TOM PETTY AND BOB DYLAN – New York 1986 (Rox Vox RV2CD2128)

New York 1986In the mid-80s and in the midst of his own musical wasteland, Bob Dylan went down a number of different angles in a bid to rejuvenate his career. While some of these efforts were more successful than others, one of the more favourable endeavours from this time was his work with the late Tom Petty. Prior to their work with The Travelling Wilburys super group, Dylan and Petty took to the road, with the extensive True Confessions tour, beginning in February 1986. This double disc, New York 1986, released on the ‘Rox Vox’ label presents an entire concert recording, from a rainy night in Saratoga Springs, New York, from July of that year.

Opening with Dylan’s onstage entrance, it is immediately clear that this is not a recording, originally intended for release, and indeed there are several, similar cuts throughout the duration of the 32 song double album. With the backing of Petty’s Heartbreakers, the lion’s share of the set comes from Dylan, who draws from his own extensive catalogue; fusing solid gold classics, with some of his lesser remembered 1980s works.

Decent live versions of ‘I’ll Remember You’ and ‘When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky’ from 1985’s ‘Empire Burlesque’ are worth a listen, as are Tom Petty’s contributions; particularly ‘Straight Into The Darkness’, ‘Even The Losers’, ‘Spike’ and ‘Waiting’ – even if on-stage sound issues detract from the audio quality of this particular version. From the Dylan camp, there are re-workings of 60s classics; including a punchy version of ‘Positively 4th Street’, an enjoyable guitar and harmonica led rendition of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, a rock n roll styled ‘Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35’ as well as alternative, electric delivery of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. Some songs don’t translate as well however, ‘Masters Of War’, for example, doesn’t need a minute long guitar solo. What makes the recording most interesting, however, is the handful of covers, performed and confined by Dylan to his 1980s tours. ‘Unchain My Heart’ which opens the album is a good example of this, as is ‘Lonesome Town’ by Ricky Nelson which kicks off disc two – although it does take so long to start you may find yourself double checking that you actually pressed ‘play’. Renditions of Ry Cooder’s ‘Across The Borderline’ and ‘We Had It All’ (by Donny Fritts and Troy Seals) are also worthwhile inclusions.

While I do like Tom Petty, I’m generally really not a fan of mid-80s Bob, but overlooking some of this recording’s audio inconsistencies, this is actually a very enjoyable album. It is a live document of a curious partnership which failed to produce an official studio album. The song selection is relatively unusual and true to Dylan form, for better or worse, the live versions of the live standards are unique to their own time and place.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘Positively 4th Street’ live from 1986:

PETE SEEGER BIG BILL BROONZY – Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University (Echoes ECHO2CD2077)

Cahn AuditoriumAnother recording from the vaults is Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy from the Cahn Auditorium at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, 1956 – a time in which McCarthyism was rife and the blacklist meant that performances in college and university campuses were Seeger’s main outlet. The performance is unscripted and unplanned, but in its own way, quite formal; with Seeger and Broonzy taking turns at listening to and performing for each other – occasionally performing together.

Seeger’s repertoire is vast, and draws from student songs, children’s songs, hits recorded by The Weavers (‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’) as well as his own compositions like ‘The Goofing Off Suite’. Of course, traditional, folkie standards are an important part of the set too; ‘Mrs McGrath’ and ‘This Train Is Bound For Glory’, for instance, which inspired the Bruce Springsteen Seeger Sessions LP and subsequent tour just over a decade ago. Alongside these, are folk songs from other corners of the globe; the Seeger staple, ‘Wimoweh’ from South Africa; songs in the Spanish language like ‘Que Bonita Bandera’, (a patriotic Puerto Rican anthem) and a devotional Hindu song, widely popularised by Mahatma Gandhi, titled ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’.

As always, Big Bill Broonzy’s performances are exceptional and his accompanying guitar work is stunning; ‘Glory of True Love’ and ‘Willie Mae’ on disc 1 are good examples of this, as is, a well picked rendition of ‘John Henry’ on disc 2, which really enables Broonzy to thoroughly demonstrate his talents.

This is a recording of two legendary artists on top form and in their prime. Their songs and performances don’t need my endorsement, and more than speak for themselves, making for a mighty fine double album with a great collection of songs, which are a pleasure to listen to whether you are just discovering or merely re-discovering the music of Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Again, there is no relevant web-site but the album is available from the usual websites.

‘Midnight Special’ live at Cahn Auditorium:

BOB DYLAN AND THE BAND – 1974 Tour Live (Rox Vox RV3CD2137)

1974 Tour Live1974 Tour Live is a pretty self-explanatory title, but if you’re still curious for anything else other than the obvious, it is a three disc set, covering two shows from January ’74 (Boston and New York) from Bob Dylan and The Band, recorded during their mid-70s comeback tour. The first thing that is worth noting about the set is that the sound is excellent, particularly on the Boston show. The second thing, is that at first glance, the track list looks remarkably similar to the officially-released document of this tour, recorded in Los Angeles, Before The Flood…the operative part of that being “at first glance”.

