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April 21, 2008


We're Not There: Bob Dylan Live 1966 and the Death of Rock 'n' Roll


As pretty pointedly displayed throughout Martin Scorsese's recent No Direction Home, the 1966-model Bob Dylan was an American idol at the indisputable peak of his powers as the (insert your own convenient pigeonhole here) Poet/Laureate of a Generation, Crown Prince of the (Thinking Man's) Hit Parade, or --my personal favorite -- Snot-Headed, Venom-Spewing Anti-Rock Star of All Time.

However, if truth be told, the Robert Allen Zimmerman of this period was in fact a man fatally absorbed in his own myth-making, squirming under the pressures of an over-demanding manager, sinking under his obligations to a wholly unsympathetic recording conglomerate and, to top it all, was apparently stuffed to the gills in all manner of dangerously recreational pharmaceutica. Or, as Tony Glover's brilliant liner notes inside the Bob Dylan Live 1966 CD summarize, "Bob was not just burning the candle at both ends -- he was using a blowtorch on the middle."

True enough, 1966 was a tough year for rock ‘n’ rollers. Many crashed (Brian Wilson, for one) and several surely burned (John Lennon, most obviously). Dylan, for his part, did manage to injure himself after peeling over the handlebars of his motorcycle that July, but just two months earlier still was in the fiery midst of The Never Ending Tour, Mach One.

To the skeptical (at best), resentful (at worst) audiences of western Europe that spring, he had brought not only his trusty old acoustic and some nice folk tunes from his first few albums, but had defiantly sneaked onto his tour plane as well a loud, raucous, extremely plugged-in rhythm 'n' rock combo from the wilds of Toronto (by way of Arkansas) named The Hawks. This was indeed the proverbial boxing match wanting to happen, for insofar as his reverent disciples throughout the British Isles were concerned, Dylan still was the freewheelin' baby Woody Guthrie of "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A'Changin.' "

But the times -- not to mention the voice, the instrumentation and especially the attitude -- had indeed changed since their boy wonderful first toured the Empire (captured for posterity, by the way, in the still-magnificent Don't Look Back film). And you know, it goes without saying that most people then, as they do now, seem to react to change negatively -- some violently so.

Just listen, for example, to the poor old souls inside the Manchester Free Trade Hall 42 exact years ago this month: They may sit politely as Dylan impatiently rushes through his acoustic set (preserved on Live 1966, disc one), but no sooner had The Hawks wheeled their amps onstage and kicked into a defiant "Tell Me, Momma" (with its oh-so-appropriate "I know that you know that I know that you show something is tearing up your mind") that all holy hell began ripping loose.

Remember: This was the only band on the road that year to come equipped with its very own sound system. Thus freed from having to rely on the puny public address systems of sports arenas and, in the case of England, 100-year-old music halls, Dylan and company were fiendishly bent on producing some of the loudest r'n'r yet to be heard by man or beast.

Also some of the best: There was no finer band operating in the world at the time, with Robbie Robertson's "mathematical" (as Dylan so aptly called it at the time) guitar work jabbing and slicing with all the poise and finesse of a rusty soup-can lid to the throat. The inimitable Garth Hudson happily adds just the right touch of carnival madness throughout with his hurly-gurdy organ work, but it’s most certainly Dylan, front and center, who carries the proceedings throughout -- and carries them clear on up into the stratosphere at times.

Some insist that after duly carving his statement with such beautiful cacophony, there was honestly nowhere left for the man to go but down and perhaps even out. Others say the man simply paused after that convenient bike wreck to reassess and eventually reinvent himself, as he periodically continues to do to this day. But perhaps this all goes part and parcel with the risks one ultimately faces when aiming too close to the sun, artistically speaking.

Rock 'n' roll, for one, just doesn’t seem brave enough to want to shoot this high anymore, and we are all, believe you me, at a great disadvantage and a great loss because of it.

* Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.

April 14, 2008


Del Amitri's Justin Currie flies solo


As he was writing songs for his first solo album, Justin Currie was totally against releasing it under his own name, which he describes as "annoying and very uncool."

"I thought about Justin James, then JK Wood -- my mother's maiden name is Kirkwood -- until I realized how dishonest and utterly twat-like that would be and, to be frank, I'd have been handicapping myself from the start commercially," the singer/songwriter says.

Even if Currie had released What Is Love For (Rykodisc) under a different billing, chances are savvy listeners would have recognized it as the work of the Del Amitri veteran by his distinct voice, knack for melody and songwriting chops.

Working as a solo artist has its privileges, according to Currie.

"It frees you up to follow an idea to an ultimate conclusion without compromise," he explains. "In the process, you lose the self-editing and critical facility that collaboration provides. It's not an ego thing -- it's just that some songs shouldn't be [messed] with by anyone other than their author, while others hardly exist at all without the arrangement skills and performances only a band can bring.

"[This time around], I had a bunch of tunes to which the former seemed to apply."

But What Is Love For isn't a one-man show: Among those lending a hand are former Del Amitri band mates Iain Harvie and Andy Alston. As for them being used in supporting roles, Currie says "they were both fine [with it], and look -- we're friends at the end of the day. I'd do anything they asked of me. Well, except a jazz gig -- or baby sit."

At no point did Currie ever consider releasing the album on his own.

"My plan was that if I couldn't find a commercial label at all, then the damn thing wasn't worth releasing," he says. "Believe me, I'd make much more money outside of a conventional deal, but I'm more than happy giving Ryko a big share of potential royalties to be in the bosom of an organization whose whole purpose is to make money from exploiting my work. That's the way it always was and the way it will always be.

"The Internet route of independently selling and marketing one's own albums is for two types of artists -- amateurs and rank capitalists."

-- By Chris M. Junior

Justin Currie on tour (schedule subject to change):

* April 15: Schubas Tavern -- Chicago

* April 17: Fine Line Music Cafe -- Minneapolis

* April 18: Shank Hall -- Milwaukee

* April 20: Hotel Cafe -- Hollywood, Calif.

* April 21: Cafe du Nord -- San Francisco

* April 24: Jammin' Java -- Vienna, Va.

* April 25: House of Blues -- Atlantic City, N.J.

* April 26: Joe's Pub -- New York

* April 27: World Cafe Live -- Philadelphia

* May 7: Toad Tavern -- Littleton, Colo.

April 07, 2008


Zach Rogue talks about changing labels


Sub Pop was never intended to be a place where Rogue Wave would spend its career, says leader Zach Rogue.

So when the California band's two-album deal with the Seattle-based label ended, re-signing wasn't on the agenda.

"For us, it didn't make sense for us [to stay]," Rogue said last month while in Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest. "We're not the biggest band in the world, but we’re not completely unknown. We're kind of somewhere in between that, whatever that is."

Finding a new home took some time, with Rogue Wave meeting with a variety of labels.

"I wasn't willing to go to a label that was telling me things that I already knew," Rogue said. "I'd rather be someplace where I trust the people I work with, I like their ethics and I like who they are and how they make us feel as a band."

That turned out to be Jack Johnson's Brushfire imprint, which released the third Rogue Wave album, Asleep at Heaven's Gate, last year.

According to Rogue, Brushfire doesn't issue nearly as many titles per year as other labels, so that allows Brushfire to devote plenty of attention to what it does release. On top of that, he added, Brushfire is distributed by Universal, so there's a worldwide team available to the band.

There also are creative advantages to being with a label such as Brushfire.

"I want to be making music that I want to make," Rogue said.

-- Photo and text by Chris M. Junior

Rogue Wave on tour (schedule subject to change):

* April 11: Paradise Rock Club -- Boston

* April 12: Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza -- New York

* April 15: First Unitarian Church -- Philadelphia

* April 16: 9:30 Club -- Washington, D.C.

* April 18-19: Schubas Tavern -- Chicago

* April 20: Gargoyle Club -- St. Louis

* April 22: Fox Theatre -- Boulder, Colo.

* April 24: Rhythm Room -- Phoenix

* April 25: Coachella festival -- Indio, Calif.

* May 3: The Fillmore -- San Francisco

April 01, 2008



What a difference a few years can make.

In 2002, singer/songwriter Rosey made her debut with Dirty Child, released on Island/Def Jam. Since then, she's put pop music on the back burner in order to pursue jazz.

The result is Luckiest Girl. Originally released in 2006, a different version of the album (complete with different artwork) is due this month on the Quango label.

Medleyville.us: Given the direction you’ve taken with Luckiest Girl, does your Dirty Child album seem like it was made by somebody else?
Rosey: "I definitely have grown a lot in the time between records, as a musician and as a person. I think I'll still make more beat-driven albums. . . . I like to be able to do that stuff no matter. I'm a big fan of hypnotic beats, and I think dancing in a club is one of my most favorite things in the world -- more than singing or playing guitar.

"A year after my first record came out, I got heavily into co-writing with other artists. It took over my whole scope for a while, and I needed to get back into my own work. I think I just got super burned out on pop music because when you’re in a co-writing situation, you’re really going for it -- you’re trying to get big pop hits. . . . Being in that world for years started to kill my spirit, and I really longed for something different."

So why jazz?
Rosey: "People always told me, 'Your voice would be great for jazz.' And I always loved jazz growing up. Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald were some of my greatest teachers, just singing along with them and trying to learn their inflections. It definitely helped mold my technique.

"I don't feel comfortable at this stage of this game to make a standards album, and for a while there, it seemed like the thing that everyone was doing. And I thought, 'I'll be damned if I’m another person making a standards album.' Also, songwriting is so important to me. And although I relate to those beautiful, old songs so much -- sometimes painfully so -- if I’m going to make an album, it’s going to be of original songs. It's something I felt I had to do.

"I definitely was not a jazz singer, and I don't know if I would call myself one now (laughs). I came from more of a blues background; those were the people who really touched me the most. I would have been happy to just play guitar like John Lee Hooker -- that was always my dream, and I love blues, but there's something so amazing about jazz that's really allowed me to relax in my head and my body and sing quietly for once. I felt like for years I was screaming at the top of my lungs. It was so great to start to understand how to sing jazz and the approach you can take. It's so hard. At first, I didn’t think I could pull it off."

What were some of the other challenges jazz presented to you, as a singer and a songwriter?
Rosey: "I really wanted the melodies to be special. Writing a pop song, there are those three chords, going back and forth. With jazz, I think the hardest thing for me was to come up with those really special melodies that hadn’t been done a million times."

Did you find yourself using more chords because it was jazz?
Rosey: "Yeah, and that was another reason why I had to make a jazz record. The style I was writing was R&B stuff, and the decline of R&B has been so painful. From where it started to where it is now, it hurts me -- two chords, back and forth. I would find myself writing verse, pre-chorus and chorus to two chords, so I’d have to really work hard to come up with interesting melodies to go with monotonous chords. So I wanted to get as far away from that as possible, and jazz totally set me up with an incredible palette of choices."

The danger of it, though, is that you can take it to the other extreme and have way too many chords and way too many changes, and all of a sudden, the average music listener can't grab onto something.
Rosey: "Yeah, and those songs didn't make it on the record (laughs). . . . I went to New York to write the record. I knew some guys there who played jazz, and I said, 'Hey, let's hang out and write – show me some of your tricks.' Because I’m not a jazz guitar player, I would play a progression on the guitar, and I’d have one of these incredible jazz musicians help me transpose those chords into jazz chords. That's how I learned more about writing actual songs. And the words all came pretty quickly. . . . I think with my first record, I had all of these songs about my childhood and how [messed up] it was, and then some time away from that, settling into myself as a person and finding some happiness, I felt like I had so many more positive things to say now, and so that all came spilling out of me."

How challenging was it producing the album?
Rosey: "I loved it -- it was heaven. . . . The band stuff we mainly did live, so in the control room, I was overseeing the band, and I sang along to inspire them to play the songs with more feeling. And if it felt good to me, it was a take. We had rehearsals for a week solid, going through all the songs, and after that, the guys pretty much knew what they were doing. Once we got into the studio, we'd spend an hour on a song, and it was done.

"To me, that was so incredible because I was so used to doing something so piecemeal that it starts to lose the warmth and inspiration. It’s a bummer after a while, making a drummer play to a click track for hours. On my first record, I had Jim Keltner play drums. My producer hacked up everything he did. [Keltner] has this lazy, '60s vibe that’s incredible, but we ended up not using it because it was cut up and put into the computer. It was stupid.

"I felt so lucky to produce something like this. We recorded to tape. We were relying on this analog tape that’s really old; we got them from some band from the '80s. They’re a little shoddy and not reliable, but that’s the beauty of it -- who knows what you’re going to come out with. Maybe it will be magic."

-- Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior