Monday, 29 October 2007

It's A Mad Mad Mad Bob World

My First Take On I'm Not There

"It's partly like a dream, partly like a drug and partly like a Dylan song."

That's how Todd Haynes described his audacious and amusing vision of the "many lives of Bob Dylan" at the screening I was at last night. It's a pretty accurate summation.

The first Dylan track in I'm Not There is Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, a song that conjures up images as odd as Shakespeare "speaking to some French girl" and a preacher with "twenty pounds of headlines stapled to his chest". Starting with a song that makes little literal sense sets just the right tone for what follows.

I'm Not There is unlike any music biopic you've ever seen. Instead of recreating a linear narrative à la Walk The Line or Ray, Haynes essentially riffs on various aspects of Dylan's biography and art, so instead of one actor playing 'Bob Dylan' we have six embodying seven distinct persona, none of which are called Bob Dylan.

I'm Not There - Trailer

Cate Blanchett is probably the most unusual bit of casting. She plays Jude, the drug addled rocker who alienates his folk fans by 'going electric'. It was fun to see Haynes' depiction of the Dylan's notorious 1965 Newport performance (complete with axe-wielding Pete Seeger) just a few weeks after seeing The Other Side Of The Mirror. However I found the less obviously fact-based segments more entertaining.

Marcus Carl Franklin, a young black actor, plays 'Woody Guthrie' an 11-year-old hobo with a penchant for metaphysical songwriting. More bizarre is Richard Gere's 'Billy'. This imagines the reclusive Dylan recast as Billy The Kid, who having survived Pat Garret's bullets hides out in the town of Riddle, a Wild West backwater that brings to life some of the weird Americana that Dylan channeled on The Basement Tapes.

Other aspects of Dylan's life weaved into the film are his marriage breakdown (Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg) and his reluctance to become the Voice of a Generation protest singer (Christian Bale). Bale also reappears as a 1980s born-again Christian. The Dylan who ate half a library, as memorably recalled in Chronicles, becomes 'Arthur Rimbaud' - Ben Whishaw essentially getting all metaphorical in straight-to-camera monologues.

This unusual approach to biography works brilliantly. In the post-screening Q&A Todd Haynes remarked that Dylan's life has always been markedly delineated - once the protest singer phase ended that was it, he moved straight into psychedelic rocker. Don't look back indeed. I've read and watched a more than healthy amount about Bob Dylan over the years and still find him elusive. That's part of his appeal. Every new thing you learn about him seems to add a further layer of mystery and intrigue. And I'm Not There is nothing if not intriguing. While the film might not elucidate on specifics about Bob Dylan's life it certainly makes you think about him a lot more.

The soundtrack, of course, is terrific - a mix of Dylan originals and covers by the likes of Calexico and Mason Jennings. The film's a visual treat too, taking blatant cues from sources as varied as the French New Wave for the Ledger/Gainsbourg segments and McCabe & Mrs Miller in the Richard Gere western scenes.

Hardcore Dylan fans will obviously have a field day spotting every reference in the film but I'll be more interested by what friends who aren't as familiar with Dylan's biography and songs make of it. I hope it might convert them. I suspect they'll leave the cinema entertained but baffled.


MP3: Bob Dylan - Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again

MP3: Jeff Tweedy - Simple Twist Of Fate

MP3: Sufjan Stevens - Ring Them Bells

Amazon: I'm Not There Soundtrack

Related Posts

Bob Dylan: The Other Side Of The Mirror

The Old, Weird America

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Thursday, 18 October 2007

Mark Olson

Dingwalls, Wednesday 17 October

In the early 90s, The Jayhawks, more than any other band, opened the door to me then labeled I owned a second-hand copy of Hollywood Town Hall before I owned a CD player and while my school friends were singing along to Cigarettes and Alcohol, I was discovering the delights of the steel guitar.

Originally The Jayhawks had two singer-guitarists, Mark Olson and Gary Louris, but Olson quit in 1995, upping sticks to Joshua Tree, CA with his new wife Victoria Williams. I never got to see the twin-pronged Jayhawks live. I seem to remember that they played a London gig the day before my English A-Level.

Mark Olson's new album, The Salvation Blues, is his first proper solo record and sits comfortably alongside his albums with The Jayhawks. After leaving that band he formed The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers with his wife and released a solid run of A-grade twang. However, that marriage ended a year or so ago and this new record is the sound of Olson reasserting himself.

Wednesday's all too short set drew heavily from The Salvation Blues, plus three old favorites from The Jayhawks' classic Tomorrow The Green Grass and a handful of Creekdippers tunes. Olson's small continental band comprised a sprightly Italian, Michele Gazich, on fiddle and double bass and a Norweigian, Ingunn Ringvold, playing percussion and keyboards.

They sounded terrific and though not exactly chatty Olson seemed to be having a good time. Much of The Salvation Blues was written in the UK so it's also entertaining to hear references to the Clifton Suspension Bridge and National Express coaches in such rich slices of Americana.

Gary Louris and Mark Olson have recently recorded an album together, due out some time next year (after Louris' first solo LP) and they're hoping to tour together next Autumn. I can't wait.

MP3: Mark Olson - Poor Michael's Boat

MP3: The Jayhawks - Over My Shoulder

MP3: The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers - Custom Detroit Railroad

Buy Mark Olson CDs at Amazon

Buy Jayhawks CDs at Amazon

Mark Olson - Salvation Blues (Live)

Mark Olson - National Express

Monday, 15 October 2007

In Praise Of... Gideon Coe

This week is Gideon Coe's last in the 10am-1pm slot he's presented on 6 Music since the digital station launched in March 2002.

I've listened most mornings since then and if it wasn't for this show my 6 Music consumption would be minimal. Gid has the qualities of every great DJ: personable, witty, engaging, knowledgeable and brilliant at making his listeners feel part of something quite special.

The list of artists who've played sessions on his show since 2002 is phenomenal and includes personal favourites such as Andrew Bird and The Broken Family Band as well as far bigger names. In the last week I've snuck out of the office twice, just after 11.30 to see great Hub Sessions from Richard Hawley and a reformed Carter USM.

I'll obviously be tuning in next Monday at 10pm to hear Gid's new show. I'll reserve judgment on George Lamb, his mid-morning replacement, but my confidence is not high in a DJ on a music network who expressed curiosity on air that the Sugarcubes lead singer sounded curiously similar to Bjork.

Until then, I'll be savouring what's left of this perfect pre-lunch radio show and wearing my Duffer Badge with pride.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Justin Townes Earle & Jubal Lee Young

The Luminaire, Wednesday 10 October

Before this gig I'd barely heard a Justin Townes Earle song, let alone seen him perform. Like most of the small audience at the Luminaire I imagine, I'd come based solely on the fact that Justin is Steve Earle's son and he's named after Townes Van Zandt.

Thankfully Justin more than delivers on his heritage. His songs' references are broad enough to encompass the American civil war and his own checkered past. He introduced one song by saying, "I've been a junkie, thief and alcoholic. Somewhere I managed to fit in singer-songwriter" and dedicated it to a girl who'd worked at the methadone clinic in Asheville, NC. Like father, like son.

I suspect Justin's had a fairly difficult relationship with Earle Sr. I think Steve's time in jail would have occurred when Justin was a young teenager. When someone in the audience shouted "Your dad's alright!" Justin's quick reply was, "He's a damn fine songwriter".

It's a measure of Justin's own songwriting talent and his stage presence - just him and a acoustic guitar - that I wasn't constantly thinking, "That's Steve Earle's boy up there" though Justin did concede to play one of his dad's tracks, explaining that he never used to but would be pretty pissed off himself if he'd gone to see Arlo Guthrie and didn't hear one of Woody's songs.

Impressed, I bought Justin's six-song EP Yuma. It's superb.

Support came from Jubal Lee Young, another southern songwriter progeny. I don't know much about Jubal's dad, Steve Young, but he has a good turn in the brilliant 1975 doc Heartworn Highways.

Jubal looks and sounds like a good ol' boy but his raucous songs aren't all about women and boozing - he's pissed off politically too and found a willing audience to engage in some low-level Bush baiting.

The encore saw Justin and Jubal share the stage, swapping songs, but sadly not playing together (no rehearsal time apparently). It didn't matter - Jubal played a bunch of his dad's songs and Justin's set of covers included a lovely version of Gram Parsons' Song For You, though the harmonies from the pissed-up bloke next to me didn't quite match Emmylou's.

MP3: Justin Townes Earle - Ghosts Of Virginia

MP3: Jubal Lee Young - Greed Is The Creed

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Bob Dylan: The Other Side Of The Mirror

World Premiere, NFT, Tuesday 9 October

I was lucky enough to attend the premiere of Murray Lerner's new film about Bob Dylan's crucial three years, 1963-65, at the Newport Folk Festival. You can see it on BBC Four on Sunday as part of a tasty looking Dylan at Newport night curated by Arena.

When Bob Dylan sang political songs like With God On Our Side and Only A Pawn In Their Game at the 1963 festival he appeared youthful, bright-eyed and in thrall to hobo chic. Three years later he looked wired, wore a leather jacket and was met with boos and brays when he played Maggie's Farm on an electric guitar.

This superb film charts these momentous three years by simply showing the full performances of songs Dylan played it Newport in 1963, 64 and 65. There are no interviews or narration. There doesn't need to be. What's apparent from the music is a total transformation in Dylan's songwriting and his audience's reaction to this change.

With God On Our Side w/ Joan Baez - 1963

Maggie's Farm - 1965

There are some great non-musical moments too: Joan Baez constantly molly-coddling Bobby; Dylan asking if anyone has an E harmonica and the crowd bombarding him with mouth organs. But it's the subtle shifts in Dylan that are most intriguing. In 1963, when he sits on a small stage with the likes of Clarence Ashley, he's part of the folk tradition. By 1966 he's a bona fide rock star - not just because he sounds like one, but because he's got hordes of teenage girls trying to get in his car.

As well as the BBC Four screening the film's also in the Electric Proms at the Roundhouse on Saturday 27 October. Then, of course, it comes out on DVD.

MP3: Chimes of Freedom (Live, Newport 1964)

MP3: Maggie's Farm (Live, Newport 1965)

Buy Bob Dylan CDs at Amazon

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Saturday, 6 October 2007

Old Crow Medicine Show

King's College, Wednesday 3 October

More bands should take a leaf from the Old Crow's book and forgo a support act in favour of playing two sets. On Wednesday night the crack "old-time string band" effectively warmed up an already enthusiastic crowd with an opening 45 minute salvo drawn mainly from their latest album, Big Iron World. After a 15 minute break the second set included more songs like Wagon Wheel and Tear It Down that induce dancing, whooping and hollering. They opened with a fantastic cover of I Want You. This bodes well for a possible OCMS Play The Hits Of Bob Dylan album as the encore included Lay, Lady Lay sung in three-part harmony.

There's something infectious about seeing five blokes tear up a room with distinctly old-fashioned instruments, playing some very old songs. My tolerance for people chatting at shows is borderline dysfunctional but here I couldn't have cared less that a bloke standing next to me was playing along on a harmonica right in my ear!

As a veteran of seeing many bands of an Americana ilk, one of the other pleasures of an Old Crows gig is that the audience comprises far fewer bald men than I'm used to. Most of Wednesday night's crowd were under 30 and about a 50/50 boy-girl split.

But perhaps the greatest thing about Old Crow Medicine Show is that the band's five members seem to enjoy playing so much. Fiddle ace Ketch Secor is a charismatic front man but the rest of the boys (with possible exception of stoic guitjo maestro Kevin Hayes) play each gig as if it were their last. They get extra bonus points for introducing the band as Jim Royal, Armitage Shanks, Liam Gallagher, David Beckham and Basil Brush. Not bad cultural references from five Nashville cats.

MP3: Take 'Em Away

MP3: James River Blues, live on the World Cafe

Wagon Wheel Video

Buy Old Crow Medicine Show CDs at Amazon

Time Out's 50 Greatest Music Films

This week's Time Out magazine has an interesting list of "The 50 Greatest Music Films Ever!". I've only seen 15 of them and really must get round to watching DiG! and The Devil & Daniel Johnson. Of the oldies, I've always wanted to see Coal Miner's Daughter.

There's already debate on the Time Out website about notable omissions. I'd always put Big Time and I Am Trying To Break Your Heart on a personal list. Heartworn Highways is a wonderful film that's not on there either, though it's good to see Be Here to Love Me, the recent Townes Van Zandt doc, at number seven.

Here's the full list with a few YouTube vids and links back to the Time Out article. Any of your favourites missing?

1 Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1987)

2 Dont Look Back (DA Pennebaker, 1967)

Gimme Shelter (David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)
4 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)
Topsy-Turvy (Mike Leigh, 1999)
6 Monterey Pop (DA Pennebaker, 1968)
Be Here to Love Me (Margaret Brown, 2004)

Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould (Francois Girard, 1993)
9 Cocksucker Blues (Robert Frank, 1972)
10 Bird (Clint Eastwood, 1988)
The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese, 1978)

Rude Boy (Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980)
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (Stephen Kijak, 2006)
Bound for Glory (Hal Ashby, 1976)

The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I & II (Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988)
16 The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005)
Sweet Dreams (Karel Reisz, 1982)
Notes from a Jazz Survivor (Don McGlynn, 1982)
Elgar (Ken Russell, 1962)
Rust Never Sleeps (Neil Young, 1979)

The Future is Unwritten (Julien Temple, 2006)
'DiG!' (Ondi Timoner, 2004)
Some Kind Of Monster (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004)

A Hard Day's Night (Richard Lester, 1964)
Jimi Hendrix (Joe Boyd, 1973)
Sid and Nancy (Alex Cox, 1986)
Elvis (John Carpenter, 1979)

The Last of the Blue Devils (Bruce Ricker, 1980)
Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed (Hasan Shah & Dom Shaw, 1981)
Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)
Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)
32 Charlie is My Darling (Peter Whitehead, 1966)
33 Magic Fire (William Dieterle, 1955)
34 A Joyful Noise (Robert Mugge, 1980)
35 Coal Miner’s Daughter (Michael Apted, 1980)
36 Last Days (Gus Van Sant, 2006)
37 Wonderful Life (Sidney J Furie, 1964)
38 'Round Midnight (Bertrand Tavernier, 1986)
39 Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid (Gimpo, 1995)
40 The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, 1968)
41 Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1999)
42 Soul to Soul (Dennis Sanders, 1971)
43 Hilary and Jackie (Anand Tucker, 1998)
44 Made in Sheffield (Eve Wood, 2001)
45 Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959)
46 So You Wanna Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star? (Mark Kidel, 1976)
Leningrad Cowboys Go America (Aki Kaurismäki, 1989)

48 MC5: A True Testimonial (David C Thomas, 2002)
49 Sign O’ The Times (Prince, 1988)
50 Catch Us If You Can (John Boorman, 1965)

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Will Kimbrough & Tommy Womack

The Borderline, Tuesday 2 October

One of the best things that can happen at a gig is going home having discovered a new favourite artist you’d previously never heard of. Last night I saw the future of sardonic, self-deprecating singer-songwriters – and his name is Tommy Womack.

Will Kimbrough & Tommy WomackTommy’s songs mix slightly bitter nostalgia for lost youth with a wry take on his current situation (post-nervous breakdown and working nine-to-five). Lyrics like “my band was still gigging then/REM were still kicking then” meant I was an easy convert but Tommy’s version of Tom Waits’ The Piano Has Been Drinking towards the end of the set sealed the deal.

Tommy alternated songs all night with his pal Will Kimbrough. My introduction to Kimbrough came two years ago when he played a small gig with Rodney Crowell at the 12 Bar Club. Dressed in a black suit and shirt Will couldn’t have looked more different to Womack, who appeared to have borrowed his wardrobe from Robert Crumb. A lot of Will Kimbrough’s recent material has a political, though not preachy, edge but with Tommy they seemed to channel every vein of American music - country, folk, blues, rock ‘n’ roll. They even managed a Clash cover. Kimbrough's also a first-rate guitar player - his slide work is fantastic.

The audience at the Borderline was fairly meagre – 45 max – but the pair were full of warmth towards the lucky few who did show up. In the interval/retail opportunity Will admired my t-shirt and Tommy expounded on our shared frustrations with REM’s recent output. It was the sort of friendly show, packed with incredible songs, that I imagine happens in Nashville on a nightly basis. And that’s made me look forward to a honeymoon in ‘Music City’ even more. If we’re lucky, Will and Tommy might even be playing.

MP3 Tommy Womack - Alpha Male & the Canine Mystery Blood

Tommy Womack - Nice Day

Buy Tommy Womack's records and book at Amazon

MP3 Will Kimbrough - Hill Country Girl

MP3 Will Kimbrough - Less Polite, Live on the World Cafe

Buy Will Kimbrough's albums at Amazon

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