Dylan’s Nobel

Short version: lyrics are poetry, and I’m with Rolling Stone on this one.

The official Nobel press release says The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 is awarded to Bob Dylan for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.

Do they not have the right to award it to whomever they please? Is there supposed to be some internal logic we don’t expect from Grammys or Oscars?

This is an organization that gives the world’s most famous peace prize and it’s named after the guy who invented dynamite. I, for one, think Mr. Zimmerman would find that amusing, though to this point, he has yet to comment on the award.

Americana: A Few Opinions

Like the difference between a redneck and a hillbilly, scissoring Americana out of the pages of country pop, folk-rock, and alternative music is an ethereal thing. It’s been on my mind the past 12 hours, since I went to see an “Americana” band last night, and except for Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road it was an evening of country-pop and, I kid you not, 70s and 80s metal.

Hint: if the band is singing about pouring sugar on a deaf leopard or whatever that was, it ain’t Americana.

I’m not here to set the record straight. This is just the opinion of an aging hillbilly who writes and performs Americana.

Oh, that’s it. Joel is feeling misunderstood. Again.

I’ll come in through the back door with examples first, explanations later.

Some artists I consider Americana through and through:

(Their name links to their website, and I’ve included a link to their stuff at Amazon. Yes, it’s an affiliate link. If you use it I might make some money. Americana doesn’t care. Neither do hillbillies.)

And some who spend a lot of time there, but whose main body of work might tend toward straight country or rock:

  • Johnny Cash
  • Bob Dylan
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Neil Young
  • The Band
  • Willie Nelson
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Alison Krauss
  • Emmylou Harris

Here’s my attempt to identify the musical elements that make me think “Americana”:

  • It must twang. If there is no twang, it might be rock, it might be country, might even be bluegrass, but it ain’t Americana. Twang it must. Twang it will. No twang, no Americana. Have I made myself clear?
  • If there is not a dobro or other slide guitar, you, at the very least, expect one, knowing it is lurking around the next bridge. Fiddle is optional.
  • The singer’s voice is more notable for its expressiveness and power than silken smooth beauty. (Emmylou Harris gets a pass here, because she’s Emmylou Harris fer cryin’ out loud.)
  • The lyrics are thin slices of truth from the sandwich of life, subtle commentary on the wider world through the lens of a moment in time as told by a weary wanderer. It may put you in mind of cowboys and sunsets. Might could, anyway.
  • Acoustic, electric, fast, slow, drums: all immaterial. Both Neko Case’s Mood to Burn Bridges, a whip-fast rocker with drums and electricity, and Patty Griffin’s Long Ride Home, a melancholy acoustic number (and, lyrically, perhaps the best song ever written about regret) both qualify, unequivocally.
  • Vocal harmonies show up. A lot.
  • You won’t hear distortion on the guitar. Maybe it’s there, I don’t know, but it ain’t no grinding crunch.
  • It has nothing to do with politics. The word America (or is it American?) is, in this case, geographical, historical.
  • Sorry. Stumbled upon a video of case/lang/viers performing their album live and went into a trance. I sorta like the way Neko tosses that red mane. Where was I? Huh. That’s all I got.

Why does Dylan’s commercial affect my car-buying beliefs?

A testament to the power of musical connections indeed.

I’m a die-hard Nissan fan, and fairly dismissive of American cars (too many Pintos and Vegas in my past.)

And yet, after watching Dylan’s Chrysler commercial last night, I feel an overwhelming desire to buy a Chrysler product.

My Little One, who’s not yet 10, watched the whole thing, and at the end when the snippet of lyrics comes in, she squealed “I KNEW it was that song” and made that the first song on her bedtime playlist.

The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine is toying with my head, and it’s all because of music.

This machine kills anything you want killed. Use your power for good instead of evil.

Makes No Difference from Evin Wolverton’s Woodland Sessions

Some years ago I almost met Evin Wolverton. We both participated in FAWM more than once, and when I heard he’d moved to the San Francisco area, I invited him to perform at the Northern California Artistic Achievement Awards (The Grassies.) Evin was too sick to make it, and we asked Philip Flathead to fill in, which worked out. Except I didn’t get to meet Evin and tell him in person what his music has done for me.

When I found out Evin had a Kickstarter project for his new album, I chipped in. I had exactly a dollar to my name, and I put it in. Didn’t get me anything; anything less than a ten-spot doesn’t even get a copy of the album when it’s finished. That’s okay; Evin’s art is worth supporting and it’s about time I started giving back to the artists that fill my life.

Except, I did get something. Pretty much won the lottery.

Continue reading “Makes No Difference from Evin Wolverton’s Woodland Sessions”

Badlands = Good Listen

Finding new music that hits me viscerally is sublime. Recently, No Depression introduced me to Eric Tingstad and his take on Americana instrumentals.

Eric Tingstad, BadlandsWhen my copy of Badlands arrived, it stayed in the CD player in the car for over two weeks, playing over and over again. Nearly every track is on my all-night music list (I never sleep without music playing. I’ve heard some people do. Seems odd to me.)

Instrumentals are hard to write. Continue reading “Badlands = Good Listen”

40 Years in My Ear-y Canal

I‘ve been plagued by a particular earworm for over 40 years.

I’ve got a mule, her name is . . .

If her name popped unbidden into your mind, you’re either a fan of American folk music or you went to elementary school in California in the 60s.

The song was originally entitled Low Bridge, Everybody Down when Thomas Allen wrote it in 1905. Now it’s called The Erie Canal Song, 15 Miles on the Erie Canal, and any number of other names. It’s about the years, decades really, when boats on the Erie Canal were towed by mules. By 1905 the era of the mules was just about over.

I wish the era of this earworm were over.

Oh; the mule’s name? Sal. I’ve got a mule her name is Sal. Enjoy your earworm.

Doughnut Holes and Roger Miller

Jazz musicians occasionally highlight a melody by playing all the notes around it, leaving a hole where it should be. If you’re paying attention, you’ll “hear” it.

Some smart doughnut shop decided to stop rolling all the doughnut holes back together to make more doughnuts, and just started frying up doughnut holes to sell. Continue reading “Doughnut Holes and Roger Miller”

USSS: Ross Durand

takes a lot of songwriting confidence to take on the challenge of writing an entire song for each line in Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. Takes a lotta songwriting chops to pull it off.

This year it looks like Ross Durand is going to finish this seriously ambitious and musically satisfying project. Continue reading “USSS: Ross Durand”