Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bob Dylan, Newport and the Stratocaster

Bob Dylan and the guitar that he reportedly played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 have been in the news this week. A show called History Detectives aired a segment last night about a Fender Stratocaster now owned by a New Jersey woman that may be the guitar that Bob played that historic night in Newport when he turned the folk world upside down. Of course Bob's people dispute the claim.

This much is known for sure: on July 25, 1965, Bob took the stage with Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and the rhythm section from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. They played a loud, raucous three song set that showcased the new direction of Bob's music and signaled the death of the folk music movement. Here is Maggie's Farm from that night:

If Bob's leather jacket and new look didn't blow the folkies' minds,  I'm sure the sound of the band, particularly Mike Bloomfield's leads, must have sent them over the edge. It sounds pretty raw and edgy today. Can you image it at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965? Oh my.

How about the choice of Maggie's Farm? I wonder if Bob was sending a message with the these lyrics:

                             Well, I try my best
                             To be just like I am
                             But everybody wants you
                             To be just like them
                             They say sing while you slave and I just get bored
                             I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July by Dave Alvin

4th of July by Dave Alvin is the perfect song to kick off the holiday weekend. Written and performed by an Americana music icon Dave Alvin, it is a lyrical music poem of longing and unrequited love set to the background of our national holiday.

Since I first heard it covered by Robert Earl Keen on his outstanding 1997 release Picnic, 4th of July has held a permanent spot on my short list of favorite contemporary songs. It also opened up my ears to the impressive musical catalogue of Dave Alvin. My dive into Alvin’s music began when I bought his 1994 release King of California. It is a great album.

Alvin also ranks high on my list of great modern singer songwriters who are not getting the recognition they deserve. With a career that started 30 years ago as a founding member of the Blasters and X, Alvin has gone on to develop a sound that might be best described as Alt-California Country. Whatever you call it, the music is based on great songwriting and stylish guitar playing. Rolling Stone Magazine has called Alvin "an under recognized guitar hero" and I agree. Watch him rip it up at the end of the video above.

The Best of the Hightone Years released in 2008 includes several hits from  King of California as well as California Snow and Abilene, which are two of his great songs. It would be a great place to start your Alvin collection.

Eleven Eleven released in 2011 begins with the rocking Harlan County Line, which was heard on the show Justified this past season and includes several other great tunes.

Add some Alvin to your playlist and have a great 4th.