Townes Van Zandt: Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1977)
Adam: Legend (by which I mean Wikipedia) has it that the Old Quarter could “Comfortably accommodate 60 patrons” and that “More than 100 jammed into the room” for this week of shows in July, 1973. Now, being the middle of July in Houston, it was tremendously hot. Early on the album, Townes mentions something about the air conditioning being off, and how it’s really hot. Thus, this album is best experienced on a sweltering summer night with no air conditioning. In addition to the music (which I’ll discuss in a minute) the ambiance on this recording is second-to-none. During quiet moments in the performance, we often hear beer bottles clinking together, and at one point a telephone rings. These ambient noises do not detract whatsoever from the performance; they aren’t that loud. In my opinion, the extraneous noise adds to the performances, in part because it allows one to understand how quiet those hundred hot, thirsty people had to be to allow those faint sounds to be audible on the recording. Continue reading
Bob Dylan: Live 1966 – The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert
Jordy: It has always been difficult for me to listen to the man-and-his-guitar format. Rock, in the end, is how a small group of musicians produces a singular, simultaneous sound. Dylan’s acoustic set on the “Royal Albert Hall” Concert is the former yearning to be the latter. Each of the songs he performs in it was originally recorded with an ensemble (“Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” are the closest to their original studio releases, lacking only the electric guitar and electric bass counterpoints, respectively). The stripped-down acoustic versions from this bootleg sound raw and that’s not a compliment. Furthermore, Dylan is in a fog throughout the set, allowing his strumming, vocals, and harmonica to wander arbitrarily.
Adam: The Dylan we hear on the acoustic half of this show is unique. We know he’s burned out and quite possibly high on amphetamines. He sounds detached from the music, and he sings in a slightly lower register than we are used to. I think the unique sound of his voice here, coupled with the sparse instrumentation and the hushed reverence of the crowd (it’s easy to forget there is a crowd at all except when we hear applause between songs) makes the set feel intimate and romantic. I think the best example of what I’m trying to say is in “Visions of Johanna.” Listen to Dylan’s phrasing here: “The country music sta-tion-plays-soft” and “Just Louieeeeese and her lover soooooo entwiiieeeeened/and these visions of Johanna that connnnnnn-quer my mieeeennnd.” It obvious he wants no one but Johanna. Paradoxically, given the detachment present in the performance, I think that this version is more expressive and romantic than the studio version.
Warren Zevon doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a great songwriter. He was well-respected among other musicians, and his songs are often covered by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and others. As a teenager, Zevon briefly studied modern classical music with Igor Stravinsky, and in the 1970s, he was the touring keyboradist with the Everly Brothers as well as with Don and Phil Everly on their respective individual tours. He was also an occasional stand-in for Paul Shaffer on both late-night iterations of David Letterman’s show.
“Carmelita” from Preludes: Rare and Unreleased Recordings (2007)
“Carmelita” is a junkie’s lament and one of Zevon’s most famous songs, after “Werewolves of London.” The song first came to my attention recently after hearing a cover by GG Allin, of all people. The version I’ve posted is an acoustic demo, but after comparing it to the original release I felt this version was more affecting.
“Searching For A Heart” from Learning to Flinch (1993)
I very much like songs that are able to distill the complexities of love into such simple words, and yet still convey emotional depth, and “Searching for a Heart” succeeds admirably in that regard.
“I Was in the House When the House Burned Down” from Life’ll Kill Ya (2000)
This is just a great song that showcases some of Zevon’s darkly comic style.
Posted by Adam
It's how you float that matters
Simon Joyner – “The Drunken Boat” from Out Into the Snow (2009)
Pardon my absence once again, but you don’t want excuses, you want results.
What we have here is an anomaly, an anachronism, a man out of time. A Billy Pilgrim, if you will. The warm sound of tape, the warm lap steel,the electric guitar tone, the mumbling juxtaposition of Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen and Dylan, the strings seemingly lifted right from the end of Astral Weeks. It’s all here. Everything about this song (especially the production!) screams “I was written and recorded in 1976!”
But no! This album came out last month! And it makes me wonder how albums (or songs) use production values to present themselves as something else entirely. How much of the irresistible charm of this nine-and-a-half minute epic is due to its built-in nostalgia? Would Kings of Leon’s Sex on Fire be as irresistible as this song if it sounded like it was recorded in the 1970s?
These are the questions I have for you, gentle reader. Please listen and consider and respond.
Also please buy this record because you want to
Posted by Phil
Willie Nelson – “I Couldn’t Believe It Was True” from Red Headed Stranger (1975)
What a beautiful song. Deceptively simple — or is that deceptively complex?
Has anyone seen the Red Headed Stranger movie? According to IMDB, Levon Helm was slated to appear, but literally shot himself in the foot prior to filming.
Anyway, let me know if it’s worth the trek to Western Washington.
Posted by Glenn
On the eve of the 40th Anniversary of the Woodstock festival, I thought it would be appropriate to post a few songs that were played there. I’m not posting the Woodstock recordings, but studio versions of the songs. I recently acquired the original 3-LP Woodstock soundtrack for a mere $3 from a Salvation Army store. I only have the Woodstock recordings on LP, and I’m too cheap/lazy to buy it on CD or download the songs again.
Arlo Guthrie – “Coming Into Los Angeles” from Running Down the Road 
Arlo Guthrie singing about flying from London to Los Angeles with a suitcase full of drugs. Classic.
Canned Heat – “Going Up the Country” from Living the Blues 
This song has sort of become the de facto Woodstock theme. Here’s another Canned Heat song (which I don’t think was played at Woodstock) for good measure:
“Whiskey and Wimmen” from Hooker n’ Heat 
So, 40 years on, what’s the big deal about Woodstock? There have been countless music festivals since, and several have attracted more fans than Woodstock. Music festivals today are designed to generate as much money as possible for the organizers and other vendors hawking their wares at festival sites. To be sure, the Woodstock festival was originally intended as a moneymaking venture as well, but the sheer mass of people converging unexpectedly on the site rendered ticket collection impossible. Also, some rather enterprising individuals cut the fences down, allowing people to walk right in. This ultimately made Woodstock about the music, instead of the dollar. Attending a music festival today, one is never allowed to forget that they are seen by the festival organizers as nothing more than a consumer, and that is truly unfortunate.
Also, Woodstock was pretty much the zenith of the hippie subculture. It was really all downhill from there. I’m reminded of a quote from The Simpsons, wherein a couple of old hippies reminisce about their VW Bus: “It was as if the Sixties ended the day we sold it, December 31st, 1969.” Woodstock being in August was in a way the beginning of the end of the Sixties.
Let us not forget that none of this music would have been possible without the invention of one recently deceased Les Paul.
Posted by Adam
Sting – “Fields Of Gold” from Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993)
On Sunday evening, I was driving through west Michigan and scanning through radio stations when this song came on. I had spent a wonderful weekend with old friends; the sun was setting over rolling soybean and corn fields (no barley, far as I could tell); the gentle lilt of this tune bowled me over. It’s a great melody.
Give it a listen if you haven’t ever. It’s a tasteful, non-pompous song. This guy is way better than those other adult contemporary bozos.
My next post will be way cooler, promise, okay?
You know, Sting used to be kind of cool once
Buy it here, if you’re so inclined
Posted by Glenn