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 and Adam Cohen can hire him to produce their next records.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Red River Shore: Persecution in the Night

Jimmy LaFave has been a faithful and sometimes inspired interpreter of Bob Dylan for many years. Recently, on his album Depending On The Distance, he became the first significant artist to cover the Time Out of Mind outtake "Red River Shore", which Dylan finally released on Tell Tale Signs. I don't think LaFave quite matches the mystery of Dylan's version, which reminds me of the classic border town film noir Ride the Pink Horse. But his vocal does have an undeniable force. Check it out.

The guy I'd really like to hear cover this is Tom Russell. Tom lives on the El Paso - Juarez boarder, and his best songs have the same sort of dark mystery that Dylan gets at here. He was born to sing this song--if you see him, tell him to get with the program.

And below, just for fun, are some posters of Ride the Pink Horse. The title in Spanish seems to translate to Persecution in the Night--or as Dylan wrote and LaFave sings, "Some of us scare ourselves to death in the dark / To see where the angels fly."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Wonder What's Gone Wrong

Last night, in the wake of the shootings at Newtown, Shawn Colvin opened her concert in Vineland, New Jersey with a devastating version of Paul Simon's "American Tune"--not a regular part of her setlist, but a heartfelt tribute to the victims of a world gone wrong.

American Tune - Shawn Colvin

Here are the lyrics:

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For we lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

© 1973 Words and Music by Paul Simon

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Aoife Covers Nebraska

If you've been to this blog before, you know that I think Aoife O'Donovan is one of the world's great singers. Currently on hiatus from her band Crooked Still, she is on tour solo as the opening act for bluegrass wunderkinds the Punch Brothers--see the dates here. On that tour, she has been performing a brilliant cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City." In fact, last fall she played a one-off show where she covered the whole Nebraska album. From No Depression:

You recently did a month-long residency at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC. I specifically wanted to ask you how you chose to cover Bruce Spingsteen's Nebraska. Can you discuss what drew to that album, it's lasting power for you, and what inspired you to take it on?

Aoife: That week was the ONE week I didn’t have my band (Jake Silver on bass, Ryan Scott on guitar, and Robin MacMillan on drums), and I wanted to do something different. I love Nebraska. All of the songs tell a different story, but there is a common theme of loneliness and desperation that is timeless.  Learning all of those tunes on the guitar, and memorizing the words was a challenge, but I’m SO glad I did it. "Open All Night" was my favorite one to perform… I think it will all be on Youtube soon. 

Well, it hasn't shown up on You Tube yet, but here are a couple of Aoife's Nebraska covers for your delectation.

Nebraska - Aoife and the Boys (1-6-11, Front Hall)

Atlantic City - Aoife O'Donovan (2-23-12, Somerville Theatre)

If you have a chance to see her, don't miss it.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Emmylou and Lanois vs. Leonard and Dylan

I have been hunting for Daniel Lanois' arrangement of Leonard Cohen's "Stranger Song," sung by Emmylou Harris, for a long time. They did it at least twice, while promoting the Sling Blade soundtrack in 1997. The version below comes from an appearance on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on April 9, 1997. Unfortunately, it is a capture from a relatively poor stream, so the quality is nothing to get excited about. The performance, on the other hand, is something to get excited about. The other performance came later that evening, at a performance at a local record store. If anyone has a better sounding copy of either version, drop me a line.

I've also attached an unreleased, alternate version of Emmylou's sublime version of Bob Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand," from the Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball sessions.

Two great songs, one great singer, one great producer.

Stranger Song - Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois

Every Grain of Sand - Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois