Friday, February 13, 2015

Rihanna & Kanye West & Paul McCartney - FourFiveSeconds, What the Hell is Paul Doing in This?

Rihanna & Kanye West & Paul McCartney released FourFiveSeconds on video and download on January 28, 2015. This track will be on Rihanna's eighth album, executive produced by Kanye West; release date is uncertain. Rolling Stone reported that Kanye also intends to include the track on his next album.

What the hell is Paul McCartney doing in this? His primary participation in the song and video seems to be instrumental only. In the Grammy performance (video below), Paul has a microphone and appears to be singing but he cannot be heard. Here is what we know.

1. The video is better than the song (it's an excellent video).

2. I like the song, but considering that Rihanna and Kanye are frequent flyers in the tabloids maybe it's not such a great idea to be "FourFiveSeconds from wildin'."

3. McCartney has a writing credit for FourFiveSeconds, but like most songs on the pop charts, this one was written by committee*. I would guess that McCartney's participation was just part of the deal.

4. This seems to be a package deal to write this song, record the song, appear in the video, and join Rihanna and Kanye for the Grammy performance.

5. There are two ways to look at this. After considerable review, I think that both are true.

a) Paul is a genius, who at 72 can record with anyone he wants for his own enjoyment, to surprise his audience, and to confound his critics. By collaborating with such well known purveyors of pop and hip-hop, Paul is expanding his own boundaries.

b) Paul McCartney is one of our greatest living songwriters who continues to write, record, produce, and perform and does not need the validation or publicity to continue to seem relevant. This is rather sad.

*FourFiveSeconds was written by Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Kirby Lauryen, Mike Dean, Ty Dolla Sign, Dave Longstreth, Dallas Austin, Elon Rutberg, and Noah Goldstein.

Here is the Grammy performance:

Photos courtesy of Rihanna & Kanye West & Paul McCartney.

Bonus video: This is an excellent cover version of FourFiveSeconds by Jaime Wyatt.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bob Dylan's MusiCares 2015 Person of the Year Speech & All-Star Tribute Concert, I Love Love Love This Guy

I love love love this guy. Bob Dylan is arguably the best living song writer of our time. And as a musician, singer, and performer, he may be the most enigmatic. In his MusiCares 2015 Person of the Year speech Dylan is funny, he is angry, he is a musicologist, he is an icon, he is an iconoclast, and he should never, never, ever read his reviews. Dylan may be 73 years old, but he is as sharp, maybe even more sharp, than he has ever been, perhaps having the benefit of all his many years of experience; and it is quite amazing the way he seems to have total recall of so many aspects of music and the music industry.

After a star-studded tribute concert in which the likes of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Cheryl Crow, Jackson Browne, John Mellencamp, and Crosby, Stills and Nash sang the songs of Bob Dylan, Dylan took the stage for a few numbers of his own. This was followed by Dylan's speech, which ran about thirty minutes, and was funny, poignant, and angry, as you will see in the text below. The whole thing will be released soon on DVD and Blu-Ray, and I am highly interested to see Dylan's delivery of this speech. Other than spending an inordinate amount of time lambasting his critics, I found the most amazing part of the speech was when Dylan traced the lineage of a number of his most beloved songs.

This speech came as no surprise to me and I'll tell you why. From 2006-2009, Dylan hosted a weekly one hour radio show on SiriusXM Satellite Radio called Theme Time Radio Hour. He made 100 episodes. "Each episode was an eclectic, freeform mix of blues, folk, rockabilly, R&B, soul, bebop, rock-and-roll, country and pop music, centered on a theme such as "Weather," "Money," and "Flowers" with songs from artists as diverse as Patti Page and LL Cool J." (Wikipedia). When I first encountered the show via rebroadcast in 2013, I was initially put off by the seemingly strange sound of Dylan's voice and delivery. But, I kept listening and quickly grew to have an appreciation of what Dylan was doing. Sure, he no doubt had a staff researching and finding records to play, maybe even writing a script, but Dylan left no doubt that he was, and is, seriously into the music and all of its aspects. He is a musicologist if there ever was one.

Here is the complete text of Dylan's speech:
There are a few people we need to thank tonight for bringing about this grand event. Neil Portnow, Dana Tamarkin, Rob Light, Brian Greenbaum, Don Was. And I also want to thank President Carter for coming. It's been a long night, and I don’t want to talk too much, but I’ll say a few things.

