Monday, November 28, 2016

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
(1973, Columbia Records)


(Thanksgiving leftovers, minus turkey, plus Apple Pie!)

I know I last said I'd be back in time for a quick review before Thanksgiving, but something got in the way; THANKSGIVING. Turns out, working in the food industry and being a part-time record reviewer during the week of Thanksgiving is a fairly impossible task. Clocked 60 hours in the food biz... nearly 0 in music consumption. Yikes!  Now that you're all fed, and I hope you had a jolly time, let's step back into Dinner with Dylan, and give thanks to Outlaw Zimmy for all the bountiful gifts he's bestowed upon us. 

For tonight's dinner, I've smashed together a bunch of delicious, off color, slop onto my plate and called it a night. The food mash you see in front of you was lovingly cooked by my parents for a Thanksgiving feast I was unable to attend this past Thursday. Today, I was rewarded by dropping home for a visit, and tupperwares full of misfit side dishes followed me home. Brioche stuffing? It's in there. Mashed potatoes? Somewhere in there. How 'bout mushrooms, cauliflower, orange cranberry relish, and a single sweet potato? Check, check, check, ANNNND check! A slice of home made apple pie ties this all together. A glass of Shiraz (not pictured) is off the the side, ready to go straight to my head. So, now that I've summed up the hearty travesty you see before you, let's welcome back Outlaw/Cowboy Zimmy to the recorded world. 

Welcome to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Zimmy's 12th studio album. Now, a little background. If y'all like instrumentals, well then has Dylan got an album for you. Why so many instrumentals? Because this is a good ol' fashioned soundtrack to the Sam Peckinpah film... wait for it... Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Screenwriter, Rudy Wurlitzer, besides having an intriguing name, approached Dylan about writing music for the movie. Dylan being out of work for 3 years to be a boring dad in Woodstock, NY decided no comeback like a soundtrack album. Say what you will... this Dylan knows how to push the boundaries of being difficult.

Also to note, Bob Dylan made his acting debut in the film, as the character Alias. "Name's Alias... Alias, anything you please." Ok, that's a cool line.

(Bob Dylan acting.)

The record just happens to be mostly incidental music played by Bob Dylan and his group of session players (with the original sessions taking place in Mexico City, before 99% of it was finished in Burbank, CA). How does one even listen to, and break this down, as a whole? The playing is not particularly impressive, but it's not bad by any stretch. The songs (for the most part) are far from standouts, but they're decent enough to have on in the background. Sounds like it could righteously accompany a film, which in this case it does well!!! So, I'll just put this one on and let it ride, like Bob Dylan on a horse rented from the lots of MGM Studios.

("Buy the ticket, take the ride"- Bob Dylan's advice to uncooperative horses)


Main Theme (Billy)Oh, well this is nice. Some guitar strums out of the right speakers that make me wanna reflect on life. On the left, we have a touching little lead guitar, also causing me to reflect on life. Is that a little tambourine holding it down? Scrumptious indeed! Why yes it is, all of that!!! Dylan, you've thought of everything now. No wait. Now you've thought of everything, because a electric bass started doing some western walking half way through. I can almost see the credits of my life scrawling across the my proverbial life screen, and I want to ride a horse while being all drunk on bathtub whiskey.

Being that this opening is 6 minutes long, I'm resisting the urge to scoop half the plate of this Thanksgiving leftover extravaganza down my gullet. This song is like an unstoppable grease fire; sometimes it's best to let these things burn out. Ride on Dylan.

(It could be speculated that Dylan removed the words to "Main Theme (Billy)" because he originally wrote them about a billy goat, an animal he used to sing like).

Cantina Theme (Workin' For the Law)If you're into "themes," get ready for another rootin' tootin' go-round of songs entitled "theme" on this "comeback" LP. And if you're in need of bongos, well have I got a sleepy, dusty little tune for you. This one packs some more "attitude," but by George, let it stop. Woof! Oh Nay, as the horses say. But in human talk, I really mean OH NO!

This plate I've made myself, by the way, is mostly a mountain of carbs. Hey, you never know when you're gonna have to run a marathon the next day. Tomorrow, I could wake up, lace up my Nike's and go on one of those Forrest Gump type running tours.

(watch for me tomorrow night on the 6 o'clock news, working off my Thanksgiving leftovers)

Billy 1Oh yeah, there's my Bobby, doing another "Billy." He's dusted off an old harmonica on this and summoned the Gods. It's said that when Bob Dylan blew into this harmonica on this recording, the ghost of Billy the Kid came back from his resting tomb and offered Dylan unparalleled success if he sold him his soul at the crossroad. Bob Dylan was like "Get outta here man, I'm a happily married man with kids and wrecked motorcycle. Scram." Thus concludes the greatest made-up rock story never told. Another thing we get from this one is Dylan's first vocal appearance on the record. Sounds good for a guy in his 30's, pushing irrelevance in 1873... I mean, 1973.

(Some people believe the song "Billy 1" is about this number 1 Billy in the hearts of baby boomers, it could be speculated)

Bunkhouse Theme3 It becomes clear around "Bunkhouse Theme," that when it came time to start naming these songs, Dylan wasn't messing around. "Theme" is great to place in any song title, especially when you have a theme to dwell upon. "Hey should I put the word 'Billy' or 'Theme' in this song title?" must have been a question his wife Sara got sick of answering every morning at breakfast.  This is a pleasant little guitar duet at just over 2 minutes long. Really brings me back to my bunkhouse days, as I'm sure it does for all of us living in the 21st century.

This plate is finished, and I'm moving on to the apple pie. Such a scrumptious smattering of greasy festivities with a heavy dose of root vegetable flavor. Thanksgiving is TOPS!

(If you look closely at any of these people pictured in this 19th century bunkhouse, you can pretend you see Bob Dylan). 

River Theme2 Where does he keep coming up with these song titles? It is said that Dylan is the David Copperfield of the Thesaurus. But far from it here folks. After 3 years of no recorded material, I guess Outlaw Zimmy was just like "Throw the word 'theme' at the end of everything, dammit. I'm a tired Zimmy, I am. [zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz]" (the following is Dylan falling asleep int he control room while talking to a producer who, himself, already fell asleep behind the mixing board). As theme's go, "River Theme" is flat out boring, even if it is only 1.5 minutes in length. This is a straight drool worthy duel acoustic and bass track full of incidental "la la la la's." Breaking ground, this is not.

(River Phoenix, despite being a boy with an unusual name, played "River Theme" everywhere he went, it may be said)

Turkey Chase2 Perfect title in time for a post Thanksgiving binge. Perhaps you were all doing the Turkey Chase the past week. Ohhh, there's a fiddle in the kitchen with Dina, and there's a banjo going off down by the crick. This is real toothless, hillbilly stuff played by Bob Dylan and the boys (possibly cowboys with no teeth and gold records).  I could see how someone would chase a turkey to this song. I honestly don't know if I would randomly chase a turkey because that seems cruel to do to an unsuspecting turkey who does not have the same wherewithal as us humans. Maybe if it stole my watch or something. OR, if someone yelled, "Hey my turkey just got away and is about to run into traffic!" I would chase after a turkey to this song, I guess. I would be a hero, honored in the local paper. In other news, this is perfectly suited for spittin' used chaw into a spittoon.

(One day I hope for a headline as honorable as this, but with a turkey theme)

(It's said this song inspired Sylvester Stallone to not only write all 7 Rocky movies in one night, but to chase live poultry for handouts in Philadelphia)

Knockin' on Heaven's Door4 You might know this song as the song that turned Guns N Roses from multi-millionaires into multi-multi-billionaires, for they covered it in 1987 and classic rock radio won't let us forget. Also, Eric Clapton covered it too, because he knew George Harrison might one day kill him for stealing his wife, and Clapton would be knockin' on heavens door with Harrison's boot in the back of his skull. Unfortunately, Harrison died first and Clapton continued on being a full-time bag of crap.  Or an "Old Sock" of crap, I guess would be more fitting for him. Blech. Anyway, here, in its original form, Dylan finally drops some classic quality to sink your dentures into. The song breathes beautifully, Dylan's reverb slathered vocals give this such a haunting quality. Everything about this song is pretty understated for such an impactful song. The backups can raise a goosebump or two. All at two and a half minutes.

(Billy Corgan is not a member of Guns N Roses, but is credited by Congress as the most famous Billy since "The Kid," and another "full-time bag of crap")

Final Theme3  Well I finished my pie too, and it was scrumptious as well. Flaky crust, a little cinnamon and nutmeg in with the apples. They still retain their crunch after being a few days old. In fact, if you've got some leftover pie in the fridge from this past week, get up off your keister and treat yourself. Don't let it go to waste!!! Save yourself!!!

Back to the song:
Ahhh shit, well forget the two and a half minutes of joy that "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" brought us. Settle in, because these next two really add up and make this a worthy record worth purchasing (in terms of length). Here, a nice little flute like solo provides the whole melodic line in place of where it'd be appropriate to hear an actual Bob Dylan sing his way through. But flutes are cool too. Just ask Ian Anderson.  This is a fitting "final theme" I guess, but I'd hate for this to play at my funeral. Everyone would be like, "THIS is the song he picked? I never knew him to be much for flute rock!" And then I'd come back and haunt everyone who thought this with a flute just to give them the heebie-jeebies.

(Ian Anderson, a flute, and his eye... for reference only)

(me in the future haunting people with a flute)

Billy 4 If "Billy 4" doesn't do it for you, then you always got "Billy 7." Or you can go back to "Billy 1." You can hop from Billy to Billy. Hell, get promiscuous with your Billies. Also, I guess the other Billies weren't available, numerically. You got Billies everywhere, as played by Bobby, and none too shabby. This Billy's got vocals at least, strong one's too. It was at this point, Bob was like "Ahh shit, I gotta give these critics something, I guess." Unfortunately it was too late, and everyone thought this album was a waste of time. Admittedly, it mostly is and the LP sleeve makes a great top for a graduation cap.

(One year after this, another Billy, who once drank furniture polish, would try to jump on the "Billy the Kid" bandwagon. The '70s were a lucrative time to be Billy the Kid, who had died some 90 years earlier).

Billy 7This is prickly folk country number. Cowboy Bob delivers a baritone performance, sounding a little weathered and dusty in the throat. In regards to this LP, I declare this the "Best of the Billies"  A compact, effective little closer with equal parts showmanship and bravado. Also, the playing on this is all over the place and sort of lo-fi. It sort of peters out and fades away, like no player has a goddamn clue on when to stop. Beautiful.

Well, my advice to to skip this soundtrack album and just watch the film instead. Haven't seen it in years, but it's pretty great. Also, check out director Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia while you still got your hand in the popcorn bucket.

NEXT WEEK.... I slog through, perhaps, the most pointless album of Dylan's career. An LP Dylan didn't even want to release, a true Dylan contractual obligation LP with zero original Dylan input. What Dylan album am I talkin' 'bout Dylan fans? Why 1973's always forgotten Dylan, of course; an LP so forgotten even when Dylan hears it he's like.....
"It ain't me babe... Is it?"

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

New Morning (1970)

New Morning
(1970, Columbia Records)


(Black beans, Spanish rice, sautéed onions, Colby Jack cheese, with ranch dressing and Tapatio hot sauce on a flour tortilla)

Welcome back! Sorry to take some time. Personally, I had to recover from the novel that emerged from me sitting through 24 tracks of Self Portrait. Then, I found myself on vacation in the swing state of Florida for a bit. During this, I got caught up in the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series title in 108 years over the lovable, lowly Cleveland Indians. THEN, I had to recover from the vomit inducing nightmare of coming to terms with the fact that the nation will soon be calling Reality Television star and professional swindler, Donald Trump, the next President of the United States of America. I can barely type this without wanting to reject my dinner altogether tonight. But let me tell you, at least my vacation was lovely. Too bad the world fell on its ear a week later. At any rate, dinner is served, so tuck your napkin firmly around your neck, place all tray tables up with your head tightly secured in your lap, and prepare for the next four years. We're going down.

For tonight's dinner, I have prepared myself some sort of delicious, gut busting, fill-me-up-on-a-budget taco mess. Black beans? Check. Spanish rice from a bag? Check. Sautéed onions? You know it! Throw in some Colby Jack cheese to the pot, a dash of Ranch on the matter, a splash of hot sauce, and smack that pile of crap on a tortilla? CHECK MATE!

I figured, since I spend about half my waking life dining at Taco Bell, why not bring a little bit of the Bell to me? I can get about 8-10 tacos out of this, all while sitting at the comfort of my desk with some Dylan rather than in a cold booth listening to Maroon 5 over a loudspeaker. It's a win/win, baby.

On to the LP....

A mere 4 months after releasing his confounding second doulbe LP of his career, Zimmerman pulled another rabbit out of his hat with New Morning (the guy's got a ton of hats, and an even more disturbing collection of rabbits). The follow-up feels like a real "hey eveyone, I was just joshing you," sort of move, as New Morning is a concise, country-folk, soft-rockin record touching all of Dylan's recent basses. Luckily for the norms out there, this one's devoid of left-of-center cover songs, and fly-by night orchestral pieces. In terms of Dylan discography history, one can call this a "comeback" album without dwelling too much on the incredibly narrow 4 month release gap between this and his critical diarrhea pile, Self Portrait. Still, much of New Morning was written (some recorded) before and during the Self Portrait sessions. Dylan just sort of got sidetracked with putting piles of fake dog doodie in eveyone's pocket in the meantime and deraling history. Good for you Jester Zimmy!

(Bob Dylan in his weird, rarely documented Jester phase)

New Morning is heralded by many critics as a great success, while other fans who never got to write in national rock publications of the early '70s sometimes consider it a throwaway snooze efffort. The LP lives on as one of those "you gotta check it out!!! But listen to these other 10 Dylan albums before you hear this one," sort of affair; A classic album that rarely anyone considers truly classic. Most would agree it is.... wait for it.... above average.

(a general consensus)

And with that guilty-until-proven-innocent look he's giving us on this album cover, damn, who could resist but sort of fall in love with the whole dang thang? It's like Jester Zimmy's look itself, with those bottomless eyes, is telling us where he's buried the bodies, if only we could crack the code to his twisted mind. We are not the collective FBI, but a group of fans,  Jester Zimmerman. Fortunately, the music on this LP is generally more uplifting than that, and this LP's left zero bodies in its wake.

Possible alternate LP titles and covers to New Morning include:

(New Morning featuring Mother)?

(New Morning b/w Bringing It All Back Holmes)?

(New Morning with the Beach Boys)?

(New Morning and Night Stalker)?

GRIMMMMMM, this is. The weather's getting colder, and so be my soul. But this meal is sure to warm my spritis in time for the holiday rush.
As a sidenote, this would be the LAST album Jester Zimmerman released for almost 3 years! Wait, what???? How does one twisted man go from 4 months between records to 3 year???? Yes, folks. That's like 28 years and change in Bob Dylan land. He was practically known as Grandpappy Robby by the time Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid hit stores in July, 1973. However, that's for the next dinner, you ravenous go-getters. 

If Not For You- 4 (honorary) Dr. Zimmy MD opens the album with a short little ditty dedicated, as he's said in the press, to his then wife Sara. You'll remember Sara from other lovely tracks penned about her such as "Sad Eyed Lady of the Low Land," and 1975's entire Blood on the Tracks LP (about how much she apparently stinks!) I'm not one to point fingers here, especially while holidng a fork, but I'd bet it's the "tortued genius who can't stop smashing his head against the wall" who stinks in this relationship (more on that later, as they were still far from divorce at this point). "If Not For You" is a prickly country-folk pop tune that induces physical responses such as smiling and winking. Very whimsical stuff here. Also this song features some sort of glockenspiel, dinging about, so there's that to hang your cowboy hat on. Dylan still loves his wife and all is well in the year 1970, for Dylan was not needed as a voice of a generation.

("Goddammit Zimmerman, we need you. Stop singing about your happy life, you selfish prick"- the year 1970).

Day of the Locusts- 5 As is customary in every Dinner with Dylan, we have reached song 2 and it's now appropriate to comment on my dinner itself. We can not have Dylan hogging up all the attention.
First, I knocked it out of the damn park here. It's rather simple really. I mean, just look at the ingredients, mix them together and dine like a champion. You can't lose. And if you don't like one of the things I used? Hell, swap it out with something else you consider delicious. Add a shoelace for all I care, or get wacky with peanut butter or some weird crud. Tastebuds will thank you and you'll be full for hours. Now, the song.

Speaking of Dr. Zimmy, this song was reportedly inspired by Bob Dylan accepting an honorary doctorate degree from Princeton, NJ in 1970. According to the tale, he hated every minute of going to accept his doctorate, and thought Princeton could go screw. After all, some people go to college for 8 years to become doctors, and some people release records for 8 years. I'll usually side with the latter in most cases, cause I've generally got a case of the (rhythm and) blues and I wanna rock! Well, Dr. Dylan or not, this song is a classic in my book. Excellent vocal showing by the Dr. himself. Fairly catchy throughout propelled by its anthemic choruses.

(Dr. Dangerfield played a young Bob Dylan accepting his award at Princeton in a dramatized account around 1986 or so, critics speculate)

Years later, there would be a band called The Locust who had nothing to do with Bob Dylan

(for reference regarding "and the Locust[s] sang")

Time Passes Slowly- A very reflective Dylan reflects about time passing slowly in a reflective manner. See, I'm confused. Some wise folks are like "Life moves faster than greased shit in a lube factory," but not Dr. Dylan. He's been around the world 48 times and change in the past 8 years (in the year 1970), and still he's able to break it all down for the common listener because "there ain't no reason to go anywhere." Very wise indeed, Dr. Dylan. Fairly stripped down; piano, mild percussion, and some guitar jabs. Somewhat lo-fi stuff that carries subtle emotional weight.

And like last dinner, in which I got syrup all up them keys, this time it's black bean juice and Ranch dressing residue. Pausing every song to catch up on finishing the review is one thing. Pausing every time I take a bite to wipe up slop puddles.... This is not what I signed up for when I made this stupid deal with myself to do this!!!! If only I could turn back time.

Went to See the Gypsy- 3 According to sources related to all things Dylan, this song is about a possible encounter Dr. Dylan had with a member of his personally vast pantheon of heroes; Elvis "the King" Presley. You'll remember Elvis from such movies as Clambake, Flaming Star, and for refusing to leave his home even though he died.
Pretty average fair here. The piano stomp and the organ drawl seem to combat each other a bit. Song picks up and carries on in a monotonous boogie at the end, Dylan slamming deep notes on the piano. But then it just sort of ends. Drag that part out, boys, and let's really feel the muzak!

(that feeling when you're so gone on LSD and you think you met Elvis so you write a song about it)

Winterlude- Ooofff... "Winterlude, this dude think you're fine..." Not the best lyrics here. In fact, this is grounds for taking away that recent Nobel Prize for Literature (along with plenty of other future ditties). If you can get past the weak title, and lyrics as fresh as crumbs under a couch cushion, then you may have a chance with "Winterlude." This smaltz of a waltz feels like it was left off Self Portrait but could have also fit on the impeccable Nashville Skyline. So cheesy, somewhat comforting, in the way eating a bag of cheese curls and licking cheese dust off your cheesy fingers might feel.

Speaking of licking, I'm a likin' and a lickin' these saucy beans off my fingers. Every bite is another dripping accident waiting to happen. Did you need to know that? Most definitely not, but may these words haunt you the rest of your waking day. Now, go make your own bean burritos!

If Dogs Run Free- This was released 30 years before the Baha Men went multi-platinum with their  version of a song about escaped canines. Well, this song sounds nothing like that song, and Dylan never questions who let said dogs out, but rather, what IF said dogs were to run free. In all actuatlity, it sounds like music for beat poets. And Dylan liked beat poets, so I guess it all comes full circle: a walking bass, smoky piano noodling, a female vocalist (Maeretha Stewart) jazzed on scatting. Dylan spews out some cool beat poetry himself here, but the whole thing's pretty pointless. This may be the first Dylan "jazz" song but I'll leave it to the professionals to call me out on this possible fact. I forget what I've learned on a daily basis, like a true American.

(Actual, possible photo from the recording of "If Dogs Run Free")

New Morning- If you're looking for the cutting edge of "Chimes of Freedom," the goat-like snarl of "Maggie's Farm," or the dower doomsday(soft) rock of "All Along the Watchtower " well then you better look elsewhere. Because, right here, right now, Bob Dylan is just happy to be alive, maaaannnnnn (back in 1970, that is). This song is a full-blown celebration of waking up, taking in the beautiful countryside with your family, and being thankful you're not living in some shit hole NYC apartment playing coffeehouses to your NAMBLA loving friend, Allen Ginsberg. This song is glowing with redemption and good vibes, and but also kind of hurts. Getting an injection of positivity is good from time to time, but in this case, the needle's a little too sharp. Kinda makes me sick. You can only put so much sugar on a lemon wedge before you start making a face. And yet, I'd play it again.

Speaking of New Morning, I've finished the two taco/burrito what-have-yous awhile ago. It's time for a New Taco, which is something we can all get behind.
(This picture is a visual equivalent of what this song sounds like. Ick.) 

Sign on the Window- After the unbridled celebration of "New Morning," the stark piano sadness intro might turn your upside-down frowns into a mangled mess of quivering lips. Dylan really let's this one breathe, making this a study in '70s piano rock balladry, a couple years before piano ballads really sucked the bejesus out of rock radio. In fact, if you look at it another way, one could accuse Dylan of ripping off a young Springsteen here. However, Springsteen was still shitting in his diapers when this album came out, a problem for any 21 year old. (Bruce was just 3 years away from releasing his first LP as Dylan would soon find Jesus and look confused in pictures for most of the 80s).

(Springteen and Dylan auditioning for the Hayley Mills part in an unreleased reboot of The Parent Trap.)

One More Weekend- Another blues standard opening and immediately my eyes start rollin'. Mine are up to the ceiling at this point, where I'm noticing a need to touch up some yellowing spot in the white paint. Maybe I should paint the ceiling black? That'd be weird as all heck. Anyway, what's not weird is this bland blues bar rock. The coolest part is Dylan's ravaged voice. Quite punk! It's like the blues-rock of Blond on Blonde, but crummier in every regard. Ho-boy.

You know what else goes good with burritos/tacos, by the way? Chips. Guacamole. Margaritas. Do I have any of these things handy? Most certainly not, for I am a bad planner on a budget. Oh well, maybe next time we'll get my domestic cantina up in full force!

(next Taco Tuesday/Wednesday/Any-day will be better. You can invite friends to your domesticated taco/burrito bashes to make it more lively, like the above picture). 

The Man in Me- Dr. Dylan continues his one man therapy show, spewing his happiness to be alive, married, and reclusive. Well, soon that would ALL change. He'd be divorced, back in the spotlight and dead (inside). I know this for I am his therapist (unfounded claims, I make [in a Yoda voice]). But for now, one has to sit back and rejoice in the high flying, lo-light escapades of his country life. The female choir is in intense gospel mode, the organ is roaring in the back which gives this song some much needed propulsion. Dylan is preaching, hoarse as a man screaming from atop a horse. Good stuff, hallelujah!

(the movie Alien is said to be a documentary about the making of the song "The Man in Me.")

Three Angels- Here we have some practical spoken word, Dylan delivering a mysterious poetic homily of sorts. Is it a poem, a prayer, a reflection? In the background music sounds like we've all been invited to Reverend Zim's televangelist hour. This song is 2 strange minutes, and I am grateful for it. Praise the angels. So cryptic, it sends the shivers first class. (Avoid if you're looking for a real song, and I wound't recommend this to anyone, but I love it).

(This song may actually be about, not only 3, but 4 Angels sent to bless us all in 1982: Fred Lynn, Don Baylor, Reggie Jackson, and Rod Carew [made famous by Adam Sandler])

Father of Night- My, my what a short one to close it all out. Dylan plays a rolling repetitious pattern on piano that is equal parts catchy and depressing. The eerie background singers rise from the dead to accompany this short weirdo piece. Dr. Dylan is calling out sick for the next three years. Hope you enjoyed your mysterious send-off.

Well, another meal consumed. Another album examined under a cultural microscope. See you in three years, when Dylan finally returns with his new album.... A movie soundtrack... weeeeeeemmpwammmmmp

Actually, I'll be back next week (in time for Thanksgiving) with a quick one about Dylan's return to the market with the short, mostly instrumental, and most deservedly overlooked Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

("You're gonna love it"- the doctor)