Shot Of Rhythm

[ Friday, September 01, 2006 ]


New release round-up

Dylan's not the only release worth spotlighting this week...

-First is The Roots' GAME THEORY, which I've previously spoken of here, but which remains one of my favorite albums of the year thus far. As with all Roots releases, some of GAME THEORY is near-impenetrable in its jazz-based invention, but - again, as with the rest of their catalog - the high-point meetings of said jazz spirit with some of the finest hip-hop/R&B tracks recorded in the past decade makes for music of significant power. Despite the presence of quite a few Roots classics on GAME THEORY, I'm pretty sure that the supple "Long Time" is my favorite, a mix of deep-soul vocals, Philly Sound strings and trademark Roots beats and rhymes. Excellent, standard-bearing stuff.

The Roots (feat. Peedi Peedi and Bunny Sigler) - "Long Time," from GAME THEORY

-Another release that I've already previewed here, Old Crow Medicine Show's BIG IRON WORLD, is a worthy follow-up to their astounding 2004 debut. There's something so wonderful about a bluegrass/trad group that can simultaneously seem cutting-edge and firmly grounded in the roots, and O.C.M.S. fits that bill perfectly. Their musicianship and vocals are superior, but I think that the true key to this alchemy lies in the group's songwriting, which treads the fine line between timely and timeless with a skill that almost no other contemporary bluegrass artists (whether "traditional" or "newgrass") can even approach. "My Good Gal" is probably the best example of that on BIG IRON WORLD.

Old Crow Medicine Show - "My Good Gal," from BIG IRON WORLD

-Finally, although I haven't yet heard the whole album, the kick-off track from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's new song-by-song tribute to Marvin Gaye's WHAT'S GOING ON suggests that the full record is the affecting masterpiece that early reviews suggest. Complete with biting verses from Chuck D, this may be the best yet commentary on the Katrina disaster and ensuing national disgrace, and the fact that the Dirty Dozen has chosen such a rich musical template for this meditation is of little surprise.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band (feat. Chuck D) - "What's Going On," from WHAT'S GOING ON

On the box right now: The Roots, GAME THEORY.


Dove With Claws [5:02 PM]

[ Tuesday, August 29, 2006 ]


The new, weird America

"The past isn't over, it isn't even past." - William Faulkner

It seems strikingly appropriate that Bob Dylan's new album, MODERN TIMES, would be released on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which - in its catastrophic aftermath - illuminatd so many of the contradictions, struggles and nightmares that Dylan's strongest work has always engaged. While the word "prophet" gets used about musicians, and Dylan specifically, far too much, it can't help but seem eerily prescient that, over the course of his last three albums (as well as the OH MERCY section in CHRONICLES), he's called up images of New Orleans, floods, Biblical-scale disasters and humanity's generally muddy existence. Even before the Katrina fiasco brought the point home, Dylan's been warning us about "high water everywhere" for years, using the musical textures and lyrical touches of the past to do so. Thus, it's no surprise that, on his first dispatch after the flood, Dylan continues this patchwork priesthood, not to mention his artistic winning streak.

Dylan gave up direct political commentaries a long time ago, but what's recently seemed like barely-masked, historically-disguised editorializing is now essentially on the surface, growling through "The Levee's Gonna Break" and weeping in "Workingman's Blues #2." Some Dylan fans have long bemoaned his relative distance from message-song reportage in the past few decades, but MODERN TIMES cements what many of us have long known: Dylan has applied his fascination with the sounds and themes of 20th century American music to a critique of present-day life in these United States, where the problems afflicting us should've probably been dealt with long before "modern times." Nonetheless, the same cries, screams and jokes issued from Charley Patton, the Carter Family and the like maintain their relevance.

Apart from the abstract importance of MODERN TIMES, it's simply a superior work of music. Dylan hasn't sung this consistently well in a long time, and his current band (including the important new addition of BR5-49 multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron) is among the sharpest he's ever worked with. Dancing between rockabilly rumbles, Tin Pan Alley pop, jagged blues and country/gospel balladry, Dylan weaves his tapestry around the musical foundations of "modern times," in order that his critiques and observations about said "modern times" become all the clearer...and more timeless. (This is the same strategy used so well this year by Springsteen, OutKast and - in her own way - Christina Aguilera.) While MODERN TIMES probably won't become a classic like HIGHWAY 61, BLOOD ON THE TRACKS or TIME OUT OF MIND, it's another chapter in Dylan's long and winding road through the (high) waters of our national consciousness.

Bob Dylan - "Thunder On The Mountain," from MODERN TIMES

Bob Dylan - "Workingman's Blues #2," from MODERN TIMES

Bob Dylan - "Nettie Moore," from MODERN TIMES

On the box right now: Chuck Berry, THE CHESS YEARS, Disc 1.


Dove With Claws [7:24 AM]