Jacob David Sudol(b. Des Moines, Iowa 1980) writes intimate compositions that explore enigmatic phenomena and the inner nature of how we perceive sound. He recently finished his M.Mus. at McGill University and currently resides in La Jolla, CA where he is working towards a Ph.D. in composition at the University of California at San Diego with Roger Reynolds, Chinary Ung, Philippe Manoury, and Rand Steiger.
Over the last five years some of Jacob's mentors in composition have included John Rea, Denys Bouliane, Philippe Leroux, Sean Ferguson, Dan Asia, and Craig Walsh. He has also participated in master classes with Danish composer Bent Sørensen and German composer Manfred Stahnke.
During 2005-2006, Jacob was the first-ever composer-in-residence for the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble under the direction of Denys Bouliane, in collaboration with the McGill Digital Composition Studio. He has also written music for the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, the Contemporary Keyboard Society, percussionist Fernando Rocha, saxophonist Elizabeth Bunt, and clarinetist Krista Martynes. As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, he composed the music for a collaborative dance project with choreographer Hillary Peterson, and he was the principal composer and pianist for El Proyecto de Santa Barbara, a chamber Latin jazz ensemble.
During the 2005 and 2007 Montréal/Nouvelles Musiques and 2006 MusiMars festivals Jacob was an electronic assistant for performances with Court-Circuit, Matt Haimovitz, Sara Laimon, Martin Matalon, Moritz Eggert, Manfred Stahnke, the Caput Ensemble, and the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble. These concerts were broadcast by the CBC and the European Broadcasting Union in over fifty countries throughout the world. He is currently a studio research assistant for Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Roger Reynolds.
During his free time Jacob takes an active interest in religious phenomenology, cinema, acoustics, literature, poetry, and visual art. As a composer and performer, he always attempts to bring insights from these other fields into his work.
All music posted on this blog is posted out of love and the idea that for the truly great music of our time(s) to be known it must first and foremost be heard. If you like what you hear please support the artist by buying the recordings, scores, and/or encouraging the performances of the music in every way possible.
If you are the composer, performer, performing organization, artist or directly represent the composer, performer, performing organization, or artist of anything posted on this website and would like your material removed please contact me and I will happily oblige.
For soprano, flute, clarinet, cello, and live electronics
Performed by Stephanie Aston (voice), Christine Tavolacci (flutes), Przemyslaw Bosak (clarinets), Ashley Walters (cello), Jacob David Sudol (electronics/mixing), Robert Zellickman (conductor)
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‘Alas, when the Uncertain Experiencing of Reality is dawning upon me here, With every thought of fear or terror or awe for all set aside, May I recognize whatever appear, as the reflections of my own consciousness; May I know them to be the nature of the apparitions in the Bardo: When at this all-important moment of achieving a great end, May I not fear the band of Peaceful and Wrathful, mine own thought-forms.’
–verse for traversing the Chönyid Bardo *
The Space Between was written in 2008. The composition intends to explore the experience of traversing through and inhabiting a great variety of constantly changing yet unified intermediate states. The primary inspiration for this work was the initial state of dying as described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead where one first begins to recognize “the dissolution of earth… into water, water into fire, fire into wind, wind into consciousness.”* These ideas were treated abstractly and combined with a personal vision of dying as a confused state where unusual simplified archetypal characters constantly bleed into and out of each other.
* Texts taken from Chapter 11 of the The Tibetan Book of the Dead: translated by W.Y. Evans-Wentz (Oxford, 1960)
Guest Mp3 Blog #1: “From the land of pity / To that without pity!”
A very dramatic person told me that folk music is dead. I don’t really know if these songs have anything to do with that or with each other, but I thought I would put them all together anyway and see what happens.
Over the years I’ve read and talked to a lot people who say that certain songs and music have an almost geographical or photographic representation of a time and place. I feel this is something that is hard to formulate because it is primarily personal; however, I think that when one makes this personal connection these representations become completely undeniable.
Since coming to Montréal a number of bands and compositions have helped me understand and come to terms with what it means and feels like to live on this strange French Canadian island. However now that I’ve spent the last three years getting used to Montréal I have to prepare myself to move to San Diego and return to the American southwest in September. To help myself with this move I’ve been seeking out and listening to some particularly southwestern artists and songs.