While there are Band-styled arrangements of Dylan standards which are common to both releases, (‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘Lay Lady Lay’, ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, All Along the Watchtower’ etc.) there are a good number of equally worthy selections, which did not appear on the Flood record. An almost honkytonk styled ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ and Hammond organ soaked version of ‘I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)’ are among the openers of the Boston disc. The same rock’n’roll, tour de force makes its presence felt on the New York recordings, with a hard-hitting version of Dylan’s 1963 ‘protest-era’ number ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ and in an amped up rendition of ‘Forever Young’. The Band themselves contribute some unused gems; ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ and the effortlessly cool ‘King Harvest (Has Surely Come)’. However, it is not just electric numbers to behold on this recording; acoustic guitar and harmonica-racked versions of ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ (where Dylan alternates between jangling guitar patterns and solo vocal) and an energetic performance of ‘Gates Of Eden’, in which his voice sounds remarkably good.

Of course, the deciding factor regarding the appeal of this album is basically a case of what you want to get out of it. For Dylan completists, it will, I’m sure, have its own appeal. For those familiar with the aforementioned Before The Flood this may feel like an extension of that record, and in a lot of ways it should; but with the added incentive of omitted tracks and alternative performances of the Flood recording.

In the current climate of the Dylan vaults being continually raided to comprise impressive, but impossibly overpriced Columbia-issued box sets (next installment earmarked for November 2018) this smaller set fits right in with the trend, a huge difference being, however, that this one won’t break the bank.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

No useful website but 1974 Tour Live is available from all the usual outlets.

‘Ballad Of Hollis Brown’:

THE HOT SEATS – Stupid Mountain Too Big

Stupid MountainNot only is Stupid Mountain Too Big a great title, but it is also the first album in three years from the Virginia-based Hot Seats. Heavily influenced by the much rustified sounds of old-timey, shellac recordings, the original mission of this album was to conjure up the false sense of nostalgia created by those works, by dealing with the typical subjects of love, death, mountains and railroads and other such subject matter, prominent in old timey music. During the writing process, the plan changed somewhat and other elements were introduced to the mix, resulting in a collection of songs, which tell the broader story of human life…or as the Hot Seats describe it: “from procreation all the way to the inevitable realization of the inconsequential nature of existence”. The result? Two records merged together to form one 17 track monster album that is part concept and part traditional. Furthermore, rather than sub-divide the tracks into ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’, both the traditional numbers and the original ‘concept’ pieces co-exist and make way for one another.

The album kicks off on the traditional side of things with ‘Ida Red’; a piece made famous in the late 1930s by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, although this rendition is more akin to a 1927 version recorded by Dykes Magic City Trio.

Following this is the first of the album’s ‘concept’ pieces; ‘Springtime’. Inspired by spotting shoals of gar fish in the Chickahominy River, in the east of Virginia, the song, in its post-winter setting, deals with what happens before life begins and the blissful ignorance of what lies ahead. Mirroring life, what quite literally, what lies ahead is ‘Bad Decisions’; an upbeat ode to humankind’s collectively poor decision making abilities. From here, the idea of ‘everyday life’ continues to flow in and out for the duration of the album; the catchy and clever ‘When You Were Young’ laments fleeting youth while ‘Compliance’ is a commentary on 21st Century living (done, of course, in an old-timey style). ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘Life Story’ kind of do what they say on the tin while the lyrics and outlook of ‘Briney Foam’ manage to successfully combine grim, with weirdly uplifting:

One of these days, you’re gonna go to sleep/ You’re not gonna wake up again
You’re gonna open your eyes and to your surprise / You’ll be free as a bird floating overhead
All of your friends will weep and mourn ‘bout where you’ve gone / Pretty soon they’ll be talkin’ like you never were born
And although your hair and teeth grow when you’re down below/ You can’t take nothing with you when you go.”

For the most part, the observations made by the Hot Seats are funny because they’re true, in the case of ‘Gun Crazy (In The USA)’ the fact that the observations are (albeit, a little exaggerated but) generally so spot on, makes the song quite sad. Essentially the song ironically suggests that the solution to all of life’s problems is to acquire a firearm; if your “Daughters always on the phone…Neighbour’s lawn is overgrown…Line up and get yourself a gun!

Following this, is a borrowed fiddle-led instrumental, ‘Old Bunch Of Keys’, from the discography of turn-of-the-century Appalachian musician, Tommy Jarrell. In total, there are four instrumental tracks on the album: ‘Benny Martin Special #2’, ‘Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase’ and a lovely and lonesome banjo and yodelling trumpet arrangement of the Jimmie Rodgers staple ‘Miss The Mississippi’.

While it is a long album, there is so much to it that it doesn’t feel like a drag. Furthermore, it is a grower. Things which didn’t jump out initially begin to do so after a few listens, causing songs, lines and runs to get stuck in your head, prompting yet another listen of the record, where things take shape, make sense and generally just come together.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artists’ website: http://thehotseatsrva.com/

The Hot Seats live at Grateful Fred’s:

DUNCAN McCRONE – Land Of Gold (Greentrax CDTRAX398)

Land Of GoldA well-established veteran of the Scottish folk scene, Duncan McCrone returns with Land Of Gold, his fourth solo album, and his first on the esteemed Greentrax label. It is a record of new and revisited songs; some recent originals inspired by old stories, a few recordings of older writings and a fine selection of covered material; which fit seamlessly with Mr McCrone’s own songwriting style and (at times) the album’s subject matter. While this is no concept album, there are certainly recurring themes; nautical themes, geographical themes, themes of wishing, travelling and searching to find…but sometimes never finding.

The title track opens the record with its beautiful melody, lyrics and imagery, telling the story of the “Hebridean Klondike Kate”, who left behind her home in Scotland to seek her fortune in the Yukon Valley, at the time of the gold rush. While this track deals with the song’s protagonist leaving Scotland, McCrone later deals with songs in which the lead protagonist is arriving in Scotland; namely ‘The Pioneers’, which tells the story of Bashir Ahmad, Scotland’s first Asian MSP who emigrated from Pakistan to Scotland as a 21 year old, in 1961.

Throughout the album, McCrone takes the opportunity to showcase his ability to retell engaging stories through music. This can be seen, particularly, in numbers like ‘Song of the Skylark’ (an ode to a small sailing vessel which saved over 600 lives during the Second World War), ‘Honeymoon Bridge’ (about a husband and wife, reunited after four years, tragically killed en route to their belated honeymoon), ‘Harbour Wall’ (where the souls of deceased mariners wait for their true love) and ‘Resurrection Road ( A Clydeside Carol)’ featuring Rab Noakes, which juxtaposes nostalgic images of Christmas time in Glasgow, with the harsh, grittier images of the realities of homelessness in the city.

Between these numbers, it is the well placed selections of cover material which fill in the gaps.

Love songs and industrial ballads by Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)’ and ‘My Old Man’ respectively) are done tremendous justice by Mr McCrone, as is Eric Bogle’s ‘If Wishes Were Fishes’ and Matt McGinn’s poignant masterpiece, ‘Magic Shadow Show’. However, it is Graeme Mills anthem for dreamers, searchers and ‘nearly men’ titled ‘My Eldorado’ which is perhaps the most bittersweet song on the entire record.

This is an album that is rich in great talent, with finely crafted songs, punctuated by the incredible musicianship of some of the most respected names on the Scottish folk scene. What is even more impressive, is that it is a recording by an artist whose already noteworthy musical resume must date back some 40 years, and Land Of Gold might just be Mr McCrone’s best work yet.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://duncanmccrone.com/

‘The Surf And The Silver Fishes’ – live:

CHRIS RONALD – Fragments (Borealis Records BCD 248)

FragmentsWith a solid body of work since 2004’s Pacific Time, the English-born/Canadian-based singer-songwriter, Chris Ronald has just issued album number four, titled Fragments. On this album there are traces of 1960s styled folk revivalists, 1970s singer-songwriters, contemporary writers, country and bluegrass music, bound together with Ronald’s contemporary songwriting and John Ellis’ modern production.

The wonderfully descriptive, ‘Everything Goes Green’ kicks off the album, which despite its autumnal and wintery imagery, carries an uplifting message, that everything comes to pass and that “…everything goes green…again…before too long”.

Many of the songs in this record have the sound one may typically associate with a recording from the singer songwriter ‘bag’; the nostalgic ‘Sons of Summer’, the lyrically moving ‘Grandpa’s Wedding Ring’ or the bleak and beautiful ‘Continents’, for example, in which Mike Sanyshyn’s violin sets the tone and steals the show. The mournful ‘Rain City Blues’, continues this approach, with Roland being joined by no less than four other vocalists to tell the song’s ‘story’ as it were.

But Ronald doesn’t just stick with this tried and tested formula, and even early on, numbers like ‘Get Back In The Game’ introduce a ‘bigger’ sound to the album. While this track provides mere hints of alt. country, this approach remains prominent throughout; particularly on the likes of ‘Freedom Train’ and ‘Retirement Plan’.

Fragments is an enjoyable collection of songs by a critically acclaimed folk singer. With the exception of ‘Okanagan Sunset’, all of the songs are directly from Roland’s own pen and the once nominated Songwriter of the Year proves his worth on this record. Whether this recording is your introduction to Ronald’s music or merely just an addition to the collection, it’s a good shout and likely one you will tend to revisit.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://www.chrisronald.com/

Album teaser: