Friday, September 29, 2017

Amanda Shires Compares Mythologies with Leonard Cohen

I went to a Jason Isbell show a couple of weeks ago, and walked out feeling like hell. No doubt about it, Jason is a great songwriter, but the show was so unrelievedly bleak that I found myself wishing I'd stayed home and watched "Seinfeld" reruns instead. And I was doubly disappointed that Isbell's wife and regular bandmate, Amanda Shires, wasn't there for the show. He said she had a gig of her own back in Nashville. Come to think of it, that's where I wish I was. Amanda's violin and vocals are like little rays of light sneaking between the blinds into the dark rooms of Jason's songs. But more than that, she's an accomplished singer-songwriter in her own right. Her work is full of that light, making even her most bittersweet songs something to lift your spirit.

A great and famous man once said, "There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." Amanda shares my admiration for this great man; indeed, she wrote a song for him called "A Song For Leonard Cohen":
I wish that I could buy you a drink
And then more and then five
I'd get you drunk and I'd get me outgoing
All week or just this one night...
We'd compare mythologies*
And toast those friends that never believed
That our voices ever had much to offer
And then, maybe, we would go for a walk
And I'd just listen while you talk...
Amanda has a tattoo of lyrics from Leonard's "Take This Waltz" on her back.

At her May 15, 2014 show at St. Bonaventure's Parish Hall, in Bristol, England, she followed "A Song For Leonard Cohen" with a cover of the master's "I'm Your Man." Both tracks from the show are below.** Isbell plays guitar on the tracks, and if you listen real close I swear you can hear him smiling--something I don't think he did the whole night I saw him play. I bet Amanda makes you smile too.

A Song For Leonard Cohen

I'm Your Man

*"Let Us Compare Mythologies" was the title of Leonard Cohen's first book of poetry, published in 1956, when he was 21.

**I'm sorry to say I can't find the name of the taper, but it's a lovely recording, so thank you, whoever you are.

Here are videos of both songs, for those who don't like to download MP3s:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

NSDLD Cover of the Day: Lucinda Williams is "Tryin' to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door" plus "The Rising"

If you were going to create a Mt. Rushmore for the genre loosely known as country-rock, Lucinda Williams would have to be one of the four artists on it. (Who'd be the others? Let me know your thoughts down where the drunkards roll in the comments section.) For me, "Tryin' to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door" was the greatest song on Time Out of Mind, so I'm especially glad Lucinda decided to make it a staple in her live sets between 2013 and 2015. This version is from a semi-acoustic show with Doug Pettibone on February 2, 2103, at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. Thanks to Perks for the recording!

Tryin' to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door - Lucinda Williams

Today's bonus cut is Lucinda's cover of "The Rising," the title track from Bruce Springsteen's 9-11 inspired Grammy-winning album. I'm a huge Springsteen fan, but his post-Tom Joad studio work has left me mostly cold. It's just too big for my taste--the sounds overpower the songs. For me, Lucinda gets this one just right. It's from her performance on June 22, 2015, in Ocean City, New Jersey.

The Rising - Lucinda Williams

Thanks Ed Tyre for the recording!

Monday, June 13, 2016

NSDLD Cover of the Day: "The Man in Me" by Jeff Bridges with Jackson Browne

Who can forget the classic moment in The Big Lebowski when The Dude soars over the city to the sound of His Bobness singing "The Man in Me"? Not me, and evidently not Jeff Bridges, who has taken to covering the song in his sets when he's out moonlighting as a country-rock crooner. The version here features harmonies from Jackson Browne, and comes from a benefit Browne headlined for The Sanctuary Centers of Santa Barbara*, a housing and treatment center for severely mentally disabled persons. Bridges introduces it by saying "This one's for the Dude"--I couldn't agree more.

The Man in Me - Jeff Bridges w/ Jackson Browne

Thanks Scooter123 for the recording!

*The web page for this worthy charity is at who donates gets free downloads on this site for life.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

NSDLD Cover of the Day: "Pressing On" by John Doe
Plus John Lennon's "Imagine" covered by Michael Stipe

First, my apologies to those who had trouble with yesterday's dropbox link. I have switched to sendspace, which seems to be working fine. So if you couldn't download Eric Clapton's cover of "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" yesterday, you should be able to now. Also, if you want to get updates on the daily covers, sign up here or follow me on Twitter; I'm not sure if the Expecting Rain links will continue.

Today's Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan cover is "Pressing On," performed by John Doe (with Cindy Wasserman), from April 15, 2015 at the Hollywood Palladium, where he opened for the Replacements. Doe also sang this on the soundtrack of Todd Haynes's wonderful filmic mediation on Dylan, I'm Not There. He's got a new album out called The Westerner and a memoir about his early days on the L.A. punk scene as one of the founders of X called Under the Big Black Sun.

Pressing On - John Doe

Thanks BLG for sharing this splendid recording.

