Social Distancing Spins – Day 25

By Joel Francis

I’m still lost in the catacombs, down in the groove.

Lou Reed – New Sensations (1984) Lou Reed released several endeavors that sound more intriguing in concept than execution, but New Sensations stands out in a deep catalog full of non-sequiturs: It is relentless optimistic both lyrically and musically. I have no idea what put Reed in such a good mood, but it is a delight to hear praise impulsive behavior on “Doing the Things that We Want To,” turning the Detours’ “Do You Love Me” sideways for “I Love You, Suzanne” and celebrating a compatriot on “My Friend George.” If this sounds slight, fear not. There’s nothing here as lightweight as “The Original Wrapper,” which appears on his next album, Mistrial. New Sensations it a strong conclusion to an incredible – and diverse – trilogy of albums that appeared in consecutive years and represent Reed’s strongest run of material outside of the Velvet Underground.

Coathangers – The Devil You Know (2019) When first playing this sixth release from the all-female Atlanta trio one might think there was a mix-up at the pressing plant. Opening cut “Bimbo” opens with a light, bouncy guitar and piano line and airy vocals. Then the distortion kicks in at the chorus and we realize how the sonic dichotomy supports the song’s lyrics about making assumptions about women. Very clever. “Stranger Danger” employs a similar trick as coquette-ish repetition of the song title plays against more defiant vocals in the verses before all hell breaks loose on the chorus. The song does a great job of capturing #metoo-era menace in under three minutes. “Stranger Danger” sets the table nicely for “Fuck the NRA,” a song as brash and straightforward as its title and the album’s best moment. Clocking in at just over half an hour, The Devil You Know makes it point and quickly departs.

Sam and Dave – Double Dynamite (1966) Soul music abounds with upbeat songs and combos, but I don’t know of any as relentlessly happy as Sam and Dave. You can even hear them smiling during serious ballads like “When Something is Wrong with My Baby (Something is Wrong with Me).” Double Dynamite is Memphis soul at its finest, with Booker T. and the MGs serving as the backing band and Isaac Hayes and David Porter providing songs. The first side of this album has several of the duo’s hits, including “Soothe Me,” “Said I Wasn’t Going to Tell Nobody,” and “You’ve Got Me Hummin’.” The second side is less-known but still great and features a version of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s “I’m Your Puppet.”

Bob Dylan – Sidetracks (compilation) – This collection gathers all the non-album tracks released on box sets and hits collections over the years. The majority of the cuts come from the Biograph box set and are quite good, but I am partial to the songs from Greatest Hits, Volume II, which was a staple in my college dorm room. Dylanologists can rejoice than they no longer need skip through a half-dozen other anthologies for these hard-to-find tracks. Casual fans looking for the hits won’t find them here, but they will encounter a lot of great songs to send them scurrying deeper into the catalog. Non-albums singles like “Positively Fourth Street” and 1999’s Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed” which will satisfy both audiences.

John Entwistle – Whistle Rymes (1972) – John Entwistle solo albums can be a dicey proposition. The majority of them are more miss than hit, I’m afraid. Thankfully, Whistle Rymes (sic), The Ox’s second solo album is a safe endeavor. That’s not to say it’s not for the faint-hearted. The liner notes, penned by Entwistle, is the beginning of a fairy tale about a girl named Boobity. So, yeah. (If this tale was ever completed elsewhere, I don’t want to know about it.) The closing song, “Nightmare (Please Wake Me Up)” is a glorious cacophony of horns, piano, violin and drums. The rest of the album is quite good. Anyone who heard The Who songs “Boris the Spider,” “Silas Stingy” or “Heaven and Hell” and thought they needed some more will be pleased with Whistle Rymes.

Wynton Marsalis – Black Codes from the Underground (1985) The jazz world lost a tremendous gift when Ellis Marsalias, patriarch of the great jazz family passed last week. I saw Marsalis at a small theater in Kansas City about a decade ago with a combo that included his son Jason on drums. Somehow, after the show, a neighbor who played saxophone and went with me had talked our way into joining the band – minus Jason – for drinks at the hotel across the street. I soaked in the conversation and experiences until Ellis arrived. He started telling stories about when Charlie Parker was in Jay McShann’s band. McShann, Ellis said, tried to get everyone to take his young horn player because he was so undependable. “You found him, you keep him!” Ellis remembered the other bandleaders telling McShann as we all laughed.

I mention all this here because I don’t have an Ellis Marsalis album and because there will be other opportunities to discuss the rest of the Marsalis family. I have no doubt somewhere in heaven the newly arrived pianist is sitting in on a heck of a jam session.

“Tell Tale Signs” Sheds Light on Legend

Above: “Dreaming Of You” is one of many stand-out tracks on “Tell Tale Signs.”

By Joel Francis

If there’s one detail to take away from “Tell Tale Signs,” the eighth installment in Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, its that “Mississippi” is as vital to his late-career renaissance as “Like A Rolling Stone” was to his electric rebirth.

The song opens both discs of the set (a third version appears on the bourgeoisie-only $130 “deluxe edition”). We first hear it as beautiful, slow folk ballad that features one of Dylan’s best vocal performances. Play this version for people who say Dylan can’t sing. It next appears as a more wirey, blues-influence tune that bears more of producer Daniel Lanois’ fingerprints.

Anyone who heard Sheryl Crow’s cover of “Mississippi” – she cut it for her “Globe Sessions” album before Dylan included it on “Love and Theft” – knows the song’s durability. It’s interesting to see Dylan add and shave layers before settling on a version suitable for release.

“Tell Tale Signs” is mainly a collection of shading and texture. With a few exceptions, hardcore Dylan fans will be familiar with all its 27 songs. What is surprising is the new contexts Dylan continually places them in.

“Most of the Time” is a gorgeous mood piece on “Oh Mercy,” but the alternate version replaces Lanois’ sheen with an acoustic guitar and places Dylan’s regret and pain at center stage. This motif is repeated across the set. Lanois produced two albums with Dylan and it’s telling that a majority of the cuts on this set draw from those sessions. Although their collaborations were critically acclaimed, Dylan and Lanois often struggled over differences in vision. These alternate versions are closer to the sound and feel that Dylan achieved alone on his ‘00s albums and could be seen as refutations of Lanois’ input.

There are only a handful of unheard songs, but what’s here is worth hearing. Lesser artists could build a career with the material Dylan discards. It’s unclear why the evocative “Dreaming of You” was left off “Time Out Of Mind,” but it is one of the brightest gems in this collection. There are two other “Time” discards – the gospel-flavored “Marching to the City” and the longing tale of lost love “Red River Shore.” “Can’t Escape You” is a sideways love song recorded in 2005, while the traditional “32-20 Blues” is an acoustic folk song from the “World Gone Wrong Sessions.”

The live cuts sprinkled throughout aren’t as illuminating, but still worthwhile. “High Water (For Charley Patton)” is angrier onstage, while an acoustic “Cocaine Blues” is a reminder of the amazing chemistry Dylan had with longtime touring guitarist Larry Campbell.

The inclusion of three previously released soundtrack songs is a bit puzzling. We’re given the superb “Cross the Green Mountain” from “Gods and Generals” and the haunting “Huck’s Tune” from “Lucky You,” but where is the Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed” from the “Wonder Boys” soundtrack? (A live version does appear on the $100 bonus disc.) Dylan’s swinging version of “Red Cadillac and Black Moustache” cut about the same time as “Love and Theft” for a Sun Records tribute would have been nice to have.

But these are minor quibbles. While this set doesn’t tell the faithful anything they don’t already know, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth hearing again in a different light.