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Welcome to the fifth installment of an ongoing series with Pickathon, showcasing footage from the Galaxy Barn located at Pendarvis Farm in Oregon: Jolie Holland – “Rex’s Blues”.

The entirety of this year’s lineup went live this week. We’ll be up there again playing records, so see you in August. Always hypnotizing, check out Holland’s performance after the jump.

‘Eventually I would record an entire album based on Chekhov short stories—critics thought it was autobiographical…’ Chronicles: Volume I

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Meet Me in the Morning (Early Take)

The bloodletting began, fittingly, in a red notebook. Estranged from his wife at the time, living on a farm in Minnesota with his kids and his new girlfriend, he started filling up pages with story-laden imagery, thumbnail sketches that bled, one into another. The first to spill forth was the purgatorial Western of ‘Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,’ which appears in précis form in the notebook’s early pages, followed by ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ and then draft after draft of ‘Idiot Wind.’ About the latter, he later explained, ‘It wouldn’t stop. Where do you end? You could still be writing it, really. It’s something that could be a work continually in progress.’

Critics (and listeners too) tend to think of Blood on the Tracks as an excavation of Dylan’s own love life up to that time. The whole devastating break-up cliché just seems to chime so well with the mood and content of the music. Who cares if he was never a cook in the Great North Woods, or if Sara Dylan had never gone anywhere near Tangier, it’s all just a metaphor, one big allegory for the devastation he found himself surrounded by at the time. The key to the songs is that ‘he’ is only ever ‘Dylan’ and ‘she’ is only ever his wife or someone he slept with.

Idiot Wind

But to interpret the songs such a way, as if tracing a star map through the back roads of the songwriter’s life, is to do a disservice to the artistry of the storytelling.  Blood on the Tracks is not a memoir, a confession, or even a roman à clef. What we encounter in these songs is layer upon layer of thematically-linked images, flicker-book fictions. Gone are the mythic Americana mash-ups of Highway 61 Revisited. Gone are the elaborate opium dreams and surrealist backrooms of Blonde on Blonde. What we get instead is a cast of couples and jilted lovers, their battered narratives composed of raggedy scraps—not biography. If these scenes are meant to correspond solely to Dylan and the various women in his life, then why did he bother with the artistic obfuscation, the multiplicity of perspectives? Why introduce the Man named Gray, the one-eyed undertaker, the roommates down on Montague Street? And why this determination to play Picasso with narrative?

Because, he said later, ‘I wanted to defy time, so that the story took place in the present and the past at the same time. When you look at a painting, you can see any part of it, or see all of it together.’

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The catalyst for all this may well have been the dissolution of his marriage, or it may have been painting classes he’d been taking the year before and from which he’d returned with a fire in his head (‘I went home and my wife never did understand me ever since that day’). On a purely technical level, however, the thing that definitively flicked the switch from heartbreak to newfound creativity was a matter of tuning. Specifically open-E (or, to be even more specific, open-E tuned down a whole step to D). Mythology tells us that a post-Blue Joni Mitchell taught this guitar tuning to him, although, if true, this would have to be qualified as re-taught, since he’d used it extensively during the Freewheelin’ sessions (see ‘Corrina, Corrina,’ ‘Oxford Town,’ ’I Shall Be Free’ etc.) What is undeniable is that, up to this point, he had never played in an open-tuning like this: flicking his way through the chords, alternating bluesy slides up the neck and Everly Brothers changes with vaguely medieval harmonics.

In the months prior to recording, he went around, trying the songs out on different people. He played them to Shel Silverstein on a houseboat in Marin County; he played them to Stephen Stills in a Minneapolis hotel room after a CSN gig (according to Graham Nash, who was standing in the doorway, Stills’s verdict afterwards was ‘He’s a good songwriter, but he’s no musician’); at one stage, he even played them to some Hasidic friends in a backyard in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  When he collared Mike Bloomfield, his foot was already tapping hyperactively, impatient to get the songs out. But Bloomfield (who’d been there onstage with him at Newport, who’d helped him turn ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ into what it was) was bewildered. It took the guitarist too long to realize he was being used more as a sounding board than a collaborator.

