Hawaii Five-O Soundtrack

Here’s something interesting that I learned today: the remake of Hawaii Five-O is still on the air. I would have lost a bet about that one. It’s in its fifth season on CBS, which lets you know how often I watch CBS. I really thought this was a one season and done kind of show.
Why do I bring this up? Because in 2011 they released a soundtrack CD. The kind folk at Wikipedia tell me that the show drew some attention for the way that they integrated new music and unknown music from major artists into their soundtrack, rather than just a collection of hits or the collection of tones that don’t add up to songs that CBS has made a staple of their procedurals. Falling into the second category is “Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away” by Bob Dylan.
This is a song that was recorded during the sessions for Shot of Love in 1981, so it is an oldie by this time. This one has a bit of reggae feeling to it. I had previously heard it on a bootleg of material that collects material recorded between Saved and Shot of Love, but I didn’t think much of it at that time. I still don’t. This isn’t a buried masterpiece that they’ve unearthed here – it’s a little too repetitive to be interesting. It sounds like something that could be used well in a crime tv show though, and the title (which is endlessly repeated in the song) has some faux-cop show gravitas to it.
The Hawaii Five-O soundtrack, which I did not bother to listen to at all, features Jimmy Cliff and Ziggy Marley, which gives you some sense of where they’re going with this whole thing. They also have a Jake Shimabukuro ukulele song, which I bet is great.
With this one you can tell how minor it is by the fact that it has never even shown up on a Bootleg Series disc and by the fact that it isn’t listed as a Dylan song on Dylan’s own website. That has to hurt.
Here’s the song with some Hawaii Five-O graphics laid over it.

The Love That Faded

Bob Dylan only released one new song in 2011, and that was one that was co-written by Hank Williams.
When Williams died in 1953, at the age of only 29, the police found a notebook of song lyrics in his Cadillac. Over a period of years the notebook moved from owner to owner until it was reportedly found by a janitor in a dumpster at Sony. The janitor kept it and sold it, and Sony brought criminal charges against him. When he was later exonerated of the crime, the notebook made its way back into the arms of Sony. The record company then decided to have the lyrics set to music and recorded. They turned to Bob Dylan to do that. Good choice in terms of someone who would do an excellent job. Bad choice in terms of someone who would actually follow through on the project. Dylan wrote the music for one song and recorded that, but the project was eventually take out of his hands so that it could be completed.
The resulting album, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, is really quite great. I hadn’t heard it previously, but I like almost everything on it. It is exactly what you would want from it: a whole bunch of talented people doing Hank Williams pretty faithfully. Lots of fiddle and slide guitar, just as it should be. My favourite song on the album is the opener, “You’ve Been Lonesome, Too”, by Alan Jackson, but there are great contributions by Gillian Welch and Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill, and Sheryl Crow, among others. It’s an all-star record (Merle Haggard! Jack White! Levon Helm!) and everything is at least listenable. Good stuff.
Dylan’s contribution is solid. Lots of slide guitar and a bit of a swing sound. Dylan croons with his nasal twang and the whole thing works well. This would have made an interesting album if he had done the whole thing – I like this song better than I liked his Christmas album, for instance – but it is possible that it would have been too much. I’m not certain that a complete Dylan album here would have actually been better than what was eventually produced.
Typical of recent troubles, there is a fan-made YouTube video of this song but Sony has had the sound take off of it, so I’m not sure what purpose it still serves. The whole album is on Spotify. Go stream it.
Here’s the Alan Jackson song. The Dylan one is just like this, but with Dylan and not Jackson, if you know what I mean:

Brazil Series

Even if Bob Dylan’s painting hadn’t improved very much by the time of his second museum show, the quality of the catalogues produced about him had gotten a whole lot better.
Based on the success of his Drawn Blank show in Chemnitz, Germany, the curators of the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen approached Dylan about staging a second show. Learning that he had moved on from the watercolours of the Drawn Blank series, an arrangement was struck for Dylan to produce new acrylic works on canvas. Over the course of about eighteen months in 2009 and 2010, while not touring, Dylan painted fifty new paintings in the Brazil Series, and forty of these were shown in Copenhagen.
While I don’t think that these are really good works, they do seem, for the most part and on average, to be superior to the watercolours. The watercolours, transferred from earlier sketches, have a rushed quality that is not appealing. The acrylics seem to be better considered, if somewhat repetitious in terms of their tones and approaches. Unlike the watercolours, there are strong narrative components to the works here. One of the catalogue essays compares Dylan to Caravaggio and Rembrandt – not in terms of painterly skill, but in the adoption of a certain narrative sensibility deriving from gesture. Dylan’s truer heirs are probably found in the art brut tradition, or a kind of sketchy modernism. He does not demonstrate great facility with his brushwork, although the sketches that are presented here are much tighter and more accomplished than were the ones in Drawn Blank. Generally, Dylan comes across here as an amateur painter of no particular renown. In the Preface to the catalogue, museum director Karsten Ohrt writes: “At the time [of the Drawn Blank exhibition], Bob Dylan was best known for other aspects of his creative endeavours”. You don’t say.
Despite that clanger, the essays in the catalogue (there are three) are actually quite good. They do their best to make a legitimate case for Dylan as a painter by paying close attention to the paintings themselves. The final essay, by Kasper Monrad, is strongest in this regard – I found that even when I strongly disagreed with his assessment of a painting that I at least felt that it was a fair reading, and not one that was being advanced in a cynical manner. I have some doubts about any museum that commissions an exhibition of brand new paintings by a rock star – it reeks of desperation – but having done so, I think that the essays here treat the work legitimately in a way that the catalogue for Drawn Blank did not. The hype and mystification is kept to a minimum at least, and the comparisons are apt (Monrad puts Dylan in a line with Thomas Hart Benton and George Bellows (“a particularly American figurative tradition”; the connection to story-telling, and thus to song-writing, seems pertinent).
So, a much better catalogue this time around, although I still don’t much care for the images. Indeed, I flipped through the pictures rather quickly – nothing leaps out to me and demands close scrutiny, and the muted colour palette here dulled my senses quickly. A better effort, but not yet a good one.
Here is an 18 minute video featuring some Danes discussing these paintings. I can’t vouch for it, I bailed on it after only a couple of minutes. It has some footage of Dylan painting or drawing (probably from the 1980s based on the earring). It was produced by the museum.

Bootleg Series 9: The Witmark Demos

A trip to Florida suspended blogging for most of this past week, but I continued to listen to Bob Dylan all the way through. Specifically, to the Bootleg Series v9: The Witmark Demos. This is a two-CD set that compiles 47 songs recorded by Dylan as demos for copyright reasons from 1962 to 1964. I previously wrote about many of the pieces on this set during the early weeks of this blog, but this was the first time I had listened to it all the way through as a distinct two and a half hour album. Also, if you ordered this through Amazon you got a bonus disc of Dylan’s 1963 concert at Brandeis University. I don’t think I wrote about this back in January.
As with other recent examples of the Bootleg Series, this release has me feeling nostalgic. The Brandeis show has only seven songs and is more an interesting curiosity at this point than a major release. It is interesting that Dylan does only one of his “big” songs (“Masters of War”) across his two sets. I like that they have left in the stage announcements about the intermission, and that the announcer calls him “Bobby Dylan”. He does three “Talkin’” songs during his performance, which is about three too many for me. He also apparently drops his guitar once. Happy to have this but it is not essential.
The Witmark Demos are a different matter entirely. I’ve long had a lot of this material on the Zimmerman: Ten of Swords bootleg, and about four of these songs have been released on earlier editions of the Bootleg Series. The sound is cleaned up here, and this is far better than the earlier versions that I have (that said, a few songs, like “I’ll Keep It With Mine” seem to have been beyond audio repair). It’s mostly a very good set, with Dylan playing guitar and piano and demo’ing these songs. On a few (“Blowin’ in the Wind”) he clearly has a cold and struggles not to cough. I’m not sure that many or even any of these are superior to the album versions, but they’re generally interesting in themselves.
When I listened to this the first couple of times through I thought it was just fascinating to listen in on a very young Dylan recording. They’ve left in a lot of banter – he calls some songs “a drag” and forgets the lyrics to others (offering to write them down later). You can hear a door slam at one point. It seems all pretty casual – just getting down to work.
Last night, driving home from the airport, though, I was struck with the realization that if Bob Dylan had never written anything after 1964 – if he’d never gone electric, and done all of the things that I’ve spent the year writing about – he would still be a pretty monumental figure in American music. Certainly not as monumental, but right up there. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, if not such a prominent early inductee.
I think that this occurred to me while listening to “Guess I’m Feeling Fine”, a very minor Dylan song that I really enjoy. He sings it in a kind of John Hartford style that I can appreciate. If he’d never written anything past that would he have eventually put that on an album? And would he be touring and still singing that today on the nostalgia scene? Quite likely. My parents, who winter in Sarasota, told me about seeing Paul Anka a year or two ago and how great they thought his show was. Anka was huge from 1958 to about 1963 (suffered during the British Invasion) and though he’s had many, many comebacks, never really “came back” in a truly important way. But he sells out the performing arts centre in Sarasota doing crooner revivalism. This is the career that might have awaited Dylan – playing to aging folkies in retirement communities across the sunbelt.
If Dylan had never written anything after 1964, he still could have filled out at least one more remarkable album. Throw all of this onto one album and try to tell me it wouldn’t be considered an all-time classic:
Tomorrow is a Long Time
Let Me Die in My Footsteps
Oxford Town
Guess I’m Doing Fine
Mama You Been On My Mind
Paths of Victory
Seven Curses
Walkin’ Down the Line
A couple of these are songs that Dylan used, including “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, which he went back to for Greatest Hits v2. “Paths of Victory” seems to me an overlooked civil rights anthem. It’s a very simplistic song (but so is “Blowin’ in the Wind”) and it could have been bigger than it was. “Farewell” has gotten a lot of recent attention due to the Coen Brothers and Llewyn Davis. “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” was recorded by dozens of artists. This could have been Dylan’s fifth – and last – album and he’d still be a star. Instead most of these songs are relatively forgotten (though “Mama You Been On My Mind” got a lot of work during Rolling Thunder as a duet with Joan Baez).
Given the occasionally huge gaps between Dylan recordings now, it is amazing to note how much great material he was able to generate and then disregard as a young man. Bootleg Series v9 covers just about a year and a half and 47 songs. That’s not even noting that “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, “Girl From the North Country”, and “Mr. Tambourine Man” are also on here. Even if he had stopped, he’d still be one of the greatest of all time.

