52 Weeks of Music

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Posted in Uncategorized by Mark on February 24, 2009

Bob Dylan’s first, self-titled album contained only two original songs, the rest of the album was made up of covers of folk classics. The album only sold about 2500 copies and didn’t attract Dylan much popular success. It wasn’t until the release of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, in 1963 that Dylan really burst out of the Greenwich Village folk music scene and onto the national stage.

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Bob’s folk music roots are still apparent throughout the album – however his approach, themes and attitude were already at the radical end of the genre. It’s not that folk music was a stranger to protest songs – it had long been rooted in life and hardships of the downtrodden – but somehow Dylan brought a new immediacy, a raw edge and a power. As one of the producers on this album, a young african american named Tom Wilson, put it:

I didn’t even particularly like folk music. I’d been recording Sun Ra and Coltrane…I thought folk music was for the dumb guys. [Dylan] played like the dumb guys, but then these words came out. I was flabbergasted.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Freewheelin%27_Bob_Dylan

The album was recorded across numerous sessions between April 1962 and April 1963. Dylan’s song writing abilities were improving so rapidly at the time that 20 odd songs recorded in these sessions were discarded as Dylan wrote new, better songs.

The songs themselves range from political protest songs of rare potency like “Master of War”, “Oxford Town” and “Hard Rain” to standards like “Corrina, Corrina” and “Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance” and passive-aggressive love ballads like “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

Many of the tunes are adaptations of traditional, folk and spiritual tunes, each with their own Bob Dylan twist – “Girl from the North Country” for instance is a unique take on “Scarborough Fair”. Like a true artist in his prime Dylan was begging, borrowing and stealing every bit of inspiration he came across and turning it to his purposes.

The most lasting artifact of the album, and purhaps Dylan’s entire career, is the opening song “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Shortly after Freewheelin’ was release Peter, Paul and Mary released a cover of the song which promptly rose to #2 on the Billboard charts and was a key factor in Dylan’s subsequent rise to prominence. The song comes in at #14 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.

Allmusic Review

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the record that firmly established Dylan as an unparalleled songwriter, one of considerable skill, imagination, and vision.
allmusic ★★★★★

Sample: http://blip.fm/profile/markstanton/blip/7097724

Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings (almost)

Posted in Uncategorized by Mark on January 5, 2009

You might have noticed that last week I cheated slightly – while I picked an artist who was there at the start, I picked a recording that was from late in his lengthy career. This wasn’t an accident, I just felt that it would be good to start with something fairly accessible and Son House’s early stuff is a bit harder to get into. The recording quality isn’t great and the overall feel, while being historically important, isn’t as catchy or fun as that London gig.

There will be no cheating this week. In part because I think it’s important to go back to those early days and in part because this week’s artist had an extremely short career.

Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

Robert Leroy Johnson  was born on May 8 1911 in Mississippi. Not much is known about his life and what is known is based on often conflicting and imaginative annecdotes. The only concrete evidence of Johnson’s existence is his music, two photographs, two marriage certificates and a death certificate. Some of the problems in researching Johnson’s life are beautifully documented in Searching for Robert Johnson.

Johnson spent most of his youth in Mississippi and Tennessee. He married twice, losing his 16 year old first wife and first child in childbirth.

Son House remebered Johnson as a boy who followed him around and tried to imitate him with little success. The fact that Johnson managed to go from novice guitarist to being one of the greatest blues-men of all time in the space of two years helped feed the “devil legend”:

According to a legend known to modern Blues fans, Robert Johnson was a young black man living on a plantation in rural Mississippi. Branded with a burning desire to become a great blues musician, he was instructed to take his guitar to a crossroad near Dockery’s plantation at midnight. There he was met by a large black man (the Devil) who took the guitar from Johnson and tuned it, giving him mastery of the guitar, and handed it back to him in return for his soul. In exchange Robert Johnson became able to play, sing, and create the greatest blues anyone had ever heard.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Johnson_%28musician%29

This story was also fed by the fact that Johnson died so soon after the legendary meeting.

Johnson was an itinerant musician, travelling from town to town in the deep south, busking on street corners and playing juke joints. He recorded twice; in San Antonio Texas in 1936 and in Dallas Texas in 1937.

Johnson died on August 16 1938 at age 27. As with many other details of his life, there are a number of conflicting stories of his death. One was that the devil was claiming his due, another that he was poised with strychnine by a jealous husband, another that his death was as a result of syphilis and another that he had Marfan’s Syndrome.

Johnson was not immediately an influential musician – to most of his contemporaries he was one of many and it wasn’t until the 60’s that his work really started to stand out. Led Zepplin, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones were all fans of his work.

This week’s album is The Complete Recordings – although I’ve removed the alternate takes of many of the songs so it fits on a single CD, so many we should call it The (in)Complete Recordings.

rjohnsonthecompleterecordings

Allmusic Review

The Complete Recordings is essential listening
allmusic ★★★★★

Sample: http://blip.fm/profile/markstanton/blip/7094832

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Son House – Delta Blues and Spirituals

Posted in Uncategorized by Mark on January 1, 2009

I’ve been thinking a bit about how to start this thing – if you’re going to go through 52 albums which one goes first? I was tempted to go with something that means to most to me, but then I started thinking about context & how to set the scene. There’s going to be plenty of time for those favourites. So if you are going to set context where do you start? Do you go back to the Beattles or the Stones? Back to Buddy Holly & Chuck Berry? Muddy Waters? What about Duke Ellington? They have to fit in there somewhere. Then I started thinking about a couple of names I’d heard a lot about, but hadn’t listened to a whole lot; Son House and Robert Johnson. These old blues legends, in my mind at least, seem to be very close to the source of contemporary music. So if we’re going to start let’s start with Son House, only because he recorded a few years earlier than Robert Johnson…

Son House

Son House

Eddie James “Son” House, Jr was born in 1902 in Mississippi and grew up in Louisiana.

House pioneered an innovative style featuring strong, repetitive rhythms, often played with the aid of slide guitar, and his singing often incorporated elements of southern gospel and spiritual music. House was an important influence on Muddy Waters and also on Robert Johnson. A seminal Delta blues figure, he remains influential today, with his music being covered by blues-rock groups such as The White Stripes.

Son House died in 1988. The CD this week, Delta Blues and Spirituals is a live recording:

Recorded live for an enthusiastic audience at London’s 100 Club on June 30 and July 14 of 1970 during House’s final European tour, Delta Blues and Spirituals is a great last look at a true blues legend. Though Son House would live another 18 years after this recording, he would only perform for five more, and by most accounts he was only a shadow of his former self relatively shortly after this collection’s release. Thus, Delta Blues and Spirituals remains one of the last vibrant documents of one of the most essential fathers of Delta blues at the top of his game. – http://www.answers.com/topic/delta-blues-and-spirituals

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Allmusic Review

Overall, the disc makes for a compelling listen from start to finish, and definitely serves as more than just an impressive historical footnote.
allmusic ★★★★☆

Sample: http://blip.fm/profile/markstanton/blip/7088000