‘He came over and there was a whole lot of secrecy involved, there couldn’t be anybody in the house…He took out his guitar, tuned to open D tuning and he started playing the songs nonstop…He just did one after another and I got lost. They all began to sound the same to me, they were all in the same key, they were all long. I don’t know. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life. And it really hurt me…’

Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts

This was a songwriter wanting less to polish his newly minted songs than to be rid of them. In the studio, he similarly kept his head down, ignoring everyone. The musicians he took with him into A&R Recording’s Studio A (the same studio at which he’d recorded his first six albums) ended up feeling just as alienated as Bloomfield. Made up of Eric Weissberg and the band that had played on the Deliverance soundtrack, these were top session men who knew how to follow a lead. But the performer in question was not offering any leads. No quick rehearsals, no chord charts. They couldn’t even follow his hands along the fret board because of the weird tuning he was using. Phil Ramone, the producer (despite claiming greater responsibility after the fact), basically had the mic-stands set up and hit record. If the buttons on Dylan’s jacket were click-clacking against his guitar through every take—and he didn’t seem to mind—then so be it.

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The New York Sessions of Blood on the Tracks were quick work, recorded over four inebriated nights in September of 1974. In the end, the drums and lead guitars were all dropped; after nailing down two tracks with a full band (‘Meet Me in the Morning’ and ‘Buckets of Rain’) the accompaniment would be reduced to just bass, some touches pedal steel and some overdubbed organ. On an album that thematically professed it was ‘doom alone that counts,’ minimalism seemed the obvious way forward.

You’re a Big Girl Now

Blood on the Tracks is not an album about a relationship (not Dylan’s, not anybody’s), but an album about the brokenness inherent, ultimately, in all relationships. The tarot deck is stacked from the start, romance can only play itself out. Lovers just have to ‘keep on, keeping on’ as best they can. Even in a song about the breathless, flower-picking, high-point of love (‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’), the inevitable end of the affair still haunts the proceedings. Philosophically, we’re very much in that post-Watergate wasteland of paranoid, Marathon Men, everyone trying unsuccessfully to extricate themselves from pantomimes of intrigue and gossip. Here, the very idea of finding shelter from the storm is an archaism from another lifetime, remembered nostalgically. What else to see buckets of rain/buckets of tears everywhere?  If the songs on Blood on the Tracks give us a world in which heartbreak is endemic and inevitable, then it’s the New York Sessions that are still reeling, still hung up, still raw.

There are photos of him at the time of the recordings, waiting around in the swanky lobby of A&R’s Studio A. Standing in a white-walled room that looks like a set halfway between Logan’s Run and Emmanuelle, he poses with his guitar and what can only be the infamous blazer. In the first few shots he stands shyly, chin deep in his lapels. He strums a little bit beside a cup of coffee—but, eventually, he’s lying flat on the white shag throw rug, looking like he’s been run over.

Tangled Up in Blue

Two months later, he was given a test pressing of the album which he took back with him to Minnesota and played for his brother. The younger Zimmerman sagely advised that said album was too dark and downbeat to be commercially viable. The album opener (‘Tangled Up in Blue’) was too laidback and melancholy; the solo version of ‘Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts,’ was just too damn long; ‘Idiot Wind’ had no bite to match its bark; why was everything in the same weird tuning, and what about those noisy buttons on his jacket? Columbia HQ was phoned and told to apply the brakes. A group of local musicians were rounded up in Minneapolis and half the album was re-recorded over four more nights, with an aim towards revitalizing the songs.

BobDylan1In creating a far more dynamic album, however, some of the finer nuances on individual tracks were undeniably lost. Because Dylan was mostly unaccompanied on the New York Sessions (and because every song shared that same open-E blood-type) it was left primarily to his vocal to give the songs their shape. Throughout the early sessions, it is his phrasing that adds depth and emotional range, drives the songs down their storied paths. You need only compare the different versions of ‘If You See Here, Say Hello’; on the record-as-released, it sounds as if the band have all agreed that this is a torch song and supplied lugubrious atmospherics accordingly. Earlier, in New York, Dylan could have been singing from the floor of the studio lobby, so beaten-down is the performance (on one take, his vocal is nothing more than a deathbed whisper). ‘Idiot Wind,’ too, lost something in the space between September and December 1974: where the fiery official version spews forth increasingly mad accusations, the earlier, more subdued performance leans more towards regret and fatalism (to such the extent that it becomes ambiguous who’s hurting who, who’s fated to be lying in that ditch, blood on their saddle). The rawness of the songs recorded in New York all suggest an emotional vulnerability. The performer was still walking wounded, still howling in the night. On these tracks, the blood was still wet. words / dk o’hara