Pressing on is what the people in Orlando are trying to do--they have had a bad few days. On Friday night, young singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed while signing autographs after her show; Saturday night, more than 100 people were shot and and at least 50 of them were killed while out at a club trying to have a good time. I don't know what the killers' motives were, but I know one thing they had in common: they had guns the whole civilized world now wishes they hadn't. Everyone should do what they can to change this--at the very least, if you are an American citizen, you should vote. 

Both of these tragedies struck people who were out listening to music--which is sad, since music is one of the most healing things we have in what some wise person once called our "world gone wrong." One of the most peaceful, healing songs ever written is "Imagine," by John Lennon. Here it is, performed by Michael Stipe, opening for Patti Smith, at New York's Beacon Theater on November 10, 2015.
 Imagine - Michael Stipe

Thanks Neil D for the historic recording, and thanks John for the song, which can come in handy on a night like this.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan Cover of the Day:
"I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" by Eric Clapton


For several years, I periodically compiled and shared Bob Dylan cover CDs by various artists under the title Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan through the site (The track listing for the whole series is here.*) The last one, Volume 40, was done about four years ago, and I moved on to other things. But I didn't stop collecting Dylan covers. Now, I'm going to try sharing them, one a day, here on Small Figures in a Vast Expanse. If people seem to like getting them this way, I'll continue; if not, we can all move on again.

First up is Eric Clapton doing "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," live in Tokyo on April 19, 2016. (It's also on his new studio album I Still Do, so if you like it here you can buy it there.) Clapton's been covering Dylan a long time, including a great version of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and a duet with Dylan on "Sign Language" from his 1976 album No Reason to Cry. I got to see him at the 30th anniversary Bobfest live at Madison Square Garden, where he did beautiful versions of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and "Don't Think Twice It's Alright," as well as taking a verse on "My Back Pages." His version of "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" is great, and it's a song that doesn't get covered much, so I'm happy to start this new series with it. Enjoy, comment, sign up here for updates, or follow me on twitter.

Thanks to Tom and Jerry for taping and sharing this and The Naniwa Hot Brothers for sound editing!

I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (Live) - Eric Clapton **

**Apologies to those who had trouble with the dropbox link. I have switched to sendspace. Please let me know in the comments if there is any trouble with this one.

* I've since changed computers and don't have these in any organized way, so I can't repost them. But they're out in the world--if there's something you are looking for, please post in the comments and someone may be able to help you out. That goes for any tracks prior to this one on this blog too.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Richard Thompson Has Friends

It's been three weeks since Richard Thompson received the ultimate tribute--Bob Dylan covered one of his songs! Amazingly, no recording of His Bobness's version of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" has surfaced online, a conspiracy the NSA should surely look into. In the meantime, while we wait...and wait...and wait for the digital equivalent of a tape to surace, here are two amazing Thompson performances.

The first is Thompson playing "Calvary Cross," once a regular showstopper but now rarely performed, with Dawes (of all people) on a Cayamo Cruise (of all places) while wearing sandals, shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt (of all outfits). Despite all those distractions, it's great.

Next up is Richard playing perhaps his most beautiful song, "Beeswing," at Northumbrian concertina player Alistair Anderson's 'Diamond Dazzler' 60th Birthday celebration concert at The Sage Gateshead, on 14th of May 2008. Now that's more like it!

Now somebody, please, share Dylan's version 1952VBL with the rest of us--before it's too late.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is It Rolling Bob?

Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Bob Johnston
 If you know the name Bob Johnston, you probably know that he produced a lot of great albums, including Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan; Songs From a Room and Songs of Love and Hate by Leonard Cohen; Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme by Simon and Garfunkel; and Johnny Cash Live At Folson Prison and At San Quentin, to name just a few.

Johnston, Cohen, and Ron Cornelius

He also played piano on Cohen's world tour in 1972. As he told the Austin Chronicle:

"I ended up on the tour almost by accident. He asked me to manage him; then he asked me to get his band together. Getting ready, I had said to Cohen, "Man, I'll get you the best piano player in the world."

"No, I want you," Leonard insisted

I protested: "I can't play piano. I can bang around, but I can't play, and you've got great musicians here. They're wonderful people."

"Either you come and play, or I won't go" was Cohen's response.

I thought, "Hell, I'm not gonna miss this." So we started off.

I just played piano and guitar and organ, whatever. I couldn't play very well, but he couldn't sing very well."

Tony Palmer made a documentary about the tour called "Bird on a Wire," which was lost for many years but is now available on DVD. The film included a scene in which Johnston sings an amazing version of the title song--strangely, this scene was left out of the DVD release. But thanks to the magic of You Tube, here it is--Johnston picks up the vocal midway through and turns this into the most beautiful rendition of this great and much-covered song I've ever heard.

Turns out Johnston's still around, and produced Harper Simon' eponymous debut album in 2010--Harper being the grown up version of Paul Simon's 9-year-old son from his first marriage mentioned in "Graceland." That circle is complete. Maybe Jakob Dylan, Roseanne Cash, and Adam Cohen can hire him to produce their next records.