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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OSTENSIBLY TELL TALE SIGNS, MOSTLY "LOVE AND THEFT"

Uncut has been running a whole slew of interviews with Dylan's old producers, but the really fascinating one, and new to me, is this one with studio engineer Chris Shaw, who sounds a shrewd and observant person and, while talking a bit about tracks on Tell Tale Signs and a bit about Modern Times, is mostly talking about - and clearly and rightly far more keen on - "Love and Theft".

[I found this online not by going to Uncut but to Parking Meter - the link is down the left-hand column here in Links - which lets you click on all the interviews (with Daniel Lanois etc..)]

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great series of articles and you are absolutely correct-the Chris Shaw one is the cream of the crop.

L&T is great. But I still feel MT has a clear edge over it. Despite the fact that the band is inferior and the song writing less tight and focussed. It just somehow does it more for me as a listening experience overall. And the vocal just works better to my ears. Less violent lurching from croak to crooner-a richer, smoother experience for me. Both gtreat of course and Mr. Shaw deserves a medal for perfecting the art (especially with MT) of capturing Mr. Dylan's vocal so authentically.

5:06 pm  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

As much as I like Modern Times, I felt the album suffered from a few too many lacklustre songs– songs that, unlike anything on “Love and Theft”, could easily be classified as filler. I would place Spirit on the Water, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, Someday Baby and Beyond The Horizon under this heading; although I should say that, even as filler, I don’t skip past them as I do lesser tracks on other Dylan albums (see Time Out of Mind).

Compare them to Honest With Me, for example, the track that probably interests me least on “Love and Theft”. As much as the song jars at times, I still find myself caught up in Dylan’s snarling delivery and – though some lines are questionable – I know each and every one has a purpose. Yet with the above four tracks on Modern Times, I feel as though he is traipsing rather than marching.

The blues songs lack the bite and effort of Cry a While and Lonesome Day Blues. Spirit on the Water and Beyond the Horizon try but never quite touch the sort of otherness felt in Bye and Bye and Moonlight. Moreover, the harmonica at the close of Spirit on the Water seems sad and half- hearted, a concert trick to induce whooping and hollering, and it falls somewhat flat on a recorded studio album.

Modern Times has several important songs though and, as a record, I find I am far more likely to put it on than Time Out of Mind. That album, in spite of its sporadic masterpieces, is the auditory equivalent of a closed door to me: heavy and lumbering and, though times worth the effort to open, more often than not a deterrent to my ears.

“Love and Theft” is clearly an open door, perhaps the auditory equivalent of being invited in for a cup of tea! It flows as both music and literature and, at the risk of coming over all juvenile, is incredibly happy. It glows with care and warmth, something not heard from Bob since the mid-1970’s (in officially released form, at least).

It’s the reason “Love and Theft” remains in my top Dylan albums, and the reason I consider it by far the most impressive and important album of his resurgence.

12:07 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Lee, that's a really thoughtful, cogent piece of writing, a fine delineation of why "Love and Theft" is easily the best of the three albums you discuss, and I find myself agreeing with you on all points but one . . . and even my demurral is only by way of saying that I never put on Time Out Of Mind or Modern Times!

4:34 pm  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

Thank you Michael. Can I ask, as a matter of great interest, which songs you enjoy on Modern Times, if indeed any? Are there any that you would place on the level of Standing in the Doorway or Tryin' to Get to Heaven, say?

1:04 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Well I don't think my view is that interesting but OK: the only ones I don't find dreary / tiresomely opaque / phoney and/or shallow are 'Workingman's Blues #2' and 'Nettie Moore' - and even 'Nettie Moore' seems to me to end up with a verse or two more than there's any clear feeling or meaning behind - while with 'Workingman's Blues #2' I wince at "hand me my boots AND shoes" when I'm paying attention. It's more of a "died and was dead" than a "final end" or "back of the back of the bus". What makes me especially glum about the album is how characteristic it is, as you sort of suggested yourself, that 'Beyond The Horizon' is a pale and unsuccessful revisit to 'Bye and Bye' and 'Moonlight' - and these both have some terrific writing in them: I love the last verse of 'Moonlight', for instance, and I love 'Bye and Bye''s expressive portrait of an individual, quirky, open consciousness - and its sharp eye (as it were). There is no sharp eye at work on 'Beyond The Horizon'.

4:09 pm  
Anonymous Lee Morgan said...

I always thought "boots and shoes" was fairly redundant too. It could be argued that it's referencing the old blues song, which I've only ever heard performed by Blind Boy Fuller, and which contains the line: "Hey, hey, bring me my boots and shoes."

But still, if the line you are referencing isn't particularly good, repetition is only likely to drive its poor quality home!

4:25 pm  
Anonymous Scott Warmuth said...

I don't wince when I hear the "boots and shoes" line. Dylan most likely got the line from Big Joe Williams, who included it in a song that he recorded a number of times under a number of titles, including "Meet Me In The Bottom," "Meet Me Around The Corner" and "Down In The Bottoms."

As far as "died and was dead," usually people die and that is it, they remain dead. But consider Jesus, who, as the story goes, died and was dead for three days.

Also consider Lazarus, who died and was dead for four days before, as the story goes, Jesus came along and "knew how to bring 'em on back to life."

If you do a Google search for the word "resurrection" and the phrase "died and was dead" you will get thousands of hits.

3:41 am  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

I don't take Uncut but my stepson was kind enough to pass this copy on to me. I found all of the interviews to be a fascinating insight into the way that Dylan works in the studio. In a way it is not new - it serves to confirm reports that we have read ever since the recording of Bob Dylan was described. But the descriptions of the interplay between Dylan and his producers, and also his musicians, are fascinating.

Anyone who has seen Dylan in concert will appreciate that he makes no attempt to recreate the studio sound unlike, for example, The Band (or so I'm told, and gather from their live recordings). I wish I'd caught one of the concerts when he was playing with them (I don't think the '66 band can really be thought of as The Band). But to read that he still works this way in the studio is something of a revelation. "Have I ever played any song twice exactly the same?" "No, Bob, no." "See? I don't do that." This certainly lends credence to the reported tension between himself and Emmylou Harris (the consumate perfectionist) on the Desire sessions. (Although, God know, having dealt with Gram Parson she should have been ready for anything.)

Also explained by these interviews, to some extent is the question about songs such as "Blind Willie McTell", "Red River Shore" (and many others) - why on earth didn't they make it to the released album?

If any Dylan fans haven't read these interviews I urge you to get hold of a copy of Uncut.

6:44 pm  
Blogger joe butler said...

The comments from Uncut confirm a lot of things quoted before about dylan in the studio. Joan Baez talks on No Direction Home about him changing key signatue or time just to f**k you up. Bob Johnson said he wanted to do songs in one take, or doing a second take with a completly different count in just to keep musicians on their toes. Dylan famously puts process before product and the journey before the destination. In that case the last three albums are notable for the amount of production he has endured. I love them all for the delightful sense of world wearines they convey, it chimes pefectly with most of what I think about the world we live in.
"We live and we die, we know not why
But I'll be with you when the deal goes down"

10:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello again Michael,

Grumpy ol' Homer here.

Goodness knows why I am defending a phrase in an album that makes "Down In The Groove" look wonderful (better singing, better songs, more Dylan lines probably...hard to say which has more covers really)..However....the phrase 'boots and shoes' is not necessarily redundant. I think it quite plausible that the man has heavy working boots for difficult, dangerous and dirty work and other shoes to walk home in. People (not the kind of people who listen to Bob Dylan right enough) sometimes wear specialized boots for work and normal shoes to take them there and back.

12:28 pm  
Blogger joe butler said...

my reading was always "boot's son shoes" a reference to jacob?

9:47 am  
Blogger Trotter said...

If you're going to work in the fields, as this grumpy old singer likes you to believe he is, then you need boots (for working) and shoes (for walking home). As well as being a nod to the blues tradition, it's perfectly in keeping with other playfully curmudgeonly lines like: Some people never worked a day in their lives, don't know what work even means'.
Dylan's singing on the last line of the Disc One version of Red River Shore is some of his finest: 'Sometimes I think nobody ever saw me here at all', all on the same pitch, echoes of 'Just step into the Arena'. This is Dylan at his very best, the defining breath of someone who died and was reborn but is now wondering if 'they even do that kind of thing anymore'.

1:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://grooveshark.com/#!/playlist/Working+Man+Blues+number+Process/91250926

10:58 pm  

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