If You See Her, Say Hello

Welcome to the third installment of Jamaican Snapshots — a recurring column illuminating Jamaican artists whose music largely flew under the radar outside of genre enthusiasts.

dandyA prolific musician and producer, Dandy Livingstone (born Robert Livingstone Thompson) moved to the UK at 15. His career got off to an auspicious start after a tenant in the building where he and a friend jammed, recorded some of their sessions – releasing the tracks on the Planetone record label.

Later, when the London-based Carnival Records was seeking a Jamaican vocal duo, Livingstone filled the requirement by double-tracking his own voice, releasing records in this fashion under the name ‘Sugar & Dandy’. One of these singles, “What a Life”, sold 25,000 copies, providing Livingstone with his first hit. His best known song “Rudy, A Message To You” (below) became a massive hit for The Specials.

As a producer, Livingstone reached number 14 on the UK singles chart with Nicky Thomas’ “Suzanne Beware of The Devil” as well as producing the oft covered “Red Red Wine” for Tony Tribe. words / cognoscere

Dandy Livingstone :: Have Your Fun (Giant, 1967)
Dandy Livingstone :: Rudy, A Message To You (Ska Beat, 1967)

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For several years now, Chris O’Leary’s Pushing Ahead of the Dame blog has been one of the Greatest Things On The Internet, with O’Leary guiding readers through the endless twists and turns of David Bowie’s fascinating career, song by song. Last month, Zero Books published Rebel Rebel, the first volume of this gargantuan project, covering 1964-1976, and featuring revised/expanded/improved entries. Needless to say it’s an essential addition to your bookshelf.

As a teaser, we asked O’Leary to round up some of the best and most interesting Bowie oddities yet to be officially released. Here’s what he came up with. . .
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The “unreleased” David Bowie is a thin field, comparatively speaking. For one thing, there are no circulating recordings (audio or visual) of Bowie performing in the 1960s, barring a clip of him lip-syncing “Space Oddity” on a German TV show in 1969. The rest of his ‘60s television appearances were wiped or possibly misfiled (there’s a long-standing rumor that various Dutch and German TV appearances exist and will resurface one day). Although he and his bands regularly played venues like the Marquee Club in London, there are no tapes of these performances, at least circulating. And there are only a relative handful of demos, alternate mixes and outtakes from Bowie’s various albums.

Why? Well, part of it’s because Bowie was a commercial nonentity for much of the ’60s, so if you were an enterprising bootlegger with a reel of tape, you’d probably record the Stones or the Small Faces or Pink Floyd, not the opening act, “Davy Jones and the Lower Third.” And Bowie’s kept a firm grip on his recordings, especially those cut after 1976. He owns most of his masters and session tapes (allegedly), so there’s been nothing remotely equivalent to the “Unsurpassed Masters” series of Beatles studio outtakes or the ever-expanding Dylan outtake archive.

This situation shows no sign of changing. While in the 1990s, Bowie let Ryko include some outtakes on their CD issues of his back catalog (a list here), he’s shown little interest of late in repackaging his old records with “new” demos and alternate takes.

That said, there are still a lot of things to look for:

The Bowie/Hutchinson tape: Recorded in spring 1969, this demo tape was cut by Bowie and his then-partner John Hutchinson, who were looking for a deal with the likes of Atlantic and Philips/Mercury, the latter of whom signed Bowie as a solo artist. A few songs from the tape have been issued as CD extras—demos of “Space Oddity” and “An Occasional Dream”—but most of the tape’s still unreleased. Notable for “Lover to the Dawn,” the ancestor of Bowie’s “Cygnet Committee,” a wonderfully fragile-sounding demo of “Letter to Hermione” and covers of Lesley Duncan’s “Love Song” and Roger Bunn’s “Life Is a Circus.” Originally issued as the 1980s bootleg The Beckenham Oddity, a heap of subsequent versions exist.

The Complete BBC Sessions: Bowie at the Beeb did a fine job of compiling the most essential of Bowie’s recordings for the BBC, cut between 1967-1972, but a number of songs from these sessions remain unreleased.

Bowie: Songwriter: This is the largest trove of unofficial Bowie out there—the songs he recorded, mainly at his publisher’s office ca. 1967-1972, that his manager and publisher distributed as prospective covers. These range from songs for Bowie’s proposed 1968 album on Deram (which he never recorded) like “April’s Tooth of Gold,” “Silver Treetop School For Boys” and “Social Kind of Girl,” to demos of songs like “Changes”.

There are some wonderful oddities intended for other singers, like the “cabaret” vamp “Miss Peculiar” (rejected by Tom Jones), “Right on Mother” (recorded, with little success, by Peter Noone) and my favorite, “Rupert the Riley,” an ode to Bowie’s vintage cars and sung by Mickey King, a minor figure in the Bowie circle at the time.

ork-records-complete-singles-1If there’s a thick wad of cash burning a hole in your pocket come National Record Store Day this year, you could certainly do a lot worse than scooping up this collection of lovingly reproduced 7-inches via the always reliable Numero Group. Ork Records, briefly, was one of the original indie labels, curated by NYC tastemaker Terry Ork. Leading off with epochal debuts from Television and Richard Hell & The Voidoids, the label was on the front lines of the mid-70s CBGB scene.

We may know it as “punk” these days, but the music on this collection is wide ranging, eclectic and adventurous: the rules had yet to be written. So you’ve got the spindly stabs of Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel” bumping up against Chris Stamey’s power pop masterpiece “Summer Sun.” You’ve got Alex Chilton’s ragged-but-right Singer Not The Song EP sharing space with Cheetah Chrome’s nihilistic rants. Of special interest is the previously unreleased Feelies single, with two amped up tunes that would become Crazy Rhythms classics, “Fa Ce La,” and “Forces At Work.”

As might be expected with lavish collectors’ items of this kind, the Ork singles come with a hefty price tag. The good lord willing, there will be a more affordable version of this essential collection released in the near future… words / t wilcox

Richard Hell :: Blank Generation

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Saturday. Thick smoke billowing from the pig cooker ’cause Mel Brown’s got a free form groove on low and slow. Cold drinks in the ice chest. More folks coming over soon. John Lee Hooker’s Endless Boogie up next. Alright. words / j steele

Mel Brown :: Eighteen Pounds of Unclean Chitlins

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Here is a comprehensive list of everything that is known about these two songs: They were recorded by A.M. Deballot in Benin. That’s it. Googling his name produces seven results. Doesn’t matter. The offset, shuffling rhythms are perfectly embellished by an organ that could’ve been lifted from This Year’s Model. The sun is shining, it’s a Friday, and this music exists. words / m garner

A.M. Deballot :: A Wudu
A.M. Deballot :: Bella

aquarium drunkard show

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 383: Jean Michel Bernard – Generique Stephane ++ Alain Goraguer – La Femme ++ Carsten Meinert Kvartet – One For Alice ++ Mad A – Aouh Aouh ++ Dr. John – I Walk On Guilded Splinters ++ Sweet Breeze – Good Thing ++ Los Holy’s – Psicodelico Desconocido (Cissy Strut) ++ Bo Diddley – Another Sugar Daddy ++ Al Green – All Because ++ Thee Image – Outasite ++ Adanowsky – Me Siento Solo ++ Gabor Szabo – Caravan ++ Blossom Dearie – That’s Just The Way I Want To Be ++ Jennifer – I Am Waiting ++ Michel Colombier – Canon ++ Kim Jung Mi – Haenim ++ Marcos Valle – Dez Leis ++ Panda Bear – Slow Motion ++ Elvis Presley – Blue Moon ++ Julee Cruise – Floating ++ Linda Perhaps – Paper Mountain Man ++ Amen Dunes – Spirits Are Parted ++ David Crosby – I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here ++ John Martyn – Solid Air ++ Oliver – Off On A Trek ++ Jim Woehrle & Michael Yonkers – Monkey’s Tail ++ Manassas – So Begins The Task ++ The Who – Fortune Teller ++ Billy Nicholls – Girl From New York  ++ The Kinks – Supersonic Rocket Ship ++ Tommy James – Midnight Train ++ Ty Segall – Bees ++ Bernard Chabert – Il Part En Californie (He Moved To California) ++ Rolling Stones – Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind ++ Neil Young – The Old Laughing Lady