Primarily based in L.A. (which is a mere 90 minutes north of San Diego) I’ve always felt that Warren Zevon writes songs that feel baked to exhaustion in the overly clear and optimistic skies of southern California. What I particularly like about Warren Zevon is that, unlike some other well-known L.A. musicians, he writes songs that a have a very distinct human and tragically dark and/or violent edge to them. To me it’s what you see when you get past a romantic conception that you’re living in an exotic desert paradise – it’s the true wild and often unforgiving natural harshness of a hot and dry terrain.
Calexico is band from Tucson, Arizona (where I spent most of my life) that writes music that frequently sounds like it belongs in the soundtrack to a movie about some of my old friends who would live from paycheck to paycheck or gig to gig in this heart of Sonoran desert. Listening to Calexico I can almost feel the hot wind reflecting off of downtown’s pavement in the middle of a dry desolate summer day or hear the sudden lightning that ushers in the harsh wind and rain of a sudden July monsoon shower.
Listening to these albums and songs I’m starting to get excited about returning to a land more familiar. In a few days I’ll post some songs that have helped me come to grips with Montréal and are already beginning to make me nostalgic
If you don’t already have “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” buy it now.
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Forty years ago the Beatles’ seminal album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released. I can’t gush about how I consider it the best album ever because I reserve that title for Kid A, but I can talk about my relationship with Sgt. Pepper’s and some of what it has personally meant to me.
When describing my position as a popular music aficionado I often claim I am at heart a Beatles baby because when I was about eight or nine, and really began to start loving music, it was through the Beatles. One of the defining moments that I remember was a weekend when Tucson’s now defunct 92.9 KOOL FM played the Beatles for half an hour every other half hour. I remember enthusiastically recording many of these half hours on my handheld cassette player to listen to later.
Soon after I inquisitively rummaged through my parents record collection and discovered their original mono copy of “Sgt. Pepper’s” (complete with the original cardboard cutouts). This worn-out old record was the first album I really came to love and soon after it was also my first of far too many compact discs.
To this day “Sgt. Pepper’s,” along with almost of the Beatles’ middle and late catalogue, are perennial favorites in my collection and always function as a sort of charming musical relief from whatever stresses life throws at me. With time I’ve also learned to more greatly appreciate the musical depths in their work and this album. At first I was just drawn to the catchy melodies. Since then I’ve also fallen for the arrangements (to which I largely must credit George Martin), countermelodies, lyrical content, and – what has possibly been the most important in my compositional life – the restless searching experimentalism. Because of this I think that “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” along with most of the Beatles’ catalogue have aged particularly well and will probably continue to hold up just as well for decades to come.
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By the way, I’m taking part in the convocation for my Masters’ of Music in composition at McGill today. For those who are curious, or don’t know yet, I’ll be heading to the University of California at San Diego to start my Ph.D. in September.
Also, if you’re in Montreal and a friend or acquaintance that doesn’t already know about this, Denys Bouliane is throwing a party at his house tonight. The bus (!?!) loads at 17h30 in front of the Strathcona Music Building and returns downtown around 2h00 or 3h00.
When the Carter Family sings, their achingly beautiful songs seem to contain endless human cries from endless origins. Here we find human cries ranging from an anonymous and threatening command from further down the line, the driver’s steadfast and reckless cry of love for the engine 143, the doctor’s cry for the driver’s quick death, his mother cry that he use caution, and – only when we see from the blood on the tracks and his eyes scalded shut – is there the final or ultimate cry to return to God.
I don’t know if R.E.M. meant to reference “Engine 143,” or some of its many similar variations like “The Wreck of Old ’97,” but I find the link undeniable. Here we are immersed in the setting and can feel the cry of the engine, the cry of the tracks, the cry of the country, the cry of the destination, the cry of determination, the cry of exhaustion, the cry of ultimate human longing, and the lingering cry of weary persistence. However, unlike in the Carter Family’s song, here there is no narrative arch; here we find ourselves suspended in this state and – besides in our minds – forever removed from the destination.
