Saturday, October 24, 2015

Bob Dylan Shadows Of The Nght 2015

So here we have Bob Dylan's tribute to Frank Sinatra. It is, on some level, everything the rave reviews say it is. Dylan pays loving homage to a style of music that came before his own. He inhabits the lyrics, caresses them from his lips, with some shockingly good singing. The use of his own touring and recording band works out just fine. The only problem is that it is dull and boring, every arrangement more lifeless than the one before.

Rolling Stone gave it four stars (out of five, not ten).

The Guardian gave it five stars and called it "an unalloyed pleasure".

The Telegraph gave it five stars and called it "extraordinary".

AllMusic gave it four stars.

Washington Square gave it a 9/10 and finished the review with "When Dylan flexes and fires on all cylinders like this, nobody else has a chance."

That last guy couldn't possibly have been listening to the same CD that I was.

Pitchfork gave it a more realistic 6.2/10, and noted quite accurately "Say what you want about Sinatra, but at least the man could swing." Dylan can sometimes swing, too, but there's none of that here. They also said  "Shadows in the Night may pose some compelling questions for the Bobophiles who scrutinize every line and every word of every Dylan song, but for the more casual, less obsessive listener, it can be a bit of a snooze." To which I say Amen.

Dylan sings these songs really very well, with nuance and emotion. He sings as well, or better, than we could have ever expected. These lovely melodies are enhanced regularly by pedal steel guitar that is just perfect for the occasion. But these ballads (every song) move at glacial speed, making the thought of a dirge sound snappy. I get the whole moody thing, but unless it's two am and you're already depressed, I'd skip this one.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

JD McPherson Let The Good Times Roll 2015

The audacity. The record is called Let The Good Times Roll, and there's a title cut, and it is an original JD McPherson composition, not a cover song.

In fact all of the songs are McPherson originals, and all of them draw heavily on 1950s R&B, rockabilly, and rock 'n' roll. The songs are in many ways the champ here, because it takes skill to make music this derivative and still have it sound fresh and new.

Although McPherson's voice is a very strong asset as well. A high tenor that verges on scream on the ravers, it is a fine instrument. He's clearly got conviction behind his musical beliefs, and he never tries to sing like anybody but himself.

And the band, and the arrangements. Simple almost to a fault. Almost. Or this is the distillation of 50s rockabilly down to the most primal, necessary elements, and nothing else. Everything needed to define the genre without further embellishment. Sparse arrangements often dropping down to only three of the five musicians (drums, bass, piano/organ, sax, and McPherson's own primal guitar), the record sounds like a rockabilly version of The Velvet Underground's spare, primal The Velvet Underground from 1969.

The title track is a swinging rocker. Bossy follows with rockabilly a la Dwane Eddy tremolo guitar, and McPherson's near scream. The bluesy R&B of Its All Over But The Shouting is driven by honking sax. McPherson's simple lead guitar works, but here, and in a few other spots, I find myself wondering what this band might sound like with a really hot guitarist. McPherson is talented and very tasteful. Sort of George Harrison as opposed to Jimmy Page.

Bridgebuilder is a weepy 50s-style ballad, and McPherson again sings it to the ground. It Shook Me Up follows, and updates the sound of a classic Little Richard screamer with a twangy lead break and fine vocal. The basic party R&B of Head Over Heels ends side one on a high note, with a brilliant arrangement of very simple parts into a primal, stomping rocker.

Again perfecting the sparsest shell of rockabilly style, Shy Boy rocks. All tremolo guitar and howling chorus, You Must Have Met Little Caroline consoles those lost to the title heartbreaker. Precious is an atmospheric ballad that recalls John Hiatt's best writing, while Mother Of Lies struts a fast walking blues and finally, a guitar break with a touch of wild abandon.

The record closes with a final Little Richard/Buddy Holley rave-up, Everybody's Talking 'Bout The All-American, that like so many of these songs, sounds vaguely familiar, and yet not. McPherson has an uncanny ability to draw from without taking from the 50s forms he so clearly admires.

It is as derivative as it is uniquely new. The guy can sing, and he can write. He's got this great band that plays only what is needed and absolutely nothing more, and it is all part of the plan. If any of this sounds like your cup of tea, you owe it to yourself to hear it.