Thursday, November 1, 2007

Casual Listening Extra 11-2-07

Casual Listening


November 2, 2007

Blues Traveler – Cover Yourself

I was a college freshman and aspiring harp player in 1991 when I heard “But Anyway” on the radio and found myself stammering “That’s a harmonica?!?!” Sixteen years later, I’ve stopped keeping up with the band, having decided that it all sounds the same after a while. Enter Cover Yourself, which includes eleven radical reworkings of fan favorites, and which sounds fresh as the day it first knocked the wind out of me. The big stuff is stripped down (“Defense and Desire,” “NY Prophesie”), the slow stuff gets funky (“100 years”), and the good stuff gets even bluesier (“Mountains Win Again,” “Carolina Blues,”). Really satisfying déjà vu – familiar, but I’ve never heard it like this before.

Dylan Soundtrack Redux

Bob Dylan has already been done six ways from Sunday, so hearing so many fresh interpretations of the work is really a remarkable accomplishment. Thirty-four of the tracks on I’m Not There are 24 karat gold, with a couple of brass junkers along for the ride. First the good stuff. The album opens with Eddie Vedder’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” which nods to both the Dylan and Hendrix versions while going its own organ-drenched direction. Sonic Youth takes on the movie’s title track, which shows up in the original Dylan version on the bonus tracks. Listen to these two back-to-back, and you’ll hear the frazzled sound in Dylan’s voice that makes it a natural for Sonic Youth. So many other highlights – Richie Havens sounds young again on “Tombstone Blues,” while Pavement’s Steven Malkmus sounds ancient on “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Karen O’s driven, jagged “Highway 61 Revisited” is the high point of the collection. Iron & Wine and Sufjan Stevens both dislocate the originals in exquisite ways through their orchestration. Willie Nelson and Los Lobos both add a South of the border breeze to their selections. Jeff Tweedy and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot reach across generations to re-enact the naked vulnerability of “Simple Twist of Fate” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Listening to Cat Power I did a double-take thinking it was actually Dylan singing. Yo La Tengo, The Black Keys– the list goes on. A perfect experience is interrupted only by Jack Johnson’s sacrilegious gumping through “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” and Mason Jennings’ inept “The Times They A-Changing.” Still, these aren’t enough to tarnish the package. You’ll not regret the hours you’ll inevitably spend with this album.

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