Socrates said that “No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death” and I think that the same holds true for good memories. This latter idea is a perennial theme in song, for example at the end of “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan finds consolation after catharsis singing Little red wagon, little red bike/I ain’t no monkey but I know what I like/I like the way you love me strong and slow,/I’m taking you with me, honey baby, when I go and Tom Waits more simply centers one of his finest songs “Take it With Me” around a chorus iterating the exact same idea.
Daniel Bejar (otherwise known in his many disguises as Destroyer) in his axiomatically referential manner hits upon the same point in the song “In Dreams.” However, unlike Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, he doesn’t see much value in directly stating this idea, for him it is only an idea that slowly reveals itself under a repeated chorus only after he first describes a personal polar repulsion and the related movement from “heartbreak to heartlessness.”
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Nancy is many different things to different people, many different identities for some people. She is at least three different people intimately known to me – all dynamic yet frozen in my mind’s wintry time. She seems to long to be none of these and One. She gives and has given endlessly to try and find her communion yet still feels something missing as she examines her memory’s frozen crystals. We all want the best for her because her longing seems too great for one person to bear. In her mind there seems to be only one possible horrible solution left and no guaranty was ever possible. I only want the best for her because the longing seems too great for one person to bear, I only want the best for her because the longing seems too great for anyone to bear,
Disclaimers: * It may seem probably a little strange to a best of 2006 almost one month into 2007. I began writing this in November and had a draft ready in late December. I wanted to post it the first draft but didn’t because I wanted to include mp3 selections and didn’t have access to a fast enough connection to upload music while I was in Arizona. Since coming back I also began to know some albums on the list better and was able to rank and write about them with greater insight.
* I’m not posting a “classical music” best album list because I typically don’t pay too much attention to new “classical music” album releases. Since it often takes so long for new classical works to get recorded, I’ve come to believe that the best place to hear contemporary art music is the concert hall. Furthermore, since I’m always just surfacing enough to catch my breath and trying to hear as much classical music that I didn’t know beforehand I barely have a chance to also keep up with the large stream of new classical releases. These points aside, I also feel that the album medium is one that better suited for more popular song-based music and in 2006, more than any other year before, I really tried to keep up with new album releases.
* The following mostly represents my personal tastes for highly literary songs and things that, although they may be on the radar, are not necessarily what you’ll hear the most on commercial radio stations or see regularly on some music video channel. Also, to try and make this a bit more precise I’m appending an “Almost Best…” list for a few albums that are almost good enough to be included.
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1. Bob Dylan: Modern Times What can I say? Bob Dylan has done it once again. I think that this is one of the most consistently rewarding albums he has put out since Blood on the Tracks. Also compared to his last excellent album ”Love and Theft” Bob Dylan’s are melodies are much clearer and his lyrics have become much more simple and direct. I feel so glad to be around for what may end up being another of Bob Dylan’s golden ages. A song like “Nettie Moore” possibly has the most devastating chorus Bob has ever written, “Workingman’s Blues’ #2” has one of the best workings of a Robert Johnson line I’ve ever heard (especially since it’s mixed with a Shakespeare reference), and the new lyrics and performances of “Someday Baby” and “Rolling and Tumblin’” even top Muddy Waters’ recordings.
2. Joanna Newsom: Ys Joanna Newsom’s last album was one of the strangest and most charming albums by a singer-songwriter that I had heard in years. It seems almost impossible to understand how she so quickly reached the profound level of song craft found in Ys and its songs like “Emily.” The five songs on this album almost total an hour and show a view into one’s inner mind and life that is rarely found in song. It is a world that isn’t easy but, if you’re willing to let it, can welcome you in tenderly and slowly.
3. Destroyer: Destroyer’s Rubies I first heard this album a month ago and instantly started researching the rest of Dan Bejar’s (or Destroyer’s) catalogue to try and get a point of reference and better sense of the esthetic that drew me to this album so quickly. There’s little more I can say to praise this album except that besides being lyrically challenging and musically intricate it’s also completely listenable and – even exceeding most of the Destroyer catalogue – almost ingratiatingly catchy.
