elmergantry

' I've lost the power I had to distinguish between what to ignite and what to extinguish' – Rowland S. Howard

Month: September, 2013

Dylan Criticism and a Sense of Proportion

The Irish historian Joseph lee once claimed that Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the ‘Easter Rising’ in 1916, has been a victim of being both ‘mindlessly adored and mindlessly reviled’. At a lower pitch, it npow seems to me that Bob Dylan’s recent work has suffered something of the same fate.

From a point where fine albums like Street Legal and Shot of Love were subjected to an over-the-top critical bashing, we seem to have reached a point where even the most inconsenquential Dylan track is suddenly an overlooked masterpiece and can only be discussed in the most hyperbolic terms…

in my opinion, this situation is almost as unhealthy for the artist as the first. What seems to be missing in both is a sense of proportion and a sense of the broader context of Dylan’s work.

I also happen to come from the school of thought which sees ‘Self Portait’ as a very minor work in the broader Dylan canon. While it may have some historic importance as a transitional work, the effect of time will leave it at best as little more than a footnote or a curiousity (along with the outtakes from it) within his broader output. I feel the same way about Tempest, which was one of Dylan’s poorest efforts, to date…

With these caveats in mind, there are some beautiful cover versions of traditional songs on ‘Another Self Portrait’. What stands out for me in the best of these is the care, respect and attention Dylan gives to their lyrics and a few of them are among the best vocal performances in his entire career.

Will single out for mention here the beautiful ‘Copper Kettle’ and ‘Pretty Saro’ and the magnificent ‘Tattie O’Day”. Of these, ‘Pretty Saro’ is available on ‘You Tube’ at:

Little Sadie, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Randy Travis

Here is another version of ‘Little Sadie’ – again far superior to Dylan’s perfunctory and off-hand version. This is by the late great Doc Watson:

Dylan’s version seems very close, indeed, to Clarence Ashley’s version. However, while Ashley’s off-hand approach works in his case, in Dylan’s it comes across as something close to indifference to the song:

Will add Doc Watson’s & Bill Monroe’s great version of the ‘The Banks of the Ohio’ here:

Will round this off with another great gospel performance by Randy Travis. This is his remarkable version of ‘Amazing Grace’. There is a case to be made for Travis being the last great ‘pure’ country singer, standing in a line that runs through from Hank williams to Lefty Frizell through to George Jones & him:

Bob Dylan, Paul Clayton

Listening to ‘Another Self Portrait’, it also struck me that Paul Clayton’s shadow is one of those that hangs most heavily over it. While many commentators have mentioned Dylan’s cover versions of songs by Greenwich Village contemporaries like Tom Paxton and Eric Andersen, few have noticed this fact…

On a quick count, at least four songs on it have Clayton connections. These are
1. ‘Little Sadie’ which Clayton recorded on his album, Wanted For Murder: Songs of Outlaws and Desperados
2. ‘Spanish is the Loving Tongue’, which is on the album Folk Singer
3. ‘Railroad Bill’, which is on Clayton’s early album, Folksongs and Ballads of Virginia
4. ‘House Carpenter’, which is on Cumberland Mountain Folksongs.

On the extended version, there is also, of course, a version of ‘Gotta Travel On’.

For completion’s sake, here is a later (1992) Dylan version of ‘Polly Vaughan’ – a version which lyrically at least, stays close to the Clayton version, Polly Von, which appeared on Bay state Ballads (and is one of my favourite Clayton performances):

When saying that Another Self Portrait was not an essential purchase in my last post, I meant this in comparison to earlier volumes in the Bootleg series, which included songs of the quality of ‘Blind Willie McTell’, ‘Series of dreams’, etc. and what will presumably emerge from those covering the ‘Blood on the tracks’ period. It is well worth buying but ultimately does not substantially enhance Dylan’s stature in the way earlier releases in the series have done…

Another Self Portrait Bob Dylan

After reading some of the over-hyped reviews of this cd, was expecting to be much more impressed by it than I have been…

While there are some gems here (like ‘Pretty Saro’, ‘Copper Kettle’, ‘Sign on the Window’, ‘Tattle O’Day’. ‘If Dogs run free’ and fine versions of ‘Highway 61 Revisited (with the Band) and of Eric Andersen’s “Thirsty Boots’, there is also some pretty thin gruel…

For instance, Dylan’s version of ‘House Carpenter’ here is a very poor one indeed especially when compared with the superb version already available on ‘Biograph’.

But what I found really disappointing, especially, as I had been looking forward to it, is the disengaged version of Little Sadie that appears here. There are several vastly superior versions available by other artists – among whom I would recommend Mark Lanegan’s:

Or John Renbourn’s:

My feeling now is that ‘Another Self Portrait’ would have been improved by greater quality control and is hardly an essential Dylan purchase, in any real sense…

Australian Election, Tony Abbott

Glad to see that the criteria for becoming Prime Minister in Australia now include the ability both to repeat lies so frequently they are accepted as the truth (such blatant lies include, for example, the statement that the Australian economy is in a dire state and that boat people are a threat to Australian national security) and to repeat three-word catch phrases that are so moronic they would insult the intelligence of a four year old…

Add in to that mix the ability to lower the tone of political debate in Australia so far into the gutter that democracy here itself is discredited…

Also, while his gratuitous offensiveness was kept in check during the election – apart from once or twice during the debates with Kevin Rudd – this will surely resurface soon and I am hoping it will to a speedy end to his unpleasant and reactionary political career…

This was, perhaps, the most depressing election campaign I have ever seen, characterised by mean-spiritedness (especially about asylum seekers) on the part of both the LNP and Labour…

When combined with a supine mainstream press, which acted throughout as cheerleaders for the Liberal party (it seems we now have a Fairdoch and Murfax chain of newspapers), it was an immensely dispiriting campaign…