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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Walkabout-1971_-Jenny-Agutter-Refuge-Radio

To hold a Jenny Agutter film festival would be an inspired idea. In the late-’60s, throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, the UK actress had a golden run featuring in some of the era’s most intriguing films. From the early, quintessentially British ones like 1969’s I Start Counting and The Railway Children through Nic Roeg’s 1971 existential outback adventure Walkabout, the sci-fi cult hit Logan’s Run, Monte Hellman’s underestimated western China 9, Liberty 37 and, of course, John Landis’ 1981 horror-comedy – An American Werewolf in London.

And, lest we forget, the John Sturges WWII potboiler The Eagle Has Landed, the Dunkirk-inspired The Snow Goose (for which Agutter won an Emmy), and her BAFTA Award-winning turn in Equus. It seems everyone has fallen in love with Jenny Agutter at least once, and the beauty is that the soundtracks to Agutter’s films are just as fascinating as her on-screen achievements.

Basil Kirchin :: I Start Counting (I Start Counting, 1970)

Agutter stars as a 14-year-old in this coming-of-age kitchen sink thriller. She harbours feelings for her older step-brother but fears he’s responsible for a spate of sex-murders. Basil Kirchin’s I Start Counting, performed by Lindsey Moore, soundtracks the opening credits. Dusty Springfield also did a brilliant version.

John Barry :: Walkabout Main Title (Walkabout, 1971)

Midnight Cowboy proved John Barry wasn’t just the Swingin’ London James Bond guy. Walkabout, a hallucinatory jaunt through the Australian outback and the mind, again required something more contemplative and meditative than 007. Agutter’s nude swimming scenes were inspired by the paintings of Sidney Nolan.

Pino Donaggio :: Tema di Clayton [Part One] (China 9 Liberty 37, 1978)

It wouldn’t be a surprise if director Monte Hellman flat-out asked composer Pino Donaggio to give him a cosmic cross between Ennio Morricone and Midnight Cowboy. Harmonica and finger-picked guitar takes up with Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’ and Morricone’s Il Clan Dei Siciliani left off. If you like your westerns slow, full of Warren Oates and appreciate the idea of a Sam Peckinpah-as-pulp-writer cameo, China 9 Liberty 37 is a joy.

Jerry Goldsmith :: The Dome-The City-Nursery (Logan’s Run, 1976)

Welcome to the 23rd Century, a domed post-apocalyptic world where, to preserve harmony and discourage over-population, no one passes the age of 30. Agutter plays the rebellious Jessica 6, who along with Michael York’s Logan 5, escapes to a mythical place known as Sanctuary. Jerry Goldsmith, a Hollywood veteran who’d soundtracked The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Chinatown and Patton, lets his futuristic electronica freak-flag fly. Logan’s Run is a forerunner to the rash of recent teen-focused dystopian epics like The Hunger Games franchise, The Maze and Justin Timberlake’s In Time. A Hollywood re-make is, of course, in development.

The Marcels :: Blue Moon (An American Werewolf in London, 1981)

Beware the full moon, stay on the road and keep clear of the moors. While the film didn’t feature Warren Zevon’s seemingly tailor-made “Werewolves of London”, it did gather songs preoccupied with the moon including Van Morrison’s “Moondance” (transformed by Agutter’s shower scene), CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising and several versions of “Blue Moon by Bobby Vinton, Sam Cooke and the Marcels buoyant romp [Bom ba ba bom ba bom ba bom bom ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang/Ba ba ding a dong ding Blue moon moon blue moon dip di dip di dip]. The rest of the score was done by Elmer Bernstein. words /c hollow