4. Sunset Rubdown: Shut Up I Am Dreaming I know I’m just repeating what many an mp3 blogger has said before, but I think this Spencer Krug is one of the next big things in rock music. I really don’t want to add much to the gushing I’ve heard all over except that I have a particular fondness for the sloppy quirky and eccentric way he seems to reconstruct a standard rock song with his wonderful array of lo-fi keyboards, EBowed acoustic slide guitars, squeezebox, and glockenspiel.
5. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain This album crept up on me like no other album this year. I first heard it when it leaked over the summer and until a few weeks ago I didn’t intend to include it on this list. Unlike many other albums I heard in 2006, almost every time I heard this album – besides a few times during a brief misanthropic spell in October when I was not particularly enjoying music – I liked it better than the previous time I heard it. One thing that drew me is the unique timbral and tonal it inhabits – for example, it is nearly impossible to play along with any track on this album if you have an equally tempered keyboard. I first noticed this after failing to figure out “Tonight” and discovering that “Wash the Day Away” is in E quarter flat. Besides that there’s also something cryptically truthful and cathartic about the lyrics in songs like “Blues From Down Here.”
6. Band of Horses: Everything All the Time There’s an open shimmering almost golden quality that the sound on this album exudes – I also picture a desert sky clearing after an overnight monsoon rain. It is not hard to enjoy this music it is warm and comfortable just like giving a lover your extra covers on a cold morning. There’s almost a sense of foreboding in the anticipation but there’s also the relief that there will almost always be human comfort to help when the dark comes again.
7. Neko Case: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood I’ve had a long-standing love/hate relationship with so-called country music in my life. There are arguably few “genres” that I hate with more ferocity that commercial “country music” and although I do enjoy some of the more classic “underground” country artists like Johnny Cash I find I never like these artists so consistently to call them some of my favourites. On the other hand I have a really strong love for some country artists who produce really haunting songs full of grief and silent longing like Gillian Welch or Neko Case on this album. Other than saying that, it’s hard for me to explain the attraction except for the fact that it may relate to my musical upbringing. Maybe her songs will ring true for you too, maybe they won’t.
8. Yo La Tengo: I’m Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass Yo La Tengo has always one of those mildly schizophrenic bands that seemed to be more themselves when they wear many different disguises. Although I think “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out” may remain Yo La Tengo albums this new one comes in a close second particularly in terms of its eclectic and overall fun – “…Beat Your Ass” is alternatively rocking, meditatively calm, and completely danceable. It also arguably has the best guitar jam song on any Yo La Tengo album – “The Story of Yo La Tango.”
9. Jolie Holland: Springtime Can Kill You Jolie Holland puts on a concert that feels more like an impromptu living room jam session than any sort of ego-driven concert setting. I’ve often said that if you want to create good music now, you need to feel the blues. Jolie knows the blues better than nearly anybody else out there right now and communicates them in an personal honest direct manner that can break your heart just as you realize why it’s breaking or already broken.
Billie “Prince” Billie: The Letting Go In the last year Will Oldham – in his many guises (Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Palace, Will Oldham, and most recently Bonnie “Prince” Billie”) – has become one of my favorite singer-songwriters making music today. I’m not quite sure but the main reason that I don’t probably don’t place this album just above in the “Best of” list is because I also came to know some of Will Oldham’s best albums like I See a Darkness and Days in the Wake this year as well.
Mountain Goats: Get Lonely Okay, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a sucker for depressing folk albums but there’s just something strange about this album. It’s almost as if it is too depressing. Maybe it’s how it changes my mood after I listen to it, maybe it’s the lack of resolution that it offers, maybe it’s because its melancholy can seem so gentle at times. I really don’t know.
Flaming Lips: At War With the Mystics At moments this album is lot of fun like most Flaming Lips albums but at most other moments it’s surprisingly introspective and, frankly, almost a downer. It’s refreshingly addictive like most Flaming Lips albums and although the introspection thing isn’t completely novel for them (see some of the tracks on Priest Driven Ambulance) it is nice to hear Wayne Coyne express his uncertainty and doubt some.
I can think of two ways that Giacinto Scelsi and Charlie Patton relate to each other:
The first and more superficial relationship is that there is only one known photo of debatable authenticity of Giacinto Scelsi and only one known photo of debatable authenticity of Charlie Patton.
