Tuesday, March 30, 2010


If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that I pride myself on searching out new music and artists. These are the musical high notes that I dream about at night.

Although my wife would disagree, I am fairly open to suggestions about new music. In this pursuit, I have wasted a lot of money on CDs that became frisbees after one or two spins. I guess you do have to kiss a lot of musical frogs in order to find something good.

Robert Earl Keen has been telling me great things about Greg Brown for a couple of years. I’m not sure why I was so slow to buy one of his records. If a good friend who just happens to be one of our premier songwriters likes Greg Brown, wouldn't you expect me to be running to the nearest record store? Well, I didn't run, but I got there eventually.

Intrigued by Robert's cover of Brown's Laughing River on The Rose Hotel, I finally took the plunge. Under the heading Better Late than Never, I ordered Greg Brown’s If I Had Known-Essential Recordings Vol 2, 1980-1996.

Talk about falling in love with a record. I have played nothing else for the last two months. Even Outlaw Country has taken a back seat to playing this CD. It is a great feeling to discover someone this good. 


 Robert told me about Brown's records: “The more you listen to them, the better they get.” He is so right. Each time I listen to this record, I am more impressed with what I am hearing.

The lyrics to his songs are often very simple, yet they always say a lot. He also has a huge range of topics in his songs. He writes about growing up and growing old (If I Had Known and Laughing River). He writes about love and relationships (Poet Game and Spring Wind). Many of the songs address the situation of rural people in this country and their disappointments (Worrisome Years). Several of his songs express concerns about our environment and the encroachment of the city on rural land and life styles (Boomtown and Two Little Feet). He also displays a quirky sense of humor in several songs (no wonder REK likes him). 

Greg Brown has been making music for over 40 years. He is from the Hacklebarney region of Iowa. After living in New York, Los Angles and Las Vegas, he now lives in Iowa. He is married to the great country singer Iris DeMent. In the 1980's, Greg was heard often on A Prairie Home Companion. He continues to tour today.

The title track of the album is a sweet little song about growing up. It has very insightful lyrics and a catchy beat. I woke every morning for a month with it in my head. Have a listen:
If I Had Known

The next track on the disk is called Worrisome Years. In contrast to the up tempo If I had Known, this song shows Brown's more serious side. Here he sings about rural people and their problems. It is a great tune: 

Worrisome Years

Another great track that rocks a little more than some of the others is Boomtown. Once again, Brown's lyrics hit the mark while the band hit a great groove. This is another one that I have been singing for weeks. Here it is:

  These are some of the more accessible songs on the disk. I hope they will intrigue you enough to buy this collection. There are several more songs including Poet Game and Spring Wind that are very beautiful and thoughtful. Here are some lyrics from Spring Wind:

                                 My friends are gettin older,
                                 so I guess I must be too.
                                Without their loving kindness,
                                 I don't know what I'd do.
                                Oh the wine bottle's half empty--
                                the money's all spent.
                                And we're a cross between our parents
                                and hippies in a tent.

                                Love calls like the wild birds--
                                it's another day.
                               A Spring wind blew my list of
                               things to do...away.

To buy this album from Amazon click here:

If I Had Known: Essential Recordings Vol. 1, 1980-1996 


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Seems Like a Freeze Out: My Life & Bootlegs Part 5

Seems like a Freeze Out came into my life sometime in 1972. As you can see from the photo, it is an early Trade Mark of Quality product that featured good sound and nice packaging. The quality of bootlegs was definitely improving.

At the time, I was living at Floyd’s Hotel in downtown Somerville, MA. By then, I was buying bootleg albums through the mail from some kind of mimeograph list. I can’t exactly remember the particulars. Guess the 38-year-old memory bank has a hole in it. I do know that we was still listening to lot of Dylan and Band as well as lots of Big Joe Turner and rhythm and blues at the hotel during these years.

The album was a memorable event because it was my first listen to outtakes from Blonde on Blonde. Since this 1965-1966 period found Bob at the height of his powers as a songwriter, all real fans were hungry for anything unheard from this time. Although the important tracks on the record were labeled as coming from the “L.A Band sessions in 1965”, it is now known that this is not the case. A careful review of Bob schedule during that time has cast serious doubt on any recording being done in Los Angeles in that time frame.

It has since been determined that four of these tracks were actually recorded in New York between October of 1965 and January of 1966 with the future members of The Band: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Levon Helm. Bob’s effort to capture the Thin Wild Mercury Sound that would be heard on Blonde on Blonde began in the studio in New York City. Although the sessions did not produce any music that would ultimately end up on Blonde on Blonde (that would come later in the Nashville studio), these tracks do have historic value and they sound great as well.

The most important cut is the early version of Visions of Johanna called Seems like a Freeze Out. Visions of Johanna has always been one of Bob most popular and most analyzed songs. Of the 60’s songbook, it my be his best realized combination of lyrics and music. The poetry of the lines like: "The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face" had never been seen in a rock song at this time. If you compare this to even the Beatles’ efforts at the same time, you realize why even Lennon and McCartney had good reason to be in awe of Bob’s songwriting.

To hear this early working version of a legendary song made the album worth the price. Often referred to as the Nightingale’s Code version for its variation of the lyrics, the song seems even darker and more desperate than the one that ultimately got on Blonde on Blonde.

Have a listen: Seems Like a Freeze Out

Three other great tracks from the same sessions: She’s Your Lover Now, I Wanna Be Your Lover and Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window make their debut on this disk as well. She’s Your Lover Now is my favorite of these songs. With Dylan’s insistent piano and madcap lyrics combined with Robbie’s guitar, it may not be the Thin Wild Mercury, but it is damn good. It is unfortunate that a fully realized version of this song never was captured on vinyl.

On what became the single version of Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, Robbie and the boys, who had only met Bob three weeks before, put their distinctive stamp on this classic Dylan Tune. This successful combination of Bob and his future band mates is an early indication of the great music to come.

Listen to Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window here.

The record also contained the alternate version of From a Buick 6, which was on some copies of Highway 61 Revisited. BobCat Numero Uno had one of those copies and I can remember playing it often and loud while drinking teenage cocktails at Road’s End.

The other side of the album contains some acoustic songs from 1963. Interesting stuff, bit I don’t think it got much play at Floyd’s Hotel.

A copy of Seems Like a Freeze Out would probably be hard to find now, although I have seen a few on eBay. These versions of Visions of Johanna, She’s Your Lover Now and Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window can be found on several Dylan bootleg CDs, so you can get them into your iPod that way.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paul Butterfield on To Tell The Truth

It is a trip to see the great Paul Butterfield interacting with these vintage television personalities on To Tell The Truth. Judging from the questions about Bob Dylan, this episode probably aired in late 1965 or 1966. Butterfield's debut album was released in 1965 and the band also backed Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1965. That album and the appearance with Dylan created a buzz about Butterfield that went beyond the music world of Chicago.

You might have thought that they could find a stronger contestant than a wig salesman to be the third guest. Thanks to new friend and fan of the blog Mike C for sending me the link.

If you don't own the first album by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, you are missing one of the best blues albums of all time. See my post from August 23, 2008 for more about the band and the record. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tell Me, Mama from Tour 66

Following up on my last post, here is a video clip from Eat The Document of Bob playing Tell Me, Mama. I am not sure which stop on the Tour 66 this is from, but it captures the volume and the intensity of the music from that tour.

If you have not seen Eat The Document in it's entirety, you are missing one of the great rock and roll movies of all time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

LOOKING BACK: Bootlegs & My Life Part 4

In the summer of 1971, I was acting out my own personal On The Road fantasy. After driving cross country with a college friend, I ended up in San Francisco. I stayed for a week in Haight-Ashbury where I met up with some old friends from Philadelphia. From there, we spent three weeks hitchhiking up the coast to Vancouver, around Canada and back down to Big Sur, where we camped for a few days on a beautiful beach.

Before hitching back across the country by myself (another great story), I stopped in Monterey to visit a college friend named Ducky Millard, whose family owned a house there. It felt good to sleep in a bed, eat a real meal and have some clean clothes on my back.

On the night before I was to resume my journey, we went into Monterey for dinner. At a local record store, I found my copy of Looking Back. For reasons that are better left untold, I had Ducky mail the record to my parent's house in Rhode Island instead of bringing it with me on the rest of the trip.

When I made it back to Rhode Island a week or so later, the record had just arrived at the house. At a small gathering to celebrate my safe return, I unwrapped the album and gave it a spin. When I heard the sound of the music from Tour 66, I couldn't believe my ears.

The double album contains music from three different live performances. Sides 1 and 2, which claim to be from Royal Albert Hall, are actually from the show at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester the week before. Sides 3 and 4, which are advertised as coming from a show at the Berkeley Community Theatre, contain material from two other shows. Side 3 features some of the great acoustic songs from the first half of each concert on the Tour 66. These particular tracks were recorded in Dublin on May 5th. Side 4 was recorded in April of 1963 at Town Hall in New York. All this bad information proves that truth in advertising was never the strong suit of the bootleggers. It has been written that the mislabeling was done to make the record more attractive to the West Coast buyers.

Except for a single cut of Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, I had not yet heard any of these songs from a very important period of Bob's career. The music from Tour 66 would the soundtrack of my life for most of the '70's. When you compare it to the new music that Bob was making at the time, there was a reason I played this record to death. Do you want to hear Self Portrait, New Morning or this?

When the first notes of Tell Me, Mama came out of the stereo, I was stunned. Beginning with Garth's circus organ and Micky Jones' whack-a-mole drumming, it was a sound unlike anything I had ever heard before. The raw power of the band mixed with Bob's tortured vocals to create music that left me spellbound. Listen for Robbie's solo before the last verse. It is breath taking.

The next thing on the record is Bob in his road weary voice introducing the next number: "This is called I Don't Believe You. It use to be like that and now it goes like this." A familiar cut from Another side of Bob Dylan is given the Tour 66 treatment and the addition of the band is excellent.

On all 8 songs on two sides of this record, Dylan and the band take the best songs from his early catalogue and turn them into magical pieces of music history. Over 40 years later, I wonder what it would have been like to see one of those great shows.

In addition to this, on side 4 of Looking Back, there is the first taste of the acoustic set that started each show on the tour. I wrote about this portion of the show in a post called Before Judas: Tour 66 Acoustic Set (June 10, 2009).

It might be hard to find a copy of Looking Back today, but you can hear the music from Tour 66 on The Bootleg Series Vol 4. It is available on iTunes and from Amazon. It should be on your playlist.