Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Under The Radar: The Decadent Royals

There’s a reason that cover looks familiar.

The Decadent Royals sound like a mash-up of  The Rolling Stones (cusp of the 70s) and The Black Crowes, two bands who knew how to weave country blues into rock to create an infectious blend. Add in dashes of The Jayhawks, Bob Dylan, and any number of southern rock bands from The Allman Brothers on down, and you have an intriguing album that is well worth checking out. (Icing on the cake for the skeptical…the label is Maggie Mae.)

I love the Crowes and Stones because they are unafraid to slather their songs with gospel vocals, slide guitars, pedal steel, horns and wah-wah solos as needed. So are these guys. Swing On, Sinners rocks hard throughout, but the closing track “Wave Goodbye” proves they can be equally impressive turning it down.

How under the radar were these guys in my world? They’re from Albany, a three-hour car ride away, but I only came across them three months ago for the first time. The frightening part is this album is six years old; the predecessor is almost fifteen. It appears the band is likely finished; singer and songwriter OP Callaghan has another project called My Angel Crush (who sound like a logical extension of these guys).

I don’t pretend that this album is as good as Beggars Banquet or even Amorica. But damned if this isn’t a band that’s turning its back on the easy paycheck in favor of creating some dynamic sounds. Lord knows the Stones haven’t done that in years, and the Crowes need as much help as they can get from bands who know how to put the rock back into rock’n’roll.

Hope I can find more music from them, but at least I have this. Now so can you.

The Decadent Royals on MySpace

Buy Swing On, Sinners at Amazon or CD Baby

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This Wheel’s On Fire

Ironic that on a holiday celebrating American independence, I would be mesmerized by a book about a band that was four parts Canadian and one part deep Arkansas. (Sounds like the proportions of the cocktail I had in hand). But despite the lopsided genealogy, The Band might remain the quintessential American music group of the last fifty years. Inspiring the Americana and alternative country movements as deeply as anyone, they were and are a beacon of inspiration to everyone from Wilco to Mumford and Sons.

A few weeks back I bumped into an old friend, and Jamie and I were discussing books we were reading. When he mentioned This Wheel’s On Fire, I was certain that I had read it before, but his enthusiasm (and my love of the subject matter) caused me to dig out a copy. Sure enough, I had started the book at one point, but life or travel or whatever must have gotten in the way. Either that or my memory is much worse than I think it is.

Back in college, Lou, Dige and Cass used to commandeer the corner table in the campus pub and hold court. Clevelanders, they were inseparable but gregarious members of the theatre collective I was also a part of, and it was not unusual for all of us to huddle away in the corner and try to drain the keg while telling jokes and stories and singing songs. Way too much testosterone for Glee, but a similar fearless spirit to break into song, and for the Cleveland crew The Band was king, whether they were singing along with the jukebox or in spite of it. Sure, there were other songs (“You Know My Name” was a particular drunken favorite, Beatle fans) but there was a special passion when “Up on Cripple Creek” was howled, not sung, with coyote-like yodels accentuating the chorus.

The early catalogue got the workout – “King Harvest”, “The Weight”, “Shape I’m In”, and of course “Look Out Cleveland”. Their energy brought the band to life for me at a time when I was more focused on The Stones and The Kinks, and to this day I can’t listen to the band without thinking of the three of them. We lost Dige last year, Cass was lost to us in other ways many years ago, and although Lou and I wound up settling ten miles apart all these years later, it’s maybe one call a year. Life is not a carnival, believe it or not.

This Wheel’s On Fire, Levon Helm’s wonderful book about how The Band got together and was pulled apart, is simply one of the best books one could ever read about the life of a musician. It’s a story of friendship and betrayal, of grinding out a path and doggedly following it to the rewards and the disasters, and how one man’s passion to make music despite any obstacles helped forge one of the greatest bands of the rock era. Helm writes with an honest ease, fair but uncompromising, and I came away from the story with a deep respect for the man (and the urge to pull out every Band record I own, as well as a guitar).

Written in 1993, with an afterword from 2000, it’s really a timeless story. Starting out backing the electric Ronnie Hawkins, encounters with Bob Dylan, how a hanger-on named Robbie Robertson eventually wormed into the group and eventually positioned himself as leader, and later, executioner. While Robertson does come off like a heel at the end – “it’s just business” – Helm does spend most of the book acknowledging his prodigious talent and leadership. Rick Danko was the solid supporter, Richard Manuel the fragile casualty, Garth Hudson the rock upon which this church was built. Together they forged a new element, a whole greater than the sum.

I need not prattle on about the quality of the music; The Band is timeless. So is this great book. If you haven’t read it, do so immediately.

Thanks, Jamie…what next?

Band of Brothers

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Bob Dylan At 70

Thank God that Pete Townshend was wrong.

Had Bob joined the 27 Club, we’d have missed out four more decades of music and film, on challenging religious and political and social commentary, on a true poet’s worldview brought to us through the enhanced artistic platforms he has decided to embrace.

He could isolate himself and spike the ball on a career, but instead he travels the globe and shares his gift an average of two hundred times a year. Performing without ego and fanfare to an ever-growing fan base who hopefully understand that they are seeing one of the brightest lights in the history of popular culture shine in their presence.

Video: The First Rapper

Even mystifying us as a DJ of unparalleled subtleties, whose depth of knowledge is amazing considering he’s spent the vast majority of his life creating his own art. If he can find the time, why can’t we?

So Happy Birthday, Mr. Dylan. I’ll never finish exploring your work, and that’s not a sad thing – it’s a great testament to its amazing scope.

Where does one even start?

Bob’s website

A Salute to - and from - Bob Dylan.

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Twenty Years Without Doc Pomus…

But not without his songs.

Timeless. Classic. Doc died twenty years ago today but his legacy is vibrant.

Still fresh now, and just the quality of the material can lift an average band onto a new level. Hell, just a cursory glance at Wikipedia lists “A Teenager in Love”; “Save The Last Dance For Me”; “Hushabye”; “This Magic Moment”; “Turn Me Loose”; “Sweets For My Sweet”; “Go Jimmy Go”; “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”; “Little Sister”; “Suspicion”; “Surrender”; “Viva Las Vegas”; “(Marie’s the Name of) His Latest Flame”…just a smattering of the hits he wrote with Mort Shuman, Phil Spector and others.

That would have sealed the deal right there. But later in his life he was collaborating with people like Dr. John and Willy DeVille, giving life to stories about people on the fringe – the loners, the night walkers, characters that would fill a film noir casting session.

I love tribute albums and Till The Night Is Gone is one of my favorites. Of course, when your songs are covered by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Dion, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke, John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, The Band, B. B. King, Los Lobos and Rosanne Cash…it’s hard to make a bad album.

Doc lives on in my heart and mind. But mostly in my ears.



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T.G.I.F. – Ten Definitive Donovans

I don’t know what came over me, but I just got in the mood to listen to Donovan, and with urgency. Funny how sometimes months or longer can go by without a thought taking traction, and then one day listening to a certain artist feels almost like a mission.

I grew up in the Donovan era, although the “British Bob Dylan” comments never resonated with me at the time. Bob Dylan was wordy and symbolic; his songs were poetic to the degree that his voice didn’t detract from the impact the songs made. He was making some singles but this was an album artist from day one, no matter the marketing scheme or the culture at the time.

Donovan, on the other hand, struck me as a psychedelic hippie, the imagery in his songs more of a visual trip than a social challenge. Of course, in retrospect, he was preaching communication and peace and love, but maybe it didn’t seem as important because that’s what the whole generation was focused upon every single day. His voice was pretty, his tunes had sing along choruses, and it was all about the singles for me.

Donovan maintained his career for decades, just like Dylan did, but where the latter became a global icon and mystic figure, Donovan pretty much slipped off my radar. When I pulled out the greatest hits album I started surfing around to see what else was available and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of live shows and the expanded collections of songs. And as one hit after another spun off that first album, I couldn’t help wondering how I forgot how prolific he was.

Here are Ten Definitive Donovans so we can enjoy his legacy together.

(01) Mellow Yellow – Ringo brushwork and great horns

(02) Catch The Wind – maybe my favorite, a beautiful song.

(03) Colors – guitar and harmonica, sure – but not Dylanesque

(04) Season Of The Witch – Stills, Kooper and Bloomfield knew it was cool.

(05) Hurdy Gurdy Man – live version has unreleased Harrison verse.

(06) Atlantis – a hit despite burying the hook at the end of a long intro.

(07) Jennifer Juniper – always attracted to alliteration…

(08) Wear Your Love Like Heaven – a shampoo commercial can’t ruin it.

(09) The Universal Soldier – pretty prescient.

(10) Sunshine Superman – I know a beach where baby, it never ends.

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Dave

Ever flip channels and stop on a movie you’ve seen a few times, but you settle in to watch it anyway? Of course you have. And when it’s heavily does with commercials, and you’re thinking “I have that DVD” but you sit there anyway? Okay…maybe that’s just lazy…but that must be one good movie. Usually it’s a broad comedy I can quote line for line, like Caddyshack or Major League or Animal House. It usually isn’t a plot-driven movie.

But tonight that happened to me with Dave. Again.

The plot, simple but brilliant – a corrupt administration finds a look-alike to double for a critically ill President so they can continue their illegal agenda. Kevin Kline as the titular character is the head of a temp agency, a nice guy who puts others before him and a dead ringer for the incapacitated President. At first agreeable to follow orders, he soon sees both the diseased plans of the ambitious Chief Of Staff (Frank Langella, great as always) but also the opportunity to do something for the right reasons.