The second and more interesting relationship is that both Scelsi and Patton use inflection masterfully to enliven what could otherwise be particularly bland musical materials (e.g. Scelsi’s one notes and Charlie Patton’s blues forms).
As a result of the impasse in serial music, as well as other causes, I originated in 1954 a music constructed from the principle of indeterminism [or entropy]. …other paths also led to the same crossroads first of all, natural events such as the collision of hail or rain with hard surfaces, or the song of cicadas in a summer field. These sonic events are made out of thousands of isolated sounds; this multitude of sounds, seen as totality, is a new sonic event. This mass event is articulated and forms a plastic mold of time, which itself follows aleatory and stochastic laws. If one then wishes to form a large mass of point-notes, such as string pizzicati, one must know these mathematical laws, which, in any case, are no more than a tight and concise expression of chains of logical reasoning. Everyone has observed the sonic phenomena of a political crowd of dozens of hundred of thousands of people. The human river shouts a slogan in a uniform rhythm. Then another slogan springs from the head of the demonstration; it spreads toward the tail, replacing the first. A wave of transition thus passes from the head to the tail … The statistical laws of these events, separated from their political or moral context, are the same as those of the cicadas or the rain. They are the laws of the passage from complete order to total disorder in a continuous or explosive manner. They are stochastic laws.
In a former life, I studied Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Arizona. What drew me to the subject the most were the explanations and discoveries of the beautiful entropic reactions that kept us alive. Although I’ve never been a religious person, every time I would learn about something like a simple internal cellular reaction it seemed like I gained some, however slight, insight into an internal perfection present in all things.
The nature of laboratory work and the politics of scientific research turned me off of ever completing my Bachelor’s of Science, but fortunately I think I found a place for a more sublime form of dignity through expression in music.
Recently, I discovered Xenakis’ remarkably lucid description (quoted above) of how through the movement of disorder, or entropy, music can display the exact same naturalism that one finds in organic life forms. Since early this the summer I’ve made a concerted effort to see this entropy beauty, not only in so-called “stochastic music,” but all forms of music that I love. So, this is my first attempt at finding a logical link (albeit a rather experimental one) for posting more popular song-form music at the same time as more abstract contemporary music.
Although Xenakis called “Herma” symbolic music – writing the piece as one his many early self-pedagogical experiments – I find that the piece beautifully contains the winds pelting from a storm that carries both varying intensities of rain and countless swells of electrically ricocheting balls of crystalline hail.
In contrast, the more conventional foreground in Yo La Tengo’s (who I saw put on one thoroughly ass-kicking show on Saturday) “Green Arrow” follows the pace of one walking through a field whereas the background is the slowly transforming sound-mass of cicadas (or grasshoppers or locusts) that Xenakis explains above.
In Grisey’s “Partiels” (which I just couldn’t resist posting twice), one primarily hears the movement of crowds from order towards disorder, from disorder to order, and crossing over each other.
Joanna Newsom’s “En Gallop” begins with a slow and almost tentative harp introduction before the long first verse paints a haunting portrait of the transience in our existence. Afterwards, in the second verse, a disordered and increasing emptiness surreal-y pulls the meaning from the lyrics almost representing the foreboding final dissipation that the first verse hints at. Over the summer, after taking a year to understand this song, I had a dream where I tried to help a ghost dissipate only to realize that almost everybody I saw was a ghost.
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Outside of the general topic of this post, I’d like to mention that I saw Joanna Newsom put on an amazing show last night to a silently rapt and sold-out audience at the Ukraine Federation as part of Pop Montréal. In the concert she alternated five songs from her last charmingly sloppy album ”The Milk-Eyed Mender” with four breathtaking epic songs from her forthcoming album ”Ys” (which was produced by Van Dyke Parks, Jim O’Rourke, and Steve Albini). Last night and on “Ys” Joanna Newson’s playing and singing have advanced light-years and her new songs inhabit such a unique and grandiose emotional universe that it is almost hard to recognize the transformation she has gone through. In a way, it is a hard album to take, but when it comes out on November 14th, it is definitely not one too be missed.
If you’d like to read a more detailed description of “Ys,” I recommend reading Jordan’s posting on it over at a favorite mp3 blog Said the Gramophone. I personally think I may still be a little too shaken up after last night and other things going on in my life right now to trust myself in being able to make that much sense.
I’ve heard that a number of people who speak French make a distinction between chanson or songs and musique, in that one might say that they love chanson whereas, in English, we always say that we love music. Naturally, the complexity found in contemporary songs exceeds that found in a lot of older music and certain non-lyric based music has a simplicity and lyricism that many songs don’t; however, I think making this making this distinction is quite telling and – for the record – I’d like to state that I love songs, music, and all good sounds/noises that fall between or outside the two.
I have to admit that I almost always love a great song. Since I started posting mp3 blogs in June I’ve been trying to find ways to slip in some great songs and, in the very least, keep them somewhat loosely related to the other more abstract contemporary art music selections that I usually post. At this point, after commenting above on a distinction some make between song and music, I think I’m ready to give up trying to find any rational argument for posting songs and, from now on, just post whatever I want to.
I consistently think that Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” is the saddest book I’ve read. Probably because of this, over the years “The Grapes of Wrath” has also been one of the more significant novels I’ve read in terms of how it has influenced my beliefs and thoughts on a number of contemporary ethical, moral, and political issues.
I’ve got a give a hand to Woody Guthrie because he shore knew how to distill the essence of this 600 some page book in one seven minute song – “The Ballad of Tom Joad.” What the song may lack in the detail and imagery that Steinbeck provides, it shore makes up for it in its succinct directness of message.
I, myself, won’t write anymore about this song and, instead, am including the following preface Woody Guthrie wrote to it in my personal favorite songbook, “Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People” (which, by the way, contains includes extensive notes on each song by Woody himself and a forward by John Steinbeck).
The story of Tom Joad is one that a lot of boys went through. From the Oklahoma penitentiary – to his home in the dust bowl, and then they had to get away to California – had to pack up their old car and pull out -- and his mother and his dad, and his sisters and brothers found out about the thugs and the firebugs and the guards and the deputies that guard the fields that the rich man says “are mine” – “You keep off.”
I wonder about them guys, and I wonder what sort of songs they sing when they ain’t a black jacking somebody or beating you over the head with a pick handle. This book ain’t got no songs in it that was wrote by deputy sheriffs. It ain’t got no songs in it that was wrote by company guards, nor cops, nor snitches, nor guys that set fire to the little shacks of the poor folks along the river bottoms. It’s just got some songs wrote by some people. Real people. But, a guard or a deputy can always change over on the real people’s side.
A long son-of-a-gun. Take a deep breath and sail into it.
Admittedly, it’s taken me a long time to figure how what to include and write for the final part in my “trilogy” of Bob Dylan mp3 mixes. I wanted to make them in a chronological order, but after exhausting the 60’s through the mid 70’s, I had the most trouble choosing material from the last thirty years. Personally, I prefer to keep Bob Dylan as the changing enigma he has often sought to put forward and because of this, I continue to ignore a large portion of his material between Slow Train Coming and Oh Mercy. In my opinion, he has only really come into his own again on his last three albums Time Out of Mind, ”Love & Theft”, and Modern Times. So, as a result, for this last Bob Dylan mp3 mix I decided to just include my favorite version of a perennial favorite – “One Too Many Mornings” – and selections from his last three albums.
At this point, I’m hesitant to say anything about the music or lyrics that Bob Dylan has been writing lately. When I first got into Bob Dylan about ten years ago, his current image and music was a joke in many minds including mine. Back then I couldn’t conceived the easy transformation he’s undergone – from hollow shell of the singer and song-writer he used to be to the living undying culmination of his influences and constantly shifting self.
Oh yee, of little faith…
I think that in his last three albums – and more particularly ”Love & Theft” and Modern Times – Bob Dylan’s songs (in large help to recording with what he calls “the best band I’ve been in”) have become as natural and, arguably, as simply inevitable, as the best material he’s ever done. Oh yeah, and dig the fine bluesman’s voice that he’s developed
Okay now, for the time being I’ve got nothing more to write about Bob Dylan.
I often argue that I listen to popular music mostly for the lyrics. I support this with my fondness for Bob Dylan and folk music and how I can easily be turned off from a band or song if they have no redeemable lyrics. When I’m in a particularly theoretical mindset I try to quantify the percentages that lyrics and music matter to me in a song or composition. Obviously, on one extreme, in instrumental music the music matters 100%. However, I find it much more difficult to quantify the side of the spectra where the lyrics matter more. For example, at times I can say that I listen to Bob Dylan more for the lyrics than the music but I cannot pinpoint the percentage that lyrics matter.
I drew all but two songs for my second Bob Dylan compilation from the four Bob Dylan albums that I listen to the most. In regards to the point above, I think that people really underestimate the musical significance and quality in Bob Dylan’s recordings. Ever since he went electric, Bob Dylan has consistently hired, recorded, and toured with some of the best working musicians in rock and roll. For example, I think that I often listen to Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and The Basement Tapes as much for the music, if not more so, as for the lyrics.
For a number of years I considered Queen Jane Approximately my favorite Bob Dylan song. I’ve always loved its almost surreal description of everything falling apart and the chorus and music ambience that both offer some sort of bittersweet reconciliation and hope.
Visions of Johanna as well as the entire Blonde on Blonde album offers some of the best mergers of lyrics and music in Bob Dylan’s catalogue. For me this song describes what a mixed blessing it is to realize that memories, longing, dreams, and visions can sometimes last long beyond their initial fleeting appearance.
Hills of Mexico is an old traditional song (I mostly know the Woody Guthrie version) that, after taking a while to get started, starts to cook like some of the best stuff on Time Out of Mind. It’s a shame Dylan forgot the lyrics. Going to Alcapoco and Nothing Was Delivered are two of my favorite down-and-out songs of Bob Dylan and The Band. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine is one of the last songs I used to perform regularly in my folky days.
I consider Blood on Tracks to Bob Dylan’s lyrical masterpiece. The album took many years to unfold and grow on me. It wasn’t until I knew many of the lyrics by heart that they started to come back to me suddenly making sense at the most opportune moments. (This includes the Dylan line I quote the most “Been shooting in the dark too long/when something’s not right it’s wrong…”)
For years I had neglected Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts because of the organ part on the released recording. In fact, it wasn’t until I found a copy of the original unreleased version of Blood on the Tracks that I began to appreciate this song as well as the rest of the album. In the album’s original version, there is a certain simple unified directness that I think the released version lacks; it’s this a certain sloppy honesty that makes a story like Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts so much more personal and approachable. Personally, I almost think it’s dishonest to play this song with a band because, although it may be told in the third person, it demonstrates that the workings of imagination and the outside world can sometimes ring far truer than anything we attempt to describe about ourselves.
Since I’ve already apologized for posting popular music, I feel no reason to do it now. Likewise, since I’ve had to apologize for my strong fondness for Bob Dylan from the time I was a sophomore in High School, I feel no reason to do it here. In these lines I find it interesting that over the years I’ve had to argue for my fondness of Bob Dylan less and less and, more interesting, how I’ve practically always won and made many “Dylan-converts.”
In my (I’m not going to say giddy) anticipation of the new Bob Dylan album Modern Times that comes out next Tuesday, I’ve decided to post a few Dylan mp3 comps. A few years ago I tried a similar task and, because I tried to fit in all my Dylan favorites and “essentials,” I failed miserably. This time I’m keeping it much simpler and concentrating primarily on including some of my personal favorite songs that are not well known.
This first collection of songs concentrates on the early years before Bob Dylan first went electric. All but one of the songs I’ve selected are not on the three classic acoustic albums. I chose two songs, No More Auction Block and Moonshiner, to illustrate the strength of early Dylan as a traditional folk-singer performing traditional songs. I chose If Tomorrow Wasn’t Such a Long Time, I Was Young When I Left Home, and Mama, You’ve Been on Mind to show the quality of songs that Bob Dylan left off his first few albums. I chose Farewell and All Over You, well let’s just say, “for kicks.”
The last song Ballad in Plain D comes off of what has become my favorite acoustic Dylan album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. It is an illusively complex song about fragile and proud characters and reflections on a failed romance. The song ends with what I consider to be one of the most cryptic lines Bob Dylan ever wrote. I spent nearly ten years trying to unravel it until one night – after spending a day struggling to understand some compositional materials – it became a clear description of the relationship between our limitations and freedoms.