TOP TEN: August 2014

A personal chart of current listening, reading, viewing and thinking

1• Bob Dylan in Hamilton

 Remember Bob Dylan? He was the guy who wrote ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, went electric, went to Nashville, got religion… all that stuff. I used to listen to him back in the 60s and 70s, but somewhere I lost track and never heard of him again. Don’t know what happened. I guess he made enough dosh out of those old songs to quietly retire.

A few years ago, though, I discovered this other Bob Dylan. Completely different guy. No idea where this one comes from, though someone said he was discovered playing lounge bars in Minnesota. Anyway, he’s an old dude with a real weatherbeaten voice, like he asked for water but they gave him gasoline and he thought well, what the heck, and drank it anyway. Dresses like a bandito. Plays a little piano, sings a lot of blues. Funny thing is, he turned up the other night in Hamilton, of all places. Hamilton! Maybe it reminded him of somewhere out in the Midwest? Anyway, he was great. Had this mean apocalyptic song and sang it like he was Howlin’ Wolf’s Old Testament uncle, about all the ways he was going to wreak vengeance on the world. “I pay in blood, but not my own” he’d gargle at the end of each verse, and I felt like the devil was breathing on the back of my neck. But that parched voice could make sad sweet sounds, too. My favourite was one called ‘Forgetful Heart’, which has to be the most broken song ever sung, at least in Hamilton. It ends with this devastating couplet: “That door has closed forever more/If, indeed, there ever was a door.” Quite poetic, for an unknown bluesman from the Midwest. Had a great band, too – sharp-dressed cats who looked like they might have played for Bill Haley or someone, somewhere back in ttime. Anyway, Bob and band did a couple of a great sets and then, what do you know, they finished off with ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ – that song by the other Bob Dylan! Didn’t sound anything like him, though. Actually, I think preferred this one.

2• Listening to Song Reader

Song Reader, last year’s folio of sheet music by Beck Hansen, was both an elegant tribute to a near-forgotten art form and a canny response to the state of the music biz, i.e. if people aren’t going to pay for music any more, then at least you can make them play it themselves! But the novelty of the exercise threatened to obscure the quality of the songs themselves, which were at least clever genre pieces, and in some cases up there with Beck’s best. And there were hundreds of interpretations posted online within weeks of publication, suggesting that sitting in parlours playing from written scores might not be such an archaic practice after all. Now Beck has curated a more conventional recording, with a handpicked artist for each of the twenty songs. It’s great to hear 70s soul agitator Swamp Dogg on the anti-war song ‘America, Here’s My Boy’; Marc Ribot has a typically mindbending take on the instrumental ‘Last Polka’, and Beck himself brings his own Beatle-esque brilliance to ‘Heaven’s Ladder”.

3• Tom Rodwell’s Southern Journey

 New Zealand gospel-calypso guitarist-singer Tom Rodwell recently returned from a trip to the Georgia Sea Islands, where he sought out the deep, bluesy and little-known music of the region with which he has long been fascinated. Generously, he has created an audio journal of his trip, which aired on Radio New Zealand National a few weeks ago, and which can now be heard here. It makes a great listen, with raw performances, interviews, commentary and the beautiful strains of Tom’s own guitar. And it comes to a great conclusion, in which Rodwell shares the type of insight that is rare in the often trainspotterish world of music ‘collectors’: about the comfort in accepting that there are things that can never be ‘collected’, and the knowledge that some things will always be unknowable.

4• Lomax in Louisiana

and here is an extraordinary and thorough archive of a much earlier southern field trip by two of the original musicologists, to whom we owe so much of our knowledge of blues and vernacular music. Lots of listening, photos, interactive maps etc. 

5• Naked With Charlie

A jazz detective’s account of a poolside bacchanal and jam session at a northern Los Angeles ranch in 1952, where Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker played naked – as did most of the guests. It could almost be the opening chapter of a Ross Macdonald novel. From the LA Weekly.

6• The Brazilian bus magnate who’s buying up all the world’s vinyl 

Stories like this one from the New York Times always make me feel sane. And poor.

7• …and the Wellington schoolkid who bought one piece of vinyl every couple of weeks

 Stumbling on old catalogue of Lamphouse, the old New Zealand appliance chain (see image above right) reminded me of the hours I spent as a small kid in the 60s rummaging through the discount 45s in their Manners St. store, where I would spend the shillings I had saved in pocket money. These records weren’t the hits I knew from the Sunset Show. No Beatles, Animals or Kinks to be found. They were mostly near-misses on minor American labels. I took punts, often based on nothing more than the colour of the label, yet it was surprising how often I struck gold. Among my Lamphouse bargains were ‘I Shot Mr Lee’, a cheerfully murderous pop song by The Bobettes, who sounded like a group of schoolgirls; ‘Dragster On The Prowl’ by The Dovells, a hot-rod rocker that reminded me of the Beach Boys; and several records by Freddy Cannon, whose ‘Tallahassee Lassie’ was as explosive as his name. Thanks Lamphouse. And now, thanks to that digital discount bin that is YouTube, I’ve been enjoying a few of these childhood favourites again.

8• Still listening to Teenie Hodges

 The world lost one of the tastiest, funkiest and most under-the-radar guitar heroes last month with the death of Teenie Hodges, one of Memphis’s Hodges brothers and backbone of the Hi Rhythm section, who played on all the big hits of Al Green, Ann Peebles, and others. Teenie co-wrote ‘Take Me To The River’ with Al, and ‘Love and Happiness’. But one of my favourite examples of his artistry is the propulsive rhythm part he plays on O.V. Wright’s intense minor blues ‘A Nickel and a Nail’. I love this track. Tennessee state congressman Steve Cohen offered this eulogy and even this memorial was funky.

9• Rick Rubin talks to Zane Lowe

 I’ve long been curious about the way record producer Rick Rubin operates, whether it is with the Beastie Boys, Black Sabbath or Johnny Cash. Whatever the style of music – and he seems extremely catholic in his tastes – he somehow captures its essence like no one else. He reveals a few things about his modus operandi in this long and relaxed interview for BBC Radio 1 with expat Kiwi Zane Lowe, in the garden of his studio - former Malibu haunt of The Band and seen in The Last Waltz.

10• Tosches on pop

“Popular culture is the product of who we are only in that it is the product of the lies, pretenses, and falsehoods that define us, and beneath which we hide and often, ultimately, lose the little truth from which we flee.” – Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather, 2002


Tags: bob dylanal greenbeckalan lomaxteenie hodgesthe bobettesthe dovellsfreddie cannon

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