I'm glad for my songs to be honored like this. But you know, they didn't get here by themselves. It's been a long road and it's taken a lot of doing. These songs of mine, I think of as mystery plays, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far. They were on the fringes then, and I think they're on the fringes now. And they sound like they've been traveling on hard ground.

I need to mention a few people along the way who brought this about. I know I should mention John Hammond, the great talent scout, who way back when brought me to Columbia Records. He signed me to that label when I was nobody. It took a lot of faith to do that, and he took a lot of ridicule, but he was his own man and he was courageous. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. The last person he discovered before me was Aretha Franklin, and before that Count Basie, Billie Holiday and a whole lot of other artists. All non-commercial artists. Trends did not interest John, and I was very noncommercial but he stayed with me. He believed in my talent and that's all that mattered. I can't thank him enough for that.

Lou Levy ran Leeds Music, and they published my earliest songs, but I didn't stay there too long. Levy himself, he went back a long ways. He signed me to that company and recorded my songs and I sang them into a tape recorder. He told me outright: there was no precedent for what I was doing, that I was either before my time or behind it. And if I brought him a song like "Stardust," he'd turn it down because it would be too late. He told me that if I was before my time – and he didn't really know that for sure – but if it was happening and if it was true, the public would usually take three to five years to catch up – so be prepared. And that did happen. The trouble was, when the public did catch up I was already three to five years beyond that, so it kind of complicated it. But he was encouraging, and he didn't judge me, and I'll always remember him for that.

Artie Mogull at Witmark Music signed me next to his company, and he told me to just keep writing songs no matter what, that I might be on to something. Well, he too stood behind me, and he could never wait to see what I'd give him next. I didn't even think of myself as a songwriter before then. I'll always be grateful for him also for that attitude.

Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Don Was

I also have to mention some of the early artists who recorded my songs very, very early, without having to be asked. Just something they felt about them that was right for them. I've got to say thank you to Peter, Paul and Mary, who I knew all separately before they ever became a group. I didn't even think of myself as writing songs for others to sing but it was starting to happen and it couldn't have happened to, or with, a better group. They took a song of mine that had been recorded before that was buried on one of my records and turned it into a hit song. Not the way I would have done it – they straightened it out. But since then, hundreds of people have recorded it and I don't think that would have happened if it wasn't for them. They definitely started something for me.

The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny & Cher – they made some of my songs Top 10 hits but I wasn't a pop songwriter and I really didn't want to be that, but it was good that it happened. Their versions of my songs were like commercials, but I didn't really mind that, because 50 years later, my songs were being used in the commercials. So that was good too. I was glad it happened, and I was glad they'd done it.

Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers – long before they were on Stax they were on Epic and they were one of my favorite groups of all time. I met them all in '62 or '63. They heard my songs live and Pervis wanted to record three or four of them and he did with the Staples Singers. They were the type of artists that I wanted recording my songs, if anybody was going to do it.

Nina Simone. I used to cross paths with her in New York City in the Village Gate nightclub. She was an artist I definitely looked up to. She recorded some of my songs that she learned directly from me, sitting in a dressing room. She was an overwhelming artist, piano player and singer. Very strong woman, very outspoken and dynamite to see perform. That she was recording my songs validated everything that I was about. Nina was the kind of artist that I loved and admired.

Oh, and can't forget Jimi Hendrix. I actually saw Jimi Hendrix perform when he was in a band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames – something like that. And Jimi didn't even sing. He was just the guitar player. After he became famous, he took some small songs of mine that nobody paid any attention to and pumped them up into the outer limits of the stratosphere and turned them all into classics. I have to thank Jimi, too. I wish he was here.

Bonnie Raitt

Johnny Cash recorded some of my songs early on, too, I met him in about '63, when he was all skin and bones. He traveled long. He traveled hard. But he was a hero of mine. I heard many of his songs growing up. I knew them better than I knew my own. "Big River," "I Walk the Line." "How High’s The Water, Mama?" I wrote "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" with that song reverberating inside my head. I still ask, "How high is the water, mama?"

Johnny was an intense character. And he saw that people were putting me down playing electric music, and he posted letters to magazines scolding people, telling them to shut up and let him sing. In Johnny Cash's world