Director Ivan Reitman had stumbled badly after a winning trifecta (Meatballs/Stripes/Ghostbusters), but this film resurrected his credibility. The cast is uniformly brilliant, with Sigourney Weaver, Ving Rhames and Kevin Dunn providing excellent support. Don’t even get me started on the brilliance of Kline, surely one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Great cameo roles for Bonnie Hunt and Laura Linney. And a Charles Grodin sighting? That’s bonus points, son. And kudos to Gary Ross, who also scripted other movies with big heart like Big and Pleasantville.

The only sad thing about Dave is that it makes me wish our leaders had those same unselfish, uncorrupted qualities. Much like Dennis Haysbert’s performance as President Palmer on the early episodes of 24, I came away wishing that just this once, fantasy could be reality. But they don’t, and it’s not.

But there I go again, talking about the deeper meaning of a film that is ultimately a redemption story about second chances and good triumphing over evil. Sometimes, even in the guise of light comedy, deeper points can be made. And when flipping channels on a Monday night, sometimes a well made movie can be appreciated for being  just that.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Free Digital Samplers

They say you can’t get something for nothing. Wrong

Having grown up on 45 singles and gatefold albums, I’m still a tactile music lover. I’m being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital distribution world, even though I realize that it’s more convenient and less expensive. Can’t help it. Old habits die hard.

So since I’m not constantly surfing iTunes and Rhapsody and other music services, I sometimes miss out on titles that come out exclusively for the digital market, be they music or comedy. Hell, it’s hard enough to keep track of everything and I’m proactively looking…I can imagine how hard it is to find everything passively. And record companies – small and big – realize this also.

There’s nothing new about samplers, but pressing and distributing vinyl and CD platters cost money and couldn’t be offered for free in large quantities. Warner Brothers used to sell them for two dollars through the mail, which probably was a break-even point for them, although it wasn’t that much cheaper than a normal retail priced album at the time. When CDs became deceptively cheap, the market was flooded with indie samplers, although most would up in dollar racks. It would have been nice to try to discover new bands, but with the plethora of CDs in the store, who had the time and the money to experiment?

So here’s one thing digital got right – free albums, a click away from wherever you happen to be. The purpose is the same – hear some new bands, hopefully find someone you like, become a fan and buy their product. It’s the try-before-you-buy policy that is the new paradigm for a fractured industry. I’ve stumbled across several by pure happenstance; I’m sure you’ll find tons of others. Many bands are happy to give their albums away hoping you will come out to the show and support them on tour.

So here are Ten Free Digital Samplers that I found worthwhile; no-risk free records for the taking. Imagine – a money back guarantee!

01) Ike Reilly digital sampler – one of the best songwriters around and a dynamic performer, a cutting edge Dylan-influenced poet. I’ve got his whole catalogue and if you don’t know him, trust me, you will love this guy.

02) Americana Music Awards Sampler – featuring cuts from John Hiatt, Buddy and Julie Miller, Steve Earle and James McMurtry to draw you in, you’ll come away as fans of Jason Isbell and The Avett Brothers.

03) Wicked Cool Coming Attractions – A great sampler from Little Steven’s label (and Underground Garage playlist) including The Chesterfield Kings, The Breakers, The Cocktail Slippers and contenders for 2010’s best album, The Len Price 3.

04) Merge Records 2010 Sampler – Indie wonderland, featuring Destroyer, She and Him, Clean, The Clientele and The Shout Out Louds.

05) Alive Records 2009 Sampler – Not dated in any way, this runs the gamut from re-released gems from The Nerves to great cuts from The Buffalo Killers, Left Lane Cruiser and Outrageous Cherry.

06) ROIR: So Indie It Hurts Jackpot! New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders, Suicide, The Mekons, The Fleshtones, James Chance and the Contortions…NYC punk bonanza!

07) Ryko: Flash of Light – Worth it for the acoustic Gary Louris tune alone, but this is filled with great singer-songwriters like Will Hoge and Justin Currie (from Del Amitri).

08) Barsuk Records 2009 Sampler – OK, so I wish that Nada Surf was on here, but otherwise this is a killer collection featuring Death Cab For Cutie, Menomena and Ra Ra Riot.

09) CMJ 2009 Sampler – I imagine there will be a 2010 version floating around soon, but this is stuffed with lesser known bands so what difference does a year make? I already liked  The Black Hollies and The High Strung and came away discovering The Generationals and The Bloodsugars.

10) Best of Yep Roc Singles – This is an absolute steal. When you’re one of the best labels of the past twenty years, of course your roster boasts Nick Lowe, Todd Snider, Dave Alvin, The Apples In Stereo and Reverend Horton Heat.

And what the hell – it’s free one from Sub Pop containing Blitzen Trapper, Wolf Parade, Beach House…even a clip from comedian David Cross!

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