Reviews

William Henry Prince Presents: ‘Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One’

June 18, 2014

image001‘Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One’

Released June 30th via ATO Records

“There’s copious delight to be had here.” – Rolling Stone

Album featuring: Built To Spill, Aaron Freeman of Ween & Slash, Glen Hansard, Reggie Watts, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Lucius, Langhorne Slim, Craih Finn of The Hold Steady, Deer Tick, Blitzen Trapper, Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket and many more.

‘Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One’ is the new collection of collaboration from ATO Records, due for release June 30th.

The brainchild of producers Jesse Lauter (Elvis Perkins, The Low Anthem) and Sean O’Brien (Dawes, PAPA), the mission of Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One is to shed new light on a cache of Bob Dylan songs that have long gone ignored. Covering the period starting with 1980’s Saved, and ending with 1990’s Under The Red Sky (including unreleased material from the “80s Basement Tapes” and The Traveling Wilburys).

In the liner notes to this collection, New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude) writes, “In the famously difficult art of going up against Dylan’s performance of his own material, a number of these reach the highest threshold. I hope Bob Dylan listens to this record, and plays it for his current touring band.”

When you ask someone to name a Bob Dylan song or album from the 1980s, you usually get a blank stare in return. Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One helps to answer this question.

80s Dylan is by no means a celebrated period in his career,” says co-producer Lauter. “It was, in fact, the lowest point of his commercial success even though he released eight studio albums.” He continues, “Our goal was to showcase one of the greatest artists of our time during an off-rhythm period and bring a stronger sense of harmony to the material at hand. Sean and I did everything we could to make this album flow together sonically as if you were listening to a concept album.”

Again, Lethem claims, “Given the benefit of decades more hindsight, our Dylan was a lot better than anyone knew…We’re one to begin compiling instances of greatness in the type of song writing that defines our esteem for the earlier Dylan – complex, suggestive, glinting, cascading constructions – you’d hit a dozen examples even before the “comeback” of Oh Mercy.”

Portions of proceeds from album sales will go to the charity, Pencils of Promise. A non-profit organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world. The charity has built more than 150 schools in Asia, Africa and Latin America. For more information visit www.pencilsofpromise.org

Bob Dylan in the 80s by William Henry Prince

If Bob Dylan was a pizza topping, he’d be black olives or anchovies. Not for everybody. An acquired taste.

I first heard him in 1977. I was 14, living on the west coast of Australia, and my interests were girls, skateboarding and music.Someone had left a pile of LPs for me, while they went travelling. Bored one day, I flicked through them and found an album cover that appealed to me – a young man with his arm around a pretty girl walking down a snowy street. It was 43 degrees outside and I didn’t have a girlfriend. By the time the first side had finished, I was amazed.

It wasn’t just that the words were so well written, it was his startling delivery. It wasn’t pop, sweet or easy on the ear. The songs were sad, angry, bitter and funny as hell. He sounded old, young, rough, raw and human.

I looked at the album title: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I have remained amazed and puzzled by the guy for 37 years. I don’t like everything he’s done, but, you know, he’s released 45 albums – they can’t all be brilliant. He’s an artist – in the sense that he experiments and constantly changes – so you have to take him as he is. His 80s work was particularly hard to appreciate.

The 80s Sound

The main reason that critics (and a lot of fans) dismiss Dylan’s 80s output was not the fault of the songs, or his delivery, but the sound.

I have friends who love the whole 80s production thing. Their idea of Heaven is a 12” extended remix of Pet Shop Boys, Japan or Frankie Goes To Hollywood.  To me, that is a circle of Hell, but hey-ho.

There were producers (and mixers) in the 80s who were as brave, brash and influential as Phil Spector, Jerry Wexler or Brian Wilson were in the 60s. I’m thinking of Arif Mardin, Trevor Horn, Nile Rodgers, Arthur Baker and even Stock, Aitken & Waterman.

I don’t like it much, but I can see the skill.

So, producers Jesse Lauter (Elvis Perkins, The Low Anthem) and Sean O’Brien (Dawes, PAPA) thought that a compilation like this might highlight the strength of the material exhumed from the often awful, or at least very present, production.

It’s an interesting idea. So here we go.

 Selected Tracks

Got My Mind Made Up

It’s a great, stomping slug of rockabilly. Piano rolls, tight snare and sandblasted vocals. It sounds defiant and surprisingly Dylanesque. Love it.

Brownsville Girl (Reprise)

A funky, jazzy, scatty, electro version by Reggie Watts. It’s as surreal as the original. It’s great. It brings Dylan and Sam Shepard’s imagery to life in a whole different landscape.

Sweetheart Like You

Drawling, rimshots, bar-room intimacy. It keeps the original feel, and retains the ‘controversial’ “a woman like you should be at home/That’s where you belong” verse, intact. Some of the lines are ace: “Steal a little and they throw you in jail/Steal a lot and they make you King”.

It sounds better than the original release, to me. It has ‘feel’ and ‘warmth’, which the Dylan track lacked.

Night After Night

The awesome Deer Tick do one of Dylan’s worst songs from one of his worst albums, from one of the world’s worst films. Even they are unable to redeem it, though I like the Tex Mex performance.

You simply cannot polish a turd, no matter who’s shining it.

Dark Eyes

This is lovely. I’m a huge fan of Bonnie Prince Billy/Will Oldham/Palace Brothers and the duet is tender and sounds endearingly spontaneous.

The song itself is an odd one. The story goes that Arthur Baker suggested using an acoustic number to close the heavily-produced Empire Burlesque album. Dylan agreed, but didn’t have a song that he thought fitting. So, he returned to his hotel. Heading up to his room, he passed a heavily-mascara’d hooker in the lobby. Bingo. He went to his room and wrote Dark Eyes.

Waiting To Get Beat

Dylan had a boat that he used to sail around the Caribbean, until it sank, and his love of Reggae is long-standing and genuine. That’s nice, but it doesn’t mean he’s any good at playing it.

This is way better than the original, but that really isn’t saying much.

Wiggle, Wiggle

Few tracks have caused more consternation among Dylan fans than this one. It was on an album of songs written in the style of dark fairy tales and nursery rhymes, so it was a legal move.

Dylan is a funny guy and this is a funny song.

Slash recorded a solo, at Dylan’s request, for the original recording but Dylan had it removed it from the final mix, much to the guitarist’s chagrin. I guess they’ve made up, because Slash solos on this version.

 Congratulations

Bob Dylan does sarcastic put-down songs better than anyone else. Certainly better than this attempt.

The Traveling Wilburys were an off-the-cuff ‘super-group’ who met by circumstance in Dylan’s garage to record a George Harrison single. The record company liked the end product, ‘Handle With Care’, so much that they pushed for an album featuring Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan.

Covenant Woman

Dylan’s so-called ‘Religious Period’ never bothered me. Each to their own. I don’t share his faith, but I can appreciate the passion and happen to love Gospel as a musical genre.I saw him in concert during this ‘God-bothering period’ and he was awesome. Passion literally burst out of the guy and the band were incredible. It was both earthly and spiritual. It was riveting.

This is a beautiful love song, and Hannah Cohen does it really well.

Series Of Dreams

The brooding, claustrophobic nightmare of the Lanois-produced original is so good that any cover is going to suffer by comparison. It’s an okay version, but adds nothing.

When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky

The Guardian featured Lucius as its New Band Of The Day on Feb 14th 2014 and described them as “the missing link between Arcade Fire and Haim…” It’s sounds as over-produced as the original, but I like it. There’s something about it that makes me smile. It’s so over-the-top, like a John Waters film.

Pressing On

A classic song about faith, hope and defiance. It’s a cool interpretation of a Dylan gospel great. A good song is a good song.

Death Is Not The End

I remember hearing Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Shane MacGowan, Mick Harvey, Blixa Bargeld & Kylie Minogue do this song. I think that recording is better, but this is okay.

‘Negativity don’t pull you through…’

Bob Dylan’s place in the music history is secured.

He’s earned it by being a hugely influential songwriter, a unique singer and a very versatile musician ( folk, protest, rock, ‘folk-rock’, Gypsy-rock, Americana/Roots, Country, Blues, Gospel, Swing, and whatever Visions Of Johanna is).

He’s a master of media manipulation, a shrewd businessman and also, according to people who actually know him, a decent, loyal and very funny human being.

He can’t act or paint, but he can write ‘Make You Feel My Love’ in ten minutes.

So, I ask myself, for the twenty sixth time, what is the point of this album?

As a tribute, it works. It has some really interesting and cool tracks by some really interesting and cool artists, but will it help new ears hear Dylan’s body of work, as the producers hoped?

I hope so, too, because learning and taking from the past is the best way to move forward and innovate. Dylan himself is a musical magpie, and he openly copied, adapted and stole from the old folk, country and blues guys then made something amazing and new. That’s how it should be. You take an idea and run with it, and few have run quite like Dylan. He’s up there with Zappa, Coltrane and Hendrix. His techniques may be rudimentary, but what he’s created is extraordinary.

The Dylan influence is still in evidence today (Jake Bugg, Dawes, Mumford & Sons, Jack White, The Low Anthem etc etc) and he has, quite rightly, been copied by allsorts (The Psychedelic Furs, Lou Reed, John Lennon, The Beatles, Mark Knopfler & Dire Straits, The Pretenders, The Clash, Nick Cave etc etc).

But…if you want to know what Bob Dylan is about and why musicians hold him in such high esteem, don’t buy his 80s albums. They’re not as bad as the reviews, but he definitely let go of the reins.

To see what all the fuss is about, check out The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde, The Basement Tapes, Blood On The Tracks and Time Out Of Mind. If you don’t see the greatness in those albums, then you’ll never see it.

I think this is a really fascinating album in it’s own right, though, and well worth a look, especially as some of the proceeds from album sales will go to the charity, Pencils of Promise (A non-profit organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world. The charity has built more than 150 schools in Asia, Africa and Latin America.)

The last word should go to Dylan himself….being interviewed recently:

Dylan: “I’m coming out of the folk music tradition. Whatever passes for pop music, I couldn’t do it then and I can’t do it now.”

Interviewer: But you’ve sold over a hundred million records.

Dylan: “Yeah I know. It’s a mystery to me, too.”

 

Full Tracklisting

1)     Langhorne Slim & The Law – “Got My Mind Made Up”(from Knocked Out Loaded, 1986)

2)     Built To Spill – “Jokerman” (from Infidels, 1983)

3)     Reggie Watts – “Brownsville Girl (Reprise)” (from Knocked Out Loaded, 1986)

4)     Craig Finn (The Hold Steady) – “Sweetheart Like You” (from Infidels, 1983)

5)      Ivan & Alyosha – “You Changed My Life” (from Shot Of Love outtakes, 1981)

6)     Deer Tick – “Night After Night” (from Hearts of Fire Soundtrack, 1987)

7)     Dawn Landes & Bonnie “Prince” Billy – “Dark Eyes” (from Empire Burlesque, 1985)

8)     Tea Leaf Green – “Waiting To Get Beat” (from Empire Burlesque outtakes, 1985)

9)     Aaron Freeman (Ween) & Slash – “Wiggle Wiggle (from Under The Red Sky, 1990)

10)       Elvis Perkins – “Congratulations” (from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, 1988)

11)       Hannah Cohen – “Covenant Woman” (from Saved, 1980)

12)       Marco Benevento – “Every Grain Of Sand” (from Shot Of Love, 1981)

13)       Yellowbirds – “Series Of Dreams” (from Oh Mercy outtakes, 1989)

14)       Blitzen Trapper – “Unbelievable” (from Under The Red Sky, 1990)

15)       Lucius – “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” (from Empire Burlesque, 1985)

16)       Glen Hansard – “Pressing On” (from Saved, 1980)

17)     Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket) – “Death Is Not The End” (from Down In The Groove, 1988)

In addition, there will be seven bonus tracks available exclusively via iTunes as a Deluxe Edition and will also be included on the digital download card that accompanies the vinyl. The seven bonus tracks are listed below:

1)     Spirit Family Reunion – “Man Of Peace” (from Infidels, 1983)

2)     Widespread Panic – “Solid Rock” (from Saved, 1980)

3)     Grayson Capps – “Silvio” (from Down In The Groove, 1988)

4)     Neal Casal – “Property Of Jesus” (from Shot Of Love, 1981)

5)     The Low Anthem – “Lenny Bruce” (from Shot Of Love, 1981)

6)     Jesse Elliott (These United States) – “Handy Dandy” (from Under The Red Sky, 1990)

7)     Chastity Brown – “Saving Grace” (from Saved, 1980)

Thanks to Tim Nicholson.

 

 

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply William Henry Prince Presents: ‘Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One’ June 24, 2014 at 9:02 am

    […] William Henry Prince Presents: 'Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One' […]

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.