Tag Archives: American Music

Visions of Johanna

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial. – Bob Dylan from 1966’s “Visions of Johanna”

Cutting Edge 5

Fourteen Months

cutting edge walmart

It took Bob Dylan, his lyrics, his voice, his imagination, and his various ensembles 14 months to create some of the most unbelievable music and three of the all-time greatest albums in history.

The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Bob Dylan 1965-66 The Very Best of the Cutting Edge is one of three versions of the recording sessions that changed the music world and redefined art in the 20th Century. Those of you who do not have children in college might opt for the more deluxe versions and spend over $100 for the bells and whistles – and more power to you – but, for most of us, this two-disc version is plenty sufficient to remind us why we originally fell in love with this sound and these songs and why they turned the music world topsy-turvy.

Included here are 36 out-takes, alternate versions, and works in progress that morphed into the second holy trilogy of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited (“…one of those albums that, quite simply, changed everything.” Rolling Stone), and Blonde on Blonde.

The original working titles, that were at times jokes, are a part of the story, as is the experimentation of enormous talent in the room, as they aimed for the precision of sound and style that was floating around in Bob’s head.

Along the lines of “You had me with hello,” one of the most underrated love songs of all time, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” kicks it off and there is no looking back. The rest is an endless stream of fun. “She Belongs to Me” is a keeper, and it is interesting that, 5 decades later, this is the second song of the most recent set live set lists, and current drummer, George Recile, employs mallets to move the band along, almost as if it is a march. There is so much texture to this music that the sound continues to evolve, seemingly without end.

Cutting Edge back

Back to 1965.

Some of the drum work of Bobby Gregg, particularly on “Mr. Tambourine Man,” is quite interesting, as is some of the guitar work of Robbie Robertson, although The Hawk’s (soon to be The Band) studio work did not mesh with Bob’s perspective for these albums, and none of these takes made it to vinyl.

But one could go on and on. Favorites will be in the eye – or, rather, the ears – of the beholder, and there are many, many to be had. It is all most interesting, and the gems included here are too numerous to mention in a track by track format.

The liner notes are also intriguing. While for the diehard Bob-Heads much of it is familiar territory, the take and telling of the stories is absorbing. Longtime Dylan chronicler Sean Wilentz adds his take, and it goes without saying that Al Kooper must again remind us that he snuck on the Highway 61 album after recognizing his inferiority to guitarist Mike Bloomfield. Kooper was informed that he was not an adequate organ player yet, despite all of this, Dylan instructed producer Tom Wilson to turn that famous organ mix up on the timeless “Like A Rolling Stone.” Listening to the evolution of this song alone, from waltz to classic is probably enough to justify a purchase.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

The reviewer received a copy of this release from Santa Claus.

Mr. Moyer is a public school district superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel. He remains employed and married despite having seen Bob Dylan perform live 36 times.

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Muscle Shoals

Film Review: “Muscle Shoals” – Music Muscle from the Deep South

A 2013 documentary about an Alabama musical legacy, Muscle Shoals brings to light and life a group of musicians who never had their day in the sun.

Muscle Shoals

Two iconic recording studios in the tiny town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama – FAME (est. 1959) and its spin-off Muscle Shoals Sound (1960) – became the “must have” sound for, among others, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynrd, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Boz Scaggs, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Etta James, and many other legendary Rock-and-Roll artists. The magic of a group of background musicians, who called themselves the “Swampers,” some of whom were classically trained, were the touchstone of FAME. The Swampers were all white (a fact that was to surprise Paul Simon). Keep in mind this is the early 60’s.

Muscle Shoals, which premiered at the Sundance Music Festival in January of 2013, is the love story of America’s music roots in the Deep South. For this viewer, some of the most spellbinding scenes focus on Rick Hall, the pioneer and open-minded founder of FAME studio. Hall’s own poverty and family upheavals allowed him to empathize with the racial hostility young music artists of color faced in most of the United States, not just the south. Before the Civil Rights Movement became a force shaping our country’s history, FAME gave some of our most creative musicians their break in the music business. The film gives the impression that the principals of FAME were unaware of the significance of their race-neutral music production.

Hall was to bring black and white music together. He produced signature music: “I’ll Take You There,” “Brown Sugar,” and “When A Man Loves a Woman”. White studio musicians were to make unknown black artists famous.

Muscle-Shoals-sign

Muscle Shoals bears witness to how Hall’s color-blind passion for music infused a magnetism, mystery, and magic into the music that became known as the Muscle Shoals Sound. The filmmaker allows the key players to speak for themselves, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Etta James. On its own, the cinematography of Muscle Shoals, the backwater town along the Tennessee River is an eye opener. And Muscle Shoals is not to be missed for its music history, racial progressiveness, and its imagery. It’s a visceral and magical vision!

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

Postscript:

1.) The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios building is listed in on The National Register of Historic Places and maintained by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to turn the historic building into a music museum.

2.) FAME is still owned by Rick Hall and his son Rodney. Beats Electronics, because of this film, is underwriting the renovation of FAME to support young musicians.

3.) Actor Johnny Depp is developing this movie into a TV series, according to Variety.

You can read more from writer, artist and retired Stanford professor Diana Y. Paul at her blog Unhealed Wound:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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Full of Grace

 

pictures of youPictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, $13.95, 336 pages)

There was no cause and effect. There was no karma. The truth was that he wasn’t so sure he understood how the world worked anymore.

At the opening of Pictures of You, two women — April and Isabelle — are literally driving away from their marriages when they collide into each other on a foggy highway. Only Isabelle survives. This leaves three survivors, including Isabelle’s husband Charlie, April’s husband Sam and his needy 9-year-old son, Sam. In his neediness, Sam comes to view Isabelle as an angel placed on earth to save him.

It’s quite an innovative set-up for an extremely well written novel by Caroline Leavitt. Leavitt writes in a calm, methodical, factual style that brings to mind both Michelle Richmond and Diane Hammond; and like those authors (and Elizabeth Berg) she intends to impart a few of life’s lessons in the process of telling a story. One lesson has to do with powerlessness: “You could think you understood things, but the truth was that you could never see the full picture of someone else’s life.”

Than there’s the fact that we look for something more than human in times of grief and trouble: “Maybe tomorrow, the angel might be the one to come for him.” “People believed in angels when they were most in trouble.”

…he had somehow photographed her so that her shoulders were dark and burly, as if she had wings under her dress… (as if) she might spread them to lift off the ground and fly away.

Sam’s desire to make something sacred out of the very human Isabelle is a representation of the fact that everyone seeks comfort and safety in life. When Sam’s father reads the obituaries in the newspaper, “He (doesn’t) bother to brush away his tears… each one said the same thing: Come home. Come home.”

It wasn’t a pill or a car that made her feel safe.

Isabelle, however, is the one who has the clear chance to re-start her life, and the reader will be intrigued to see what choices she makes. The beauty of Leavitt’s telling is that what the reader thinks is going to happen does not. And this, in itself, makes it a very special book.

Pictures of You concludes with a perfect ending in which everything is fully and satisfactorily resolved. There’s also a Hollywood-style postscript, a look back from 21 years later, that adds a nice cinematic touch to the account. All in all, this is an amazing novel.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. 

The reader who enjoys this book may want to read American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn, which also wrestles with the notion of angels on this earth.

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Santa’s Book List

We recently met with Santa Claus at the North Pole to work on a list of possible presents for book lovers.   Here’s what we came up with.Santa Claus

For the Fiction Reader

You Came Back: A Novel by Christopher Coake (Grand Central Publishing), and Gone: A Novel by Cathi Hanauer (Atria).

Two of the best novels of the year, both dealing with loss.   A man’s life is irrevocably changed when his young son dies, and a wife and mother is lost when her husband drives the babysitter home and never returns.

Sacrifice Fly: A Mystery by Tim O’Mara (Minotaur Books)

This may be the best debut crime novel by anyone since Think of a Number by John Verdon.   A disabled NYPD cop turned public school teacher decides to solve a crime that involves one of his former students.

SacFlyCover_72dpi200

A Possible Life: A Novel in Five Parts by Sebastian Faulks (Henry Holt)

A story is told through the lives of five different human beings who live in different times, including the past and the future (2029).   Those who loved the innovative novel American Music by Jane Mendelsohn may be drawn to this one.

Blackberry Winter: A Novel by Sarah Jio (Plume)

A perfect cold case story for cold weather reading.   As a late-Spring snowstorm hits Seattle, a reporter tries to get to the bottom of an 80 year-old kidnapping.

Forgotten: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (William Morrow)

A young female Canadian lawyer, presumed to have died while visiting a village in Africa destroyed by an earthquake, returns home to find that everyone’s moved on without her.   From the author of Spin and Arranged.

Tuesday Night Miracles: A Novel by Kris Radish (Bantam Dell)

Four women with legal and personal issues are required to attend weekly group counseling sessions with a rather unconventional counselor.   Serious issues covered with a “wry sense of humor” (The Sacramento Bee).

For the Music Lover

The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret by Kent Hartman (Thomas Dunne Books)

The story of the musicians who anonymously played on most of the biggest-selling rock songs recorded between 1962 and 1975.   This book provides “Good Vibrations” for the music fanatic.

Bruce by Peter James Carlin (Touchstone)

The author of Paul McCartney: A Life shows us the very human side of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock (Da Capo)

Fans of the late singer-songwriter will be enthralled by this overview of his all-too-short life.

Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Freddie Mercury & Queen by Mark Blake (Da Capo), and Mercury: An Intimate Biography of Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones (Touchstone)

These well-written biographies of the late Queen front man will make readers revisit their Queen music collections, or purchase new ones.Mercury 2

For Those with Special Diets

You Won’t Believe It’s Salt-Free!: 125 Healthy, Low-Sodium and No-Sodium Recipes Using Flavorful Spice Blends by Robyn Webb (Da Capo Lifelong Books), and Gluten-Free On a Shoestring Quick & Easy by Nicole Hunn (Da Capo Lifelong Books)

It’s not easy to cut down on either sodium or gluten in our diets, but these two authors illustrate how you can do so and still enjoy eating.

For the Sports Fan

Best of Rivals: Joe Montana, Steve Young, and the Inside Story Behind the NFL’s Greatest Quarterback Controversy by Adam Lazarus (Da Capo)

If you think the San Francisco 49ers have a quarterback controversy now, Lazarus reminds us of what happened on the team between 1987 and 1994.

The Longest Shot: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open by Neil Sagebiel (Thomas Dunne Books)

The amazing story of when an unknown golfer by the name of Jack Fleck beat his idol, the great Ben Hogan, at the U.S. Open major tournament.   Truth is stranger than fiction, and in ’55 the Open was played at the Olympic Club in San Francisco (just like this year’s U.S. Open).

For the Animal Lover

Following Atticus by Tom Ryan (William Morrow)

An overweight man’s health is saved, and his life is rescued by a small mountain-climbing miniature schnauzer named Atticus M. Finch.   A fine, touching memoir.

Following Atticus (audio)

Atticus-at-the-top-of-mount-washington

Joseph Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers and/or publicists.   A Possible Life will be released on Tuesday, December 11, 2012.

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Full of Grace

Pictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt (Algonquin Books, $13.94, 336 pages)

There was no cause and effect.   There was no karma.   The truth was that he wasn’t so sure he understood how the world worked anymore.

At the start of Pictures of You, two women – April and Isabelle – are literally driving away from their marriages when they collide on a foggy highway.   Only Isabelle survives.   And she’s joined in the role of survivor by her husband Charlie, April’s husband Sam and his needy 9-year-old son, Sam.   In his neediness, Sam comes to view Isabelle as an angel placed on earth to rescue him.

It’s quite an amazing set-up for an extremely well written novel by Caroline Leavitt.   Leavitt writes in a calm, methodical, factual style that calls to mind both Michelle Richmond and Diane Hammond; and like those authors (and Elizabeth Berg), she intends to impart a few of life’s lessons in the process of telling a story.   One lesson has to do with powerlessness:  “You could think you understood things, but the truth was that you could never see the full picture of someone else’s life.”

Then there’s the fact that we look for something more than human in times of grief and trouble:  “Maybe tomorrow, the angel might be the one to come for him.”   “People believed in angels when they were most in trouble.”

…he had somehow photographed her so that her shoulders were dark and burly, as if she had wings under her dress…  (as if) she might spread them to lift off the ground and fly away.

Sam’s desire to make something sacred out of the very human Isabelle is a representation of the notion that everyone seeks comfort and safety in life.   When Sam’s father reads the obituaries in the newspaper, “He (doesn’t) bother to brush away his tears…  each one said the same thing:  Come home.  Come home.”

Isabelle, however, is the one who has the clear chance to re-start her life, and the reader will be intrigued to see what choices she makes.   The beauty of Leavitt’s telling is that what the reader thinks is going to happen does not.   And this, in itself, makes it a very special book.

Pictures of You concludes with a perfect ending in which everything is fully and satisfactorily resolved.   There’s also a Hollywood-style postscript, a look back from 21 years later, that adds a nice cinematic touch to the account.   All in all, this is an amazing second novel.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Magically written, heartbreakingly honest.”   Jodi Picoult

The reader who enjoys this book may also want to read American Music: A Novel by Jane Mendelsohn.  

  You can find our review of American Music here:  https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/late-for-the-sky/

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It Was A (Very) Good Year

The Year-End Literary Review

In my opinion, this was a good to very good year to be a reader; not as good as 2010 in terms of its offerings, and hopefully not as good as what’s to come in 2012.   Let’s look at some of the highlights and lowlights of 2011.

The rise (and fall?) of the e-reader

The e-book readers offered by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony began to finally take off in terms of general acceptance.   Even a Luddite such as I am picked up a Nook Color tablet, as the issue of glare seemed to have been resolved with the fine screen manufactured by LG.   But just as e-readers were taking flight, the reading public received some very disturbing year-end news (“…rising e-book prices causing sticker shock.”).

It seems that publishers are about to kill their golden goose by raising the prices on e-books to levels that will match or exceed the print versions.   Yes, it appears to be a replay of what happened with the recording industry…  Music CDs first appeared with reasonable prices of $9.99 and then shot up to double that and more; and the industry then wondered what happened to their sales figures.   Duh.

Fine biographies

It was a good time for biographies, the two most notable being Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Robert Redford by Michael Feeney Callan.   Both were examples of treating famous people as more than living legends – turning them into three-dimensional figures with true strengths and weaknesses.   Callan’s book is such a fascinating portrait of the actor that you’ll want to see every film mentioned in it.

Intriguing debuts

It’s always fun to discover new writers at the start of their career, and both Proof of Heaven by Mary Curran Hackett and The Violets of March by Sarah Jio were engaging life and love-affirming debut novels.   Kudos!

Mixed memories

It was a mixed front when it came to personal memoirs.   Christina Haag produced a singular New York Times Bestseller with Come to the Edge: A Love Story, her entertainingly nostalgic account of the five years she spent as the girlfriend of John F. Kennedy, Jr.   If you’ve missed this one, it will be released in trade paper form in January – with a cover that’s sure to capture the female reader’s eye!   (Some will remember that JFK, Jr. was once named “The Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine.)

A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates might have been a groundbreaking account of what happens to a wife after her husband dies suddenly.   But it was preceded four years earlier by Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.   Oates’s account unfortunately read like a note-for-note  cover of Didion’s earlier account.   Oates and Didion are, no doubt, two of our best writers but only one of them could assemble a uniquely first tragic memoir.

A troubling trend

2011 was the year in which a few fictional works were introduced that I wound up calling “plotless novels.”   These were books whose plots generally centered around an ensemble cast of characters, occupying only a few days in time; time in which nothing noteworthy seemed to occur.   Reading one of these novels is like, paraphrasing Jerry Seinfeld, perusing “a story about nothing.”   A few misguided or mischievous critics made them popular by praising them as being clever.   Well, they were clever in getting a few unfortunate readers to pay money for a book without a beginning, middle or ending.

Hurry up, already

Another parallel troubling trend had to do with novels that took 90 or 100 pages to get to the beginning of the story.   Any story that takes that long to get started is, trust me, not going to end well.

Good and very good, but not necessarily great

While there were some good and very good works to read this year, it’s hard to think of standouts like we had in 2009 (Her Fearful Symmetry by Anne Niffenegger) or 2010 (American Music by Jane Mendelsohn, Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott, The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris).   One novel that did receive plenty of attention was The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, which the average reader seemed to find either brilliant or meandering and tedious.   One hundred and sixty-eight readers posted their reviews on Amazon and these love it or hate it views balanced out to an average 3-star (of 5) rating.

Give me someone to love

Some were troubled by Eugenides’ novel because of the lack of likeable characters, a critique to which I can relate.   If an author does not give me a single character that I can identify with, trying to finish a novel seems pointless.   Why invest the time reading a story if you simply don’t care what happens to the characters the writer’s created?

In summary

This year was filled with unrealized potential.   Let’s hope for a bit more excitement in the publishing world in 2012!

Joseph Arellano

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Where Were You When I Needed You

before-ever-after-paper

Before Ever After: A Novel by Samantha Sotto (Broadway Books, $16.00, 304 pages)

There are times when an author takes a perfectly interesting and creative plotline and pushes it just past the boundary of plausibility.   This is what occurs here with debut author Samantha Sotto.   She begins her novel with a great premise.   Shelley Gallus lost her husband Max three years earlier to a terrorist bomb set off in Madrid, Spain.   She’s just about to come to terms with her loss when a young man named Paolo shows up at her door.   He claims to be Max’s grandson, which comes as a shock to Shelley who did not know that Max was previously married nor that he was old enough to have a grandson.

Paolo informs Shelley that Max is still alive, operating a business in the Philippines and Paolo appears to have a photograph that substantiates this claim.   In the photo, Max is wearing jewelry that was given to him by Shelley.   Now, stop at this point and we have a fine story about a decent woman who may have been the victim of a sad hoax; a woman who is ready to go and find Max, alive or dead (If he’s alive, she might kill him).

Here, though, is where the problem arises…  Paolo proceeds to make the case that not only is Max alive, but he’s at least hundreds of years old.   It may be that Max was alive as a young man during the French Revolution, and at this point the story loses its credibility.

A knowledgeable reader might note that a similar plotline was used by Jane Mendelsohn in the novel American Music.   This is true, but Mendelsohn used her years of writing experience to craft a magical novel – one of the best of its type.   Even then, it was not an easy sell; for some, the setting of a tale in four different periods in time was a bit too much to properly absorb.   This reviewer found American Music to be especially brilliant, but then only the best at their craft make it appear to be easy.   (In Before Ever After, the overly complicated plotline comes off as simply tricky.)

Sotto does write in an entertaining and casual style and there are, no doubt, some readers who will find the story engaging enough to satisfy their financial and temporal investment in the book.   However, there are likely to be many who will find that this fictional journey asks a bit too much of the imagination – the literary equivalent of a bridge too far.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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