Bob Dylan

Chimes of Freedom

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.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

OK, so I’m sure everyone with an Internet connection knows by now that Madonna is headlining this year’s Super Bowl halftime show. Big fat whatevs. All I care about is that Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. are going to be performing as well, backing up the Material Girl on her new and somewhat unbearable song “Give Me All Your Luvin.'” These guest appearances are exciting for two main reasons. First of all, it’s funny to think about how nervous NBC’s Standards and Practices department is going to be with M.I.A. and Minaj on stage and Janet Jackson’s nipple in the back of everyone’s minds. Secondly, I’m hoping upon hope that Minaj pulls an Elvis Costello, stops everything and launches into the song she should be performing. You know which one I’m talking about. Seriously, what sense does it make for her to be galavanting around at the Super Bowl NOT singing “Super Bass“? How on Earth are they passing this opportunity up? In the immortal words of Mugatu, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” Of course, the only thing that could top this unlikely occurrence would be Sophia Grace Brownlee and her mute but completely awesome sidekick repelling down from a helicopter to join in. Now THAT would be super. I just hope their tiaras survive the high winds generated by the chopper’s rotors. Enjoy their kickass performance above, Minaj’s below, and join me as I cross my fingers and hope for a Super Bowl miracle.

Nicki Minaj — “Super Bass

Mudhoney/George Clinton

Jason Isbell is one of my favorite musicians to follow on Twitter, in part because he has a fantastic philosophy about musical guilty pleasures. He summed this doctrine up perfectly on October 1 of this year, in a tweet that read, “There should be no guilty pleasures. Feel guilty about not enjoying things. Enjoy everything you can.” Those 102 characters made me so happy (as did some similar comments he made in an interview with Hear Ya), because they encapsulated my long held conviction that music is entirely what you make of it — you can dwell all you want on a band’s faults or a record’s weaknesses, but it’s way more fun to celebrate the aspects of that band or record that bring you joy. One reason this is true is that music, in many ways, is a personal experience. Sure, concerts can double as social events, and making music is extremely interactive, but the way we react to the songs we hear through our headphones is as personal as it gets. Sounds travel down our uniquely shaped ear canals, hit our one-of-a-kind ear drums and make their way up to our beautifully peculiar brains, and no two reactions are ever the same, so why apply a collective construct like shame to such a wonderfully solipsistic phenomenon? This idea jumped to the front of my mind when I was flipping through singles at Plan 9 and found a 7-inch single that was released to promote PCU, my favorite “Oh man, I can’t wait to get to college, it’s gonna be so awesome!” movies of my adolescence. My inner 14-year-old was beyond thrilled. I have such fond memories of, and strong mental associations with, the two featured tracks — Mudhoney’s cover of Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic’s recording of “Stomp” — that I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was as if I had stumbled across the glowing contents of the Pulp Fiction briefcase in that record bin (And it was just $3!). For a moment, I felt silly for my enthusiasm, but just as quickly, I realized I had found a glowing (literally — the vinyl is red!) testament to the fact that value is in the eye, or ear, of the listener, and that even though a record may only fetch a few bucks on ebay, it can still feel like a totally priceless artifact. If you’re as crazy about PCU as I am, you can bid on your own copy of the single here, and listen below to “Pump It Up” and “Stomp.” And don’t forget, no classes before 11, and beer is your best friend, so drink a lot of it. Now, can you blow me where the pampers is?

Mudhoney — “Pump It Up” (Elvis Costello cover)

George Clinton – “Stomp

Nick Lowe

The Old Magic

What the Hell Just Happened?!? Week: Day 3 — Nick Lowe

Sometimes music feels like a enormous game of connect the dots — one you can play for your entire life and never finish. Nick Lowe’s solo-acoustic opening set before Sunday’s Wilco show at Merriweather Post Pavilion gave me the chance to connect a few dots that I didn’t even know were close to one another, and I’m incredibly glad I was there to see it. Before Wilco released their “I Might” single, the first from their new album The Whole Love, I didn’t know much about Nick Lowe. When I heard the single’s b-side, a cover of Lowe’s “I Love My Label,” I asked my father-in-law about its author and found out about Rockpile, the influential band Lowe fronted alongside Dave Edmunds. I enjoyed what I heard, and was excited when I found out Lowe would be opening for Wilco. But the connection that really blew my mind wasn’t made until halfway though Sunday’s outstanding opening set, when I realized he was playing Elvis Costello’s “Alison.” It was a great “Hey, I know this song!!!” moment. What I didn’t know was that Lowe produced the song, and that he’s credited with writing another tune made famous by Costello, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love And Understanding,” which we also got to hear on Sunday. Lowe’s Wikipedia page is full of these crazy connections, like how he married (and divorced) Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter, but Lowe and Cash remained friends and recorded together and oh god Wikipedia steals so much of my time. But that’s one of my favorite things about music — the dots are just waiting to be connected, and there’s no right or wrong way to do so. Preview Lowe’s new offering, The Old Magic, below and grab the album from iTunes here.

Nick Lowe — The Old Magic