My new Think Again column revisits the terrible “problem” of liberal academia, and it’s here.
Bob Kuttner gave Kabuki Democracy a nice review in The American Prospect here.
And the Jewish Journal of LA reviewed it here.
And CSPAN’s Book TV will broadcast a talk I gave at Busboys and Poets in Washington DC this Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 1. More info here.
Live shows: John Doe, Joan Osborne, Cowboy Junkies, “The Music of Neil Young”
Cds: Miles, “Bitches’ Brew Live,” Cowboy Junkies’ “Demons,”The Jayhawks, "Hollywood Town Hall" and "Tomorrow The Green Grass,” Bob Dylan, “Witmark Demos.”
Blurays: Jeff Back House Party
I caught two shows in Lincoln Center’s terrific “American Songbook” series recently, which take place in the Allen Room overlooking the entrance to Central Park at Columbus Circle and always seems to inspire the performer with its power and beauty. The first was John Doe playing the kind of country music that makes his records with the Knitters and the Sadies such a joy. He didn’t have either band with him, but he put together a lovely pickup band that featured his daughter on vocals and did a bunch of originals—some of which were reworked X songs and a few were classics, and one or two may be classics some day. (My vote goes to “Wrecking Ball” co-authored by the great Dave Alvin.) Anyway, it was a pretty relaxed, enjoyable show, in contrast to the Joan Osborne show which also did not suck at all, but was quite a production. Togther with her longtime collaborator Jack Petruzelli began Osborne premiered a new song cycle modeled on Van Morrison’s "Veedon Fleece" and "Astral Weeks." It’s about a love affair that blossoms and then, I think disappears, though I’m not sure, and featured lots of six string players video and a couple of dancers including the evening’s choregrapher, Lily Baldwin. It’s hard to appreciate music the first time you hear it but Osborne is such a strong vocalist and the band found its groove a few times so the evening never dragged. She came back for some plain old Joan Osborne songs, and everybody went home happy, thinking they had seen something special. Anyway, here’s the rest of the season if you’re in town.
A few nights later, I caught a Cowboy Junkies show at City Winery. They’re in the middle of an ambitious four volume “Nomad series” on their own label, Latent Recordings. I don’t actually know why it’s a series, but this album is all songs by the late Vic Chesnutt. It’s a perfect match. The Junkies always sound like the Junkies, but the lush, warm arrangements of Chesnutt’s beautiful compositions all sound new amidst the excellent arrangements, intuitive communication and soothing voice of Margo Timmins and her mispucha. City Winery is the perfect place to relax and immerse oneself in the, um, vibe. And Ms. Margo is an awfully a good-looking fifty, by the way, if I’m allowed to say that. More here.
And finally, Thursday night, I was at Carnegie Hall for the seventh annual Michael Dorf-curated tribute to an individual songwiter. Last night’s honor went to Neil Young and the artists included, the aforementioned Cowboy Junkies and Ms. Oosborne along with Patti Smith, The Roots, J Mascis, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, DeVotchKa, Shawn Colvin, Pete Yorn, Nada Surf, Bettye LaVette, Bebel Gilberto, Keller Williams, Larry Campbell, Ben Ottewell (Of Gomez), Cowboy Junkies, Mason Jennings, Joan Osborne, and Joe Purdy. It was always, very hit and miss. And while Neil Young is unarguably great, he is no Bruce Springsteen, and so he did not show up and play with his people.
But there were some standout performances—too many to mention—and some that were carried by the prettiness of the song. The band, which was led by Larry Campbell, almost made the catastrophic decision to end with a singalong of “Ohio” which veered on an SNL self-parody, but then saved itself with a rockin’ version of “Hey, Hey My, My.” I learned to like a bunch of new artists last night but most of all it would be great if people took a look at these terific, and terribly important organizations: Fixing Instruments for Kids in Schools, Church Street School for Music & Art, The Pinwheel Project, Music Unites, The American Symphony Orchestra and Young Audiences New York. and gave ‘em some dough. There are few more important causes than music in the schools.
Columbia Legacy just dropped a new single record of MilesDavis’ Bitches Brew recorded live based on two performances—one nine months before the release of Bitches Brew, the other four months after the album came outThe set from July 1969, played at the Newport Jazz Festival is available for the first time and really shows off this incredible band of Davis, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Wayne Shorter. The later set, from the Isle of Wight, adds Gary Bartz on sax and Airto Moriera on percussion shows how far the music still had to go before it became, in this view, the dividing line between Jazz that depended on melody and Jazz that depended on tonality. I’m kinda mad about the turn it took, though Coltrane is at least as responsible as Miles. But this is still pretty good stuff.
I took a look at the bluray of Jeff Beck’s Rock’n’Roll Party: Honoring Les Paul. It’s a fun romp, featuring the Irish vocalist Imelda May, with Beck and appearances by Brian Setzer and Gary U.S. Bonds, covering the 1950’s Les Paul and Mary Ford records like How High The Moon, Mockingbird Hill, Tiger Rag, all of which takes place in front of a start-studded (as the saying goes) audience at Irridium, the club where Les Paul maintained a residency until his recent passing at age 95. There’s not a lot of Beckish guitar soloing in the show, it’s mostly just fooling around with oldies, quite a few of which deserved to stay in the museum in which they were found. (“Rock Around the Clock” anyone?) But it’s fun, and by the way, it’s also cheap.
Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass are considered to be The Jayhawks’ classics. Fine albums they are, and they certainly put the band on the map. Personally, I’m a bigger fan of the two records that were released after Mark Olson’s departure. But with the recent rerelease of the aforementioned records in remastered and expanded form, I revisited and reassessed. I still think Sound Of Lies and Smile have bigger tunes with better melodies, but there’s a lot to be savored on Town Hall and Green Grass.
The oft-bootlegged Mystery Tapes, a collection of demos from 1992, has been tacked onto Green Grass as a bonus disc, while a few b-sides and rarities have been added to Town Hall. Olson and Gary Louris’s voices together often sound the same in that Phil & Don sort of way, and that is just too hard to resist. The Jayhawks sounds like a lot of people–Gram Parsons, The Byrds, CSN & occasionally Y, even Tom Petty and The Beatles. Still, they’ve managed to carve a niche that many bands have tried, but have failed to do themselves. Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass are great places to start with The Jayhawks, and are both welcome addtions to the Legacy reissue series.
Bob Dylan’s Witmark Demos is a collection of publishing company demos that has been widely bootlegged over the years. The recent 47 track release from Sony Legacy, also the set’s first official release, includes 15 previously unheard songs, and it is indubitably the way to go. I read one reviewer who said, "The sound quality ranges from pretty awful to sort of awful." NO, it doesn’t. I’m not sure what she was expecting. This isn’t "Aja." It’s an early look at familiar songs by the greatest songwriter of our time. It’s Dylan and his guitar. Maybe it’s not essential, as most of these songs hadn’t changed much in their finished form. And unlike Dylan’s debut, and just about any subsequent acoustic dylan recording of the 60s, there isn’t a sense of urgency in the performances. It seems like Zimmy had a job to do and he did it. Nonetheless, it’s the usual top-notch package from Legacy when Bob is involved, and it’s a great "official" addition to your collection.
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