Bob Dylan has written a lot of songs. More like a shit-ton of songs. As in, if he had a nickel for every song he wrote, he could pull a Scrooge McDuck and take a daily dip in his pool of nickels. What I’m trying to say is there are a lot of Bob Dylan tunes out there, and if someone tells you with a straight face they know every single one, it’s completely acceptable to give them this face in return. His catalog is a such big mountain to climb, and let’s be honest; the thought of listening to all of his albums back to back would make even the most fervent fanatic blink once or twice. There are just so many damn lyrics. Good lord. But his being so prolific is, of course, a gift, not a curse. You can keep discovering new reasons to love him, even if you’ve already heard hundreds of his songs, and that’s where covers become particularly handy. Hearing other musicians interpret Bob Dylan’s music is one of the best ways to visit the parts of his dark and brilliant brain you haven’t been to yet, and just last night my friend and musical sherpa Clay alerted me to an amazing cache of 76 such covers. Assembled to benefit Amnesty International and released less than a month ago, Chimes of Freedom: The Music of Bob Dylan offers takes on Dylan tunes by everyone under the sun, including Elvis Costello, K’naan, Adele, Bettye LaVette, Pete Townshend, Bad Religion… really the list goes on and on and on. It’s nuts. And [be sure to read this in your best and most disproportionately loud Billy Mays* voice] ALL 76 OF THESE SONGS CAN BE YOURS FOR THE LOW, LOW PRICE OF $19.99! Crazy, eh? So many thoughtful and revealing covers at roughly a quarter a pop AND a large chunk of the money goes to a charitable organization. Everyone wins! Hell, you may even be able to write off the purchase on your taxes (I have no idea if this is true. It’s probably not. You Hear That Financial Services, L.L.C. isn’t exactly street legal, and may or may not, in fact, exist). I’m still making my way through the whole collection, but check out two of my favorites so far, — My Morning Jacket doing “You’re A Big Girl Now” and Raphael Saadiq doing “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat.” Hey, did you know Raphael Saadiq was in Tony! Toni! Toné!? SRSLY! Listen below and click here to snag Chimes of Freedom from iTunes.
My Morning Jacket — “You’re A Big Girl Now” (Bob Dylan cover)
Raphael Saadiq — “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” (Bob Dylan cover)
*RIP, Billy. Something tells me Saint Peter is well stocked with Oxy Clean, whether he needed it or not.
Are you ready to play a kickass game of connect the dots? Since today’s edition largely takes place in the south, we’ll call it, affectionately of course, co-redneck-t the dots. I really think you’re going to like what we find, so let’s get started with the fine gents of Raleigh, North Carolina-based American Aquarium, who, on Friday at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, country-rocked their way through an amazing set opening for Jason Isbell, who hails from northern Alabama, just like former Drive-By Truckers bandmate Patterson Hood, whose father, David Hood, was the bass player for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also known as “the Swampers” — ya know, “They’ve been known to pick a song or two”), the legendary band that recorded with some of music’s most recognizable names, like Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, John Prine and many, many more, all of whom, in order to record with the Swampers, had to to make pilgrimages to one of two studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which is where American Aquarium just finished recording their new album, which was produced and recorded with the help of Jason Isbell, with additional contributions from the lovely Amanda Shires, Isbell’s girlfriend, who appeared on stage with both Isbell and American Aquarium last Friday night at the Jefferson Theater. Whew. Crazy, eh? And that run-on sentence doesn’t begin to cover how entertaining American Aquarium’s set was (a real-life love-at-first-listen experience) or the remarkable impact that Muscle Shoals has had on popular music. A few weeks back, I wrote about the idea of musical centers of energy, and Muscle Shoals most assuredly qualifies. Though the town’s population is just 13,000 or so, the area still has a tremendous amount of musical history. So many canonical musicians have been drawn to Muscle Shoals, and it’s wild to think about how the Swampers insisted on recording on their own turf. And Grammy wins for albums like the Black Keys’ Brothers go to show that the town maintains that gravitational pull to this day. Judging by the songs I heard at the Jefferson Theater, American Aquarium’s upcoming album is sure to be a hit as well, so to whet your appetite, I’m posting “Reidsville,” a song from their 2010 album Small Town Hymns that tells the story of a southern town with a very different legacy than that of Muscle Shoals. Listen below and snag the album on iTunes here.
American Aquarium — “Reidsville“
When I wrote this past weekend about Black Girls’ new album Hell Dragon, I mentioned that one of my favorite parts of seeing live music is expecting the unexpected. Even if you’ve seen a band before, you never know what you’ll find at their next show. Coincidentally, when I was finishing dinner before heading over to the Hell Dragon release party at the Camel, I was blindsided by a totally unexpected musical surprise, but it was a piece of recorded music — one that I’d heard a zillion times, for that matter — that did the blindsiding. To be painfully honest, I first heard Bettye LaVette’s “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” by accident. I needed to listen to “Pick Up the Pieces” by Average White Band (don’t ask) and absentmindedly let Spotify play through the song title search results. Quick side note — Spotify searches make for the strangest playlists you’ll ever hear. When “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” came on, I heard LaVette’s deep, expressive and soulful voice placed against a sweet, southern backdrop of twangy pedal steel and lazy drums, piano and bass, and I fell for the juxtaposition right away. It was a powerful moment of discovery, one I got to relive when I finally found a used copy of The Scene of the Crime, the album on which “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” appears, at Deep Groove Records on Saturday. At dinner a few hours later, I shared news of my vinyl find with Robbie, a friend whose brain is a musical encyclopedia, and that’s when he blindsided me. “Oh yeah, The Scene of the Crime. You know her band on that album is Drive-By Truckers?” Bam. In that moment, a wormhole opened up and two treasured parts of my musical universe were suddenly and permanently connected. I couldn’t believe it, nor could I wait to give the whole album another listen, this time with the knowledge of who was providing that sweet, southern backdrop. Listen to the song below to see what I mean and click here to buy The Scene of the Crime. Who knows what surprises await when you do!
Bettye LaVette — “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces“