of rock, since so often it (to my ears) bowdlerizes the source into EZ-listening mush, but Brad Mehldau clearly has not a lounge player's approach but one much closer to that of John Coltrane, and the results are always engaging and often extraordinary. And I'm always pleased when my tastes line up with an artist's I like, since I think this is maybe the single most gorgeous song, melodically, that Paul McCartney ever wrote. Which, you know, isn't sayin' nothin', all things considered.

In fact, if I have any quibbles with this version, it's that I'd have liked it to go on about another half hour.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Girl/Woman

Today is 35 years since John Lennon was killed.

Wow is that a long time. Which in no way at all seems that long.

Here's something I noticed recently. For the first time, oddly.

When he was 25 he wrote a song called "Girl," a great song, no doubt, but one filled with anger bordering on petulance about the "girl" in his life he just couldn't seem to get over and just couldn't seem to understand. He sounded like a boy singing this song, because he pretty much was a boy.


Fast forward 15 years to when he was 40, tragically the last year of his life. The last great song he would ever write came out that year, also squarely centered on the female in his life.

Only this one was called ""Woman." Gone was the bitterness and frustration, replaced here by contrition and an outright, plainly spoken vow of love and devotion. He sounded like a man singing it. Because he now was a man.


John Lennon the brash brat became John Lennon the grownup. "Girl" became "Woman." And rock-n-roll became all the greater by him making these contributions. Again and again.

Just one more gift from John Winston Ono Lennon, 1940-1980. Taken too soon and gone too long.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Going to California

I think the mighty Zep, despite—or perhaps because of—their sometimes cartoonishly macho image, benefits more from being covered by the opposite gender than maybe any other artist. As is standard for most Led Zeppelin, it's less about the lyrical content than the musical, and the way the change in timbre gives a surprisingly potent additional boost to an otherwise straightforward cover.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Favorite Song Friday: I Love

This may be cheating ever so slightly as I'd never heard this song before five minutes ago but the fact remains it's the song I love more dearly than any other song I've ever heard before. And somehow the video is even better.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bittersweet Symphony/Waterloo Sunset

This freakin' guy.

There are some who think the secret to Brad Mehldau's greatness is that he went to high school about half a mile from where DT and I went to school, and at the same time, no less. These people are (mainly) wrong.

What they're not wrong about is that he's great. 'cuz he is great.

Monday, November 16, 2015

With or Without You

One of U2's best known songs redone as a gothic dirge? Sure, why not.



I like this a lot but I'm not actually sure it works. But what is undeniably impressive is how thoroughly Lee has put her own stamp on this iconic tune, keeping virtually nothing of the original arrangement. For a song as entrenched in pop culture as this one, that's no mean feat.

(I especially dig the "On a Plain" vocals at the end.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I'll Be Back

Somehow I have never heard this, one of my favorite songs by my favorite ever artist covered wonderfully by another artist I adore. Do not make my same mistake. Listen. Listen now. And then several more times.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

RIP Allen Toussaint

Like a lot of rock fans, I first became aware of Allen Toussaint thanks to his incredible work on the Band's Rock of Ages LP. But it doesn't take much further investigation to realize—in fact, if you're a serious music fan, it's hard not to be aware—just what a monster musician he was, or what a loss his passing is.

Friday, November 6, 2015

People Get Ready

Just how great is Aretha Franklin? Words cannot adequately describe. But here's one indication—this amazing cover of the great Impressions song:


The thing isn't so much how great her cover is, although of course it is. Even by Lady Soul's incredibly lofty standards, it's great. But what struck me recently is that it barely even gets mentioned when the song is discussed. Not because her version isn't fantastic, but because fantastic is what we expected from The Divine Miss F, every single time. Fantastic is her baseline standard.

That's how great.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Michelangelo

Many many years ago, surely just following the dawn of all time, Scott and I were driving one night and heading...somewhere. Who knows? We were both in college at the time and home on some break or another.

Scott popped in a cassette tape (I told you this was before the dawn of time) and on came Buddy Holly, singing and playing (I think I remember) "Everyday."

Anyway, Scott nearly yelled this to me, with the utmost of urgency:

"Do you have any idea how great he was? Any idea?"

I did. I still do.

Anyway. Greatness. It's a funny thing (or so I hear). Because even though you know it's there, sometimes we still have to be reminded. I music, we're reminded by a friend practically screaming to us to sit up and take notice of how great something is. Or maybe we get reminded by reading a review, or by reading about the artist in question.

Of course, usually, we just need to listen to be reminded of greatness.

Like here.


Emmylou Harris is not one of the greatest female singers/musicians to ever live; she is one of the greatest singer/musicians to ever live, period.

And I don't think she's ever been better than this (relatively) late career track (it comes from her spectacular Red Dirt Girl album in 2000). Listen to what is at work here. To Emmylou's voice, sad and breathy and distant, aided by some subtle orchestration and a couple of simple chords and not much else, Listen to the way she so lovingly sings his name, "Michelangelo," at the conclusion of every verse, extending it out just a nanosecond longer for emphasis. Listen to those haunted, mournful wails she offers following each bridge. As if what she is seeing and what she is feeling is simply too beautiful to be described in words.

Borrowing melodically somewhat from Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne, " "Michelangelo" sweeps us into a series of Emmylou's dreams, where the grand master visits her in a variety of different shapes and forms, all of which lead to questions from her about what they both have seen, heard and touched. This is a love letter from one great artist to another, delivered in hushed, melancholy tones that never once ceases to be stunning.

Did you suffer at the end, would there be no on to remember?
Did you banish all the old ghosts with the terms of your surrender?
And could you hear me calling out your name?
Well I guess that I will never know...
Michelangelo.

Last night I dreamed about you,
I dreamed that you were weeping.
And the dreams poured down like diamonds
For a love beyond all keeping.
And you caught them one by one,
In a million silk bandannas I gave you long ago...
Michelangelo.

Greatness abounds with Emmylous Harris, and all we need to be reminded of this is to simply listen to her at her best. With a truckful of musical talent, a voice that descended from heaven and a gift for tasteful, tactful understatement that few artists have ever had, Emmylou has it all. "Michelangelo" shows why.

Long may she reign.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Revolution

A very knowledgable music fan with usually outstanding taste once casually said to me that the Beatles weren't really rock, that they were pop. I just stared at him for several minutes until he went away.

I mean, really.


I don't believe the whole "world's greatest rock 'n roll band™" nonsense started until after the Beatles had broken up. And with good reason. Compare and contrast and only one band comes out looking like a serious contender for the title, and it ain't the Stones.