By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
The people we have in mind for this series are going to be artists who have a direct connection to Dylan and his work or life. So they could be from his backing bands, friends from back in the day or even family members.
As with other series that the two of us have worked on, there is no detail plan set out of where this might go. We might look at an overview of someone’s career or focus on one particular album. As usual Aaron will pick the subject and send four or five tracks to Tony who plays the game of writing a commentary while listening to the track.
If you have not come across the notion before you might like to have a look at the Beautiful Obscurity series in which we use the same technique to look at some of the less well-known cover versions. Links to that series can be found at the end of this piece.
But now, first up in “Dylan adjacent artists”…
He made his first album at 16 and had a big hit (US #17) in 1985 with the Bowie-esque Beat’s So Lonely.
Tony: And that was his problem as I recall – he put everything possible into this song and it was his biggest hit. After that it was downhill as a solo artist. Listening to it now it doesn’t really work for me any more, it is just another song of the era. And really I am not sure that video does it any favours.
But the video certainly captures the chaos of recording sessions where there seems to be a load of guys around who think that anything they touch is going to turn to gold, and maybe once or twice it does.
That’s not to put down his guitar work – it’s just, as a single…. it doesn’t work now. Goodness me I am getting so very, very old.
Aaron: Stints with (amongst others) Bowie, Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards, Don Henley, Lucinda Williams and Dylan followed. Solo work continued with several fine albums, including Under The Wishing Tree. Here is Sunday Clothes from that album.
Tony: Close your eyes and just listen to that musical introduction to the song. I don’t think it really does anything – which is why there is so much in the video – to hide the lack of content of the song. The song content has been done so many times before: life in four minutes. And that’s the problem – it just doesn’t do anything new, nor does it do something old in an exciting new way. The one bit that shines is the guitar solo – although the return to the vocal after the instrumental break seems to have a little more light.
Aaron: His 2005 album Cruel and Gentle Things showed a new maturity in his writing and heavily influenced by all the fantastic artists he had worked with over the years.
Tony: And indeed it is true – he has worked with so many people and is an utterly fantastic guitarist, but I am not at all sure that his forte is as a solo artist or as the leading light. It is as if when he does his own thing, everything is technically perfect (including the guitar work of course) but he doesn’t have that final spark which makes me stop everything else and think, “oh my – who is this?” and make me want to play the track again.
Moving on… for the next track there are two video links as it seems there are country limitations on them. Hopefully one will work where you are, but if not type “Charlie Sexton Gospel” into Google and it might well find you a copy for where you are.
Tony: Now having written my negative intro I must admit this is more like it. I think here has got his voice and exquisite guitar technique together working in sympathy with each other. Just listen to the total sound of the piece, treating the voice and the instrumentation as one, and there is perfect harmony between the two. It sounds to me like a song that came together as music and lyrics, without trying to force one part to fit with the other.
Without even listening to the lyrics the over all sound comes straight into me. OK I realise there is a lot of Jesus in there and being an atheist that doesn’t appeal to me, but that still doesn’t detract from a beautiful sound.
And incidentally, if you are enjoying this music and don’t know too much about all the things Charlie Sexton has done there is a decent summary of his life and work on Wikipedia which is worth looking at if you want an introduction.
Tony: But now back to my nagging. That opening doesn’t grab me at all – it’s just like so many other songs. And yet it feels like it could be so much more. I’m sorry if you are a real fan of Charlie, but I can only reflect it as I hear it. – and I hear an amazing guitarist… who I think wants to be more than that.
For example, that middle 8 section seems disconnected and the upping of the percussion after the middle 8 feels like it was added as a rescue moment because the song wasn’t going anywhere. Sorry, Aaron, but for me this really is a brilliant musician, not focusing on what he is brilliant at. He is a fantastic technician, but I am not sure that much of the time he has anything to say. Even the title has been said so many times before.
Cruel And Gentle Things: again there seems to be regional issues – hopefully one of these two will work for you.
And if you, dear reader, disagree with me from top to bottom, please explain to me what I am missing. I really would like to learn how to appreciate this music better. I think he misses that instinctive knowledge that Bob so often has of being able to make the lyrics, the melody and the accompaniment all work together in equal parts.
But that’s probably just me getting all carried away once again.
- Beautiful Obscurity: The man in me
- Hollis Brown, and why does it all have to be like this?
- The album of extraordinary rarities now has its own page.
- Beautiful Obscurity: The Dignity Covers
- Beautiful Obscurity: John Brown (but not beautiful)
- Beautiful Obscurity: 8 covers of “Girl from the north country”