Changin’ Times

The whole internet fell in love with Barack Obama again yesterday after he appeared on Colbert (it was funny) so this an apt time to capitalize on that love with a combined post about the state of “The Times They Are a-Changin’” in 2010.
Let’s start with the good news. On 11 February 2010 Bob Dylan (accompanied by Tony Garnier on bass and Patrick Warren on piano) played a single song for the President and assorted guests at the Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement at the White House. I’ve been somewhat futile in my googling in terms of finding a complete list of what was performed there, but the evening included Joan Baez (doing “We Shall Overcome”), Blind Boys of Alabama, Natalie Cole, John Legend, John Mellencamp, Jennifer Hudson with Smokey Robinson, and Seal. It looks like most of them did a song, and that President Obama introduced each of them. Dylan did “The Times” and it was splendid. Watch this:
So, yeah, great job. This was the first time that Dylan and Obama ever met, though he had praised Obama a little bit in 2008 near the end of the campaign. Dylan doesn’t insert himself much into American electoral politics – yes, he met with Carter, and played at Clinton’s inauguration – but for the most part he steers clear. Rolling Stone quotes from the stage singing the candidate’s praises, and it really isn’t all that surprising.
This evening’s performances (I’ve only watched the Dylan and the Baez, to be honest) are clearly tremendously resonant and symbolic for all of the right reasons. These are often situation that Dylan tends to screw up, but not this time – he absolutely nails this with an unconventional but thoroughly convincing rendition of this song. It’s great.
As for the bad news, well, times change, don’t they. Also in 2010, the hand-written lyrics for “The Times They Are a-Changin’’ were sold at auction by Sotheby’s as part of a larger auction of books and manuscripts. I don’t think that there is a suggestion that these are the original lyrics (i.e. the first draft), rather that they are a later cleaning up of the lyrics that Dylan provided to his friend, Kevin Krown. The sheet changed hands a couple of times before going under the gavel at Sotheby’s. You can see a nice version of the hand-written lyrics (missing a verse) here.
So, the thing sold for $422,500 to Adam Sender. Sender is a hedge-fund manager, who was 41 at the time. Younger than the song itself. If that doesn’t harsh your 1960s vibe, I’m not sure what will.
Sender was a big name in the contemporary art scene in New York for the past fifteen years, so it is not surprising he went public with the purchase. He’s now selling off huge parts of his collection, so it is possible that these lyrics might wind up somewhere else. He is exactly the sort of Master of the Universe that Tom Wolfe depicted so many years ago, swooping in to buy up the hand-written lyrics of a generation-defining song.
Well, that’s life in the 2010s. The song is a crystallized relic of an earlier sentiment, performed for a President who was barely born when it was recorded, and snapped up by a hedge fund manager who wasn’t. Let’s encase it in amber, and call it the 60s.

Google Instant

I’ve done stranger things this year than fact-checking a Google ad, but not that many. In 2010, Dylan continued his contributions to global advertising culture by licensing his image and a song to Google. In this case, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and the cue-card flipping video from Dont Look Back were used in an for Google Instant, which I now know is the term for the way that Google will offer auto-fill suggestions as you type in their search bar.
The ad uses the quick segues of Dylan’s song to show someone typing the lyrics into google, and then close-ups as non-Dylan items come up (my favourite is the portion of the panel showing Charles Schulz’s Pigpen). I ran my own fact check because Google suggests that “God knows when” leads to a “sparrow falls”. For me I got “You will die” on that one. These things are tailored to our previous search patterns, so maybe I should be concerned.
There’s not much to say about this example of Dylan selling-out. The ad is funny and kind of quirky and well crafted. Nothing to object to, really. At best it is an odd reminder that occasionally Google still feels a need to advertise a product that most people use multiple times per day. Also, it seems like that auto-fill feature has been around a lot longer than four years.

Christmas in the Heart

“This is as close as I’ve come to divorcing you for writing this blog,” said my wife as we drove to the airport. I was playing, as I always do in the car or anywhere else this year, Bob Dylan. In this case, his second 2009 album, Christmas In the Heart.
Who could hate a Christmas album? I mean, after, all Dylan was even kind enough to release it late enough in his career that we were listening to it in December. Perfect. But as he croaked his way through very straight-forward versions of Christmas classics, it all began to sound like a joke to Rebecca. “This is like an SCTV sketch: “New from K-Mart! Bob Dylan’s Christmas!”” By the time he’d got to “Little Drummer Boy”, she had had enough (she actually made me skip it). Later, on the plane, I put the album on repeat and listened contentedly on my headphones.
Look, this one is exactly what it says it is: Bob Dylan does fifteen classic Christmas songs. I know it sounds bizarre. I know it sounds like a joke. But Elvis got to do Christmas songs. Willie Nelson got to do Christmas songs. And, dammit, Bob Dylan is going to croon some Christmas songs for you.
Does it work? Well, gee, I dunno.
I guess the question would be work as what? Did it fulfill my life long dream of hearing Bob Dylan sing in Latin? Sure it did! Would I play this on Christmas to fill my house with joy? No, I would not (see, divorce, above). Are there any interesting versions here? Not really. Dylan does it all very straight (he noted in an interview that this was the only way to go – that these songs are like folk songs, and they have to be sung in a certain way). There’re beautifully-voiced back-up singers, and bells, and piano, and what passing for crooning in Dylan’s world.
The only song where does anything even slightly out of the ordinary is “Must Be Santa” where he includes a long list of twentieth-century presidents as reindeer. It’s “clever”. Actually, it would be clever if you were sitting at your kid’s grade school Christmas concert and they did it. When Dylan does it, it doesn’t amount to very much.
I’m not going to run through the songs as I normally do because I can’t find anything more to say about this one at all. It is exactly what it claims to be. For better or worse.
On the plus side, all the proceeds go to charity so you can feel good about buying it and then never actually listening to it…
 PS. The album includes a version of “The Little Drummer Boy”, so beware if you’re taking the challenge. I’m out. So very out, by the way.

“Must Be Santa”

Now and forever when you click on a Bob Dylan video and see the name “Nash Edgerton” you’ll think “should I actually watch this?” This is the same guy who directly the ultra-violent video for “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”, and now here he is back again. Directing a Christmas video. Yikes!
With this one, yes, you’re pretty safe. Actually, there is some violence to it. The whole video is set at a drunken Christmas debauch somewhere in the south. David Hidalgo is back for the second album in a row cranking on that accordion, and Bob Dylan, who didn’t even meet Edgerton for their previous collaboration, is here in a cool jacket, white top hate and, for some reason probably known only to him, a long blondish wig. Whatever.
The video is pretty chaotic – a lot of quick swish pans and running around. There are people everywhere and for some reason a fight breaks out. This is actually a lot like Christmas at my house, particularly if the Rossos come over (still reading, Marc?).
I like the video. I like Santa and Dylan at the end. And I like the song , I think it is the most fun song on the whole album (about which, more tomorrow). I’m giving this a thumb’s up. Dylan has really stepped up the quality of his music videos, and that’s a good thing.

Together Through Life

In 2009 Bob Dylan released two albums, something that has played a little bit of havoc with this blog’s central thrust of “one Dylan year per week” since it has made it harder to divide up the time. Fortunately, I’ve been traveling (to a hotel with essentially no internet service – let’s see if we can get this out there!) and I’ve had a lot of opportunity to listen to both of these albums. Today I’ll deal with the first 2009 album, Together Through Life.
Short version: First Dylan album in quite some time that I just flat out do not like.
Longer version: Wow, that’s a lot of accordion for a Bob Dylan album.
Together Through Life began when Dylan was asked by French filmmaker Olivier Dahan to produce a song for the soundtrack of his movie My Own Love Song (which I’ve never even heard of – more next week, it was a 2010 release). Dylan and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter then produced a ton of songs, a few of which wound up going to the film and the rest of them ended up here. Of the ten songs here, nine are collaborations with Hunter (and one of those, “My Wife’s Home Town” is also credited to Willie Dixon).
Here’s the thing: Dylan and Hunter are best known for their collaboration of “Silvio”, from Down in the Groove. This is one of my least favourite Dylan songs. In fact, I kind of hate it. So now I have a whole album of Silvios. Yay.
Lyrically, this is one of Dylan’s least interesting albums. There’s a lot here where I found myself wondering “It took two people to write this?”. None of the songs strike me as top tier material, and so the whole album just sort of rolls over me without making much of an impression. By about the tenth time listening to this album a couple of songs had begun to stand out, but it almost seemed to require an effort to actually care about them. One thing that I’ve learned this year for sure is that I have almost no interest in The Grateful Dead at all, so more Dead-ish songs from Dylan is a downer for me.
Let’s kick the tires:
As I’ve already said, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’” is the best song on the album. I can even go “very good” on this one to be charitable. Musically it is the most interesting. Dylan recorded this album with his touring band plus Mike Campbell of The Heartbreakers (i.e. Tom Petty and…) and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. It’s Hidalgo on accordion through so many of these songs. It works well here. The song has a sound that isn’t that far from the Lanois-produced New Orleans sound, and it works quite well. Actually, the accordion fills are great. I do think that having that music video seemed into my brain has impacted the way that I listen to this song, and not necessarily in a good way. But let’s call it “very good”. I’d save this song for the future.
“Life Is Hard”. This is a tougher one for me to get my head around. I sort of like the lyrics and I sort of like the way that it sounds so unbelievably tossed off – like someone is recording a drunken Dylan sitting in a chair by a fire at 4:00am. The mandolin is good here. So, yeah, better than I initially thought. It’s a sad one, that’s for sure.
“My Wife’s Home Town”. I don’t like the accordion nearly as much in this one, nor the guitar, nor the growling of Dylan’s voice. It’s sort of a one-joke song: “I just wanna say that Hell’s my wife’s home town”. Get it? Then you’ve got it.
“If You Ever Go to Houston”. Here the accordion works. This song has some swing to it, and I enjoy it as a pretty minor Dylan song. It’s not essential by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s nice. Lots of accordion – holy cats, does he ever stop?
“Forgetful Heart” is one that I think is just fine. It’s dark and moody and Dylan talk-sings his way through it nicely.
“Jolene”. I was sort of hoping for a Dolly Parton cover, I have to admit it. This is just a pretty standard blues song that doesn’t amount to very much. There’s nothing terribly wrong with it, but it doesn’t stand out much either.
“This Dream of You”. This is the single song here not written with Hunter. I think it is the least memorable song on the whole album. It’s just sort of bland.
“Shake Shake Mama” I actively dislike this blues number.
“I Feel A Change Comin’ On”. Musically harkens back to some of his 1970s sounds. Lyrically it isn’t that bad. I don’t like this version, but like some of the live versions, so I give it a pass.
“It’s All Good”. Falls into the “Shake Shake Mama” category.
I think that this is an album that starts better than it ends. There is one very good song, and a couple of good ones, some unmemorable ones, and a couple of unlikeable ones. It’s not a terrible album or anything, but parts of it feel really unnecessary.
There are two songs here where the first lyric is also the title of the song. I’ve become semi-obsessed with this as a bizarre factoid, just for the record: “If You Ever Go to Houston” and “Forgetful Heart”. Not sure what it all means.
This album debuted at #1 in the US and UK, by the way, and was, again, critically acclaimed. Dylan on a roll.
 Also, I really dislike this album cover. Dylan doesn’t have many (any?) covers that I actually like, but this one I actively dislike. Just for the record.

Arrested in Long Branch


So, I’m at a Novotel in Toronto with extremely poor internet access (which I’m paying for!) so this will be brief. I have a few posts that I want to write in the next couple of days, so I will try to find a Starbucks or someplace with more reliable internet. When in Toronto: Do not stay at the Novotel!

Anyway, Bob Dylan doesn’t stay in nice hotels either, mostly because he smokes and, apparently, he likes to keep the windows open, which mostly means a lower level of motel or his bus. In 2009, in Long Branch, NJ Bob Dylan was detained by a police officer when he was reported to be peering into the windows of a house that was for sale while it was pouring rain. The responding officer, who was 24 to Dylan’s 68, did not recognize him, and he had no ID, but she did return him to his hotel and it all worked out. This is the best report of the incident that I’ve read.

This was one of those stories that got a lot of play five years, almost all of them with the same headline: “Like a Complete Unknown”. Dylan has made the job of headline writers really easy. It’s a real man bites dog kind of story, so it’s not surprising that it got picked up. It is also one of the rare glimpses that we get into Dylan’s private life – him in track pants roaming the streets of New Jersey (lots of speculation that he was looking for Springsteen’s home, or the house where Bruce wrote “Born to Run”, which is reportedly two blocks away from where he was picked up). Basically, it seems that Dylan spends his time on the road wandering around anonymously looking at things. Since that’s pretty much what I do too, I feel like we have a kinship on that front.

Ok, let’s see if this posts.