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Bebop Spoken There

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THURSDAY 24

Vieux Carre Jazzmen - The Holystone, Whitley Road, North Tyneside NE27 0DA. 0191 266 6173. 1:00pm. Free.

Abbie Finn Trio - Gosforth Civic Theatre, Regent Farm Road, Gosforth, Newcastle NE3 3HD. Tel: 0191 284 3700. 7:30pm. Donations on the night. To book a table (max four people from one household/support bubble) visit: www.gosforthcivictheatre.co.uk.

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SouLutions Sistas - Hoochie Coochie, Pilgrim St., Newcastle NE1 6SF. Tel: 0191 222 0130. 8:30pm (7:00pm doors). £10.00. SOLD OUT!

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Boys of Brass - Tyne Bank Brewery, Walker Road, Newcastle NE6 2AB. Tel: 0191 265 2828. 7:00pm. £10.00. + £1.37 bf for table for two. Other packages available. See www.tynebankbrewery.co.uk.

SUNDAY 27

Vieux Carre Hot 4 - Spanish City, Spanish City Plaza, Whitley Bay NE26 1BG. 12 noon. Tel: 0191 691 7090. Free.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Album Review: Bob Dylan - Rough and Rowdy Ways

Bob Dylan (vocals, guitar); Charlie Sexton (guitar); Bob Britt (guitar); Donnie Herron (steel guitar, violin, accordion); Tony Garnier (bass); Matt Chamberlain (drums).

When a 19-year old Bob Dylan arrived in New York in the freezing January of 1961, he headed straight for the coffee houses in Greenwich Village where anyone could play some songs and collect a few dollars by passing a hat around at the end of their set.  However, he quickly graduated to the more organised folk clubs like The Gaslight and Gerde's Folk City as performers were booked in advance and paid a fee.

At the time Greenwich Village was awash with clubs of all kinds, some specialising in folk or blues or jazz but many happy to present all kinds of music, as well as poetry and comedy entertainers. As Dylan was leading a somewhat bohemian life at the time, crashing on the floors of patient friends' apartments, he spent the days and nights visiting most of these clubs at one time or another and immersing himself in all kinds of music. 



Sadly, this idea of clubs that are willing to present a diverse range of music has more or less faded away. Although the upstairs room in The Bridge in Newcastle, which has hosted many splendid jazz sessions for quite a while, is also the location of the Bridge Folk Club an institution that has been running for over 60 years and is the second oldest folk club in the UK. As far as I know only my Bebop Spoken Here reviewing colleague AA and myself are likely to be found at both sessions from time to time.

In his engaging and imaginative autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan talks about many of these clubs and it is interesting to see how folk and jazz intersected at the time. He mentions one coffeehouse where Cecil Taylor used to play and says that one time he and Taylor played The Water is Wide together. He also says he played there with Billy Higgins and Don Cherry.

In another anecdote from the book Dylan records that one afternoon he dropped into the Blue Note on 3rd Street and found Thelonious Monk there on his own at the piano. He told him that he played folk music in a club up the street to which Monk's replied, "We all play folk music". Dylan also says that Monk's tune Ruby, My Dear had a particular influence on his songwriting (I wonder if the mood and feeling of Girl From the North Country was one possible result).

Therefore, as previously noted on BSH. it is not really that surprising to find that Dylan mentions many jazz tunes and musicians in the lyrics of the final track on his latest album Rough and Rowdy Ways. The 17-minute epic, Murder Most Foul, takes the assassination of President Kennedy as a starting point for exploring the social and culture milieu of that time. In typically Dylanesque fashion this track was actually released three months before the album.

Now that the complete CD is available, it is clear that the whole album is saturated in songs and musical references to folk tunes, blues, American standards. rock, popular music from the radio and also a touch of classical. For good measure the tracks reference as well the American civil war, dead US presidents (usually assassinated), Shakespeare and literature of all kinds, Greek and Roman history and mythology, various religions and an obscure Irish village. In many ways Rough and Rowdy Ways is a musical version of Chronicles.

And the musical styles are as varied as the lyrics. Slow blues False Prophet, R'n'B rockers Goodbye Jimmy Reed, romantic ballads I've Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You, traditional folk songs Mother of Muses, Hammer-horror musically tinged tracks My Own Version of You and epic poetry-style recitations Murder Most Foul. Both lyrically and musically, as he sings on the album, he is using "all of his powers".

In a recent interview for the Martin Scorsese ‘documentary’ on the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue Dylan said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”. Dylan has, of course, been famous for recreating himself and his musical personas throughout his career and this album is another multi-layered re-creation based on a lifetime of ideas and influences.
Even more than his other albums, many of the songs are also reflections on the artistic process. Dylan is often slippery in his use of pronouns so in the lyrics and music of My Own Version of You it is hard to be certain whom the first and second person pronouns refer to, "I’ll bring someone to life, is what I wanna do / I’m gonna create my own version of you”.

Again in the following track I’ve made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You it’s an open question whether he is talking about a particular person, his fans, himself or his muse, “Been thinking it all over and I’ve thought it all through / I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you”.
The image of a river is a recurrent theme on the album with Dylan suggesting he is part of musical traditions that go back to some timeless source, flows through the present into a distant and yet uncreated future, "My heart's like a river, a river that sings / Just takes me a while to realise things".

Most of us would regard reaching our eightieth year as a good achievement in itself (congratulations to those who have already done so) never mind releasing a thirty-third album of original material. In terms of his creativity in re-inventing himself and his art Dylan is up there with Miles Davis and Picasso and this album is another superb illustration of that. In its own way as good as anything he has done.
JC

21 comments :

Unknown said...

I think this is an impressive short review. Without hyperbole or agenda, it nails much about what renders the album fascinating. I like the way it recognises the eclectic sources and styles that Dylan draws on, without becoming obsessed with 'spot the quotation'. It's also clear on Dylan's tendency to obscure the narrator and focus of a song, thus enabling multiple interpretations. Thank you.

Matt said...

I second the above comment.

whalespoon said...

That line about "Rough and Rowdy Ways" being the musical equivalent of "Chronicles" is the best--and most succinct--review of this album that I have seen.

RCB said...

“I’ve Made Up My Mind”... is about Jesus, the “traveling man”. Bob never left the Faith, contrary to media speculation (show the proof!)
Re-read the lyrics placing Bob’s Savior as his muse. I’m not the 1st to interpret this conclusion. Bob has made “hidden” allusions to JC in several songs over the last 3-4 albums. Keep an open mind if you are cynical about this. He’s a man of deep mystery & Biblical references run through every song on this album. Never met him, wish I could, but we’ll definitely meet in the Hereafter. Peace & Love

Steve Fouraker said...

I so agree, and we can go back to many God songs disguised as love songs, particularly after his Christian period.

Unknown said...

Bob's been a religious poet all the way through. Last year I posted a line on his FB page: "Triplicate: Prayer using the lyrics and melodies of pop songs to Pray in."
A day or two later I got a Bob Dylan likes your comment...

Joe

Ray Gooch said...

https://www.amazon.com/dp/109178289X/

Another book where you will find much you can mine that remains present in recent work is

Bob Dylan's Hibbing. Hibbing : EDLIS Café Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781091782891

1. Dylan, Bob, -- 1941- -- Childhood and youth. 4. Dylan, Bob, -- 1941- -- Homes and haunts -- Minnesota -- Hibbing.

Bob Dylan's origins Toolkit

Steve T said...

And people don't think I should put prog rock on a jazz site.

When I used to go on the Amazon discussion forums, Bob Dylan worshippers were always the worst: worse than the classical nerds, worse than the Beatlemaniacs. Any tiny criticism and they'd tell people they shouldn't be on a music forum. I used to call him Dylot and they'd lose their mother£v(%!n minds.

Russell said...

Nice one, Steve!

Hugh said...

Well that's told them - the Dylanistas have been silenced!

I had a listen to this last night - good album, quite bluesey in parts, but not jazz.



P.S. I am not a Dylanista - I have two of his albums, this one and a greatest hits compilation.

Steve T said...

I like Bob Dylan and have had about fifteen of his albums over the years, but he's ridiculously over-rated by a small number of people, and I don't think a jazz blog is an appropriate venue for yet another Bob Dylan echo chamber, with like-minded people constantly re-affirming their beliefs. and the rest of us who don't agree are just not as intelligent as them. Why can't people just like him alongside dozens and hundreds of other artists, without thinking he's the messiah.
I think any connection with jazz is tenuous - though I don't disagree with Lance putting it on - and the only thing he really has in common with Miles is that they both always land albums in all of these ghastly, ridiculous top hundred albums lists: Miles gets one and Bob Dylan can get as many as four.

Anonymous said...

In polar contrast to Steve T, it was a lovely surprise to read this thoughtful piece bringing together my favourite artist, my native city and jazz. Music is a broad church: my late Dad, Danny Veitch (who you very kindly paid tribute to on this site on his death) could never get away with Dylan but we would often share music of all kinds that we both liked. And there are many, many connections between Dylan and jazz, not least the fact that he was discovered by John Hammond Jr. If you're not convinced, listen to the lovely Charlie Sexton guitar on Melancholy Mood or songs such as If Dogs Run Free or Moonlight. Or even the recent Murder Most Foul, which specifically pays tribute to Bud Powell, Stan Getz and Art Pepper.

Steve T said...

Don't put words in my mouth; I objected to the echo chamber, not the post. Jazz is a broad church but doesn't include Bob Dylan, or you'd literally have to include everything. I'm always sceptical when people say they listen to all kinds of music; the worst I ever heard was someone saying they listen to everything from the Beatles to Neil Young to Bowie to Bruce Springsteen who - along with Bob Dylan and without splitting hairs - are all much the same thing as far as I can make out, and I've no doubt somebody could connect them all to jazz. I could certainly connect the Fabs and Bowie to Mingus and Monk respectively.

Anonymous said...

OK, marra...

Steve T said...

Nay botha.

Unknown said...

I wrote the original comment on this post to thank the writer for an intelligent and non-partisan review. But the nature of that review hasn't stopped folks such as the apparently very angry Steve T wanting to have a go at Dylan worshippers even though none of them appear to have taken part in this discussion. As far as I can make out, having decided that Dylan, The Beatles, Neil Young, Bowie and Bruce Springsteen are all 'much the same thing', Steve instructs us that Dylan should not be discussed on this site because he doesn't belong to the 'broad church' of jazz, while The Beatles and Bowie might belong even though they do 'much the same thing' as Dylan. Dylan famously once sang: 'Don't criticise what you can't understand' and I will take his advice as I certainly don't understand Steve T's rules as to who qualifies for consideration on this site.

JC said...

As the author of the review, I would like to thank the people who have made comments on the content of the review. I appreciate your comments.

Steve T said...

Don't put emotions in my head; It's sympathy I feel for anybody who worships anybody; it's pure media construction, unhelpful for the individual and music in general. They spend all that time in the echo chamber, reading, watching, and not listening to anything else while they scour the entire works of the 'genius', digesting the top 100 albums lists and generally taking notice of people who are also in the echo chamber and, when they come across people outside the chamber, their pent up anger overspills
Once again, I don't object to the review, but the excuse to bring a non jazz echo chamber to a jazz site, when they're already all over the net. There are many jazz greats who never attract any discussion.
I don't think Beatles and Bowie should be discussed as jazz either, which was precisely my point. If Bob, Beatles and Bowie, then what next: Lonnie Donegan, the BeeGees and Elton John; or have you decided they're different.
For what it's worth, I think Bob Dylan's debut is a fair stab at blues for a white boy - not Beefheart or Watermelon Slim - but that rare - nay extinct - thing, an under-rated Bob Dylan album. That doesn't mean we should get all hot and bothered about Yer Blues or Gene Jeanie, and I'd recommend a hundred - nay a thousand - albums by Black American Blues Artists, who don't get the same media attention, ahead of it.
If everything that comes from blues should be included, perhaps it should be called Everything but Classical Music Spoken Here.

Unknown said...

In my opinion, your points in the above comment are sensible and valid, Steve T. The thing is, our very nature as humans means that we tend to think we're right. And it saddens me how, in these comment sections, which are intended as friendly discussions of a post, people seem to get so angry so quickly. One thing that we have to accept when we publish our views is that however annoying it may be, readers will 'put words in [our] mouths' and 'put emotions in [our] heads'. After all, that's something that all Dylan reviewers do - and he's been known to get pretty furious about that from time to time!

Steve T said...

I remember Douglas Adams saying that somebody had asked Bob Dylan why he'd used a particular word, expecting some insight into his genius, and he confessed it was because it rhymed.

Hugh said...

Nice comment, Steve and kinda paraphrases your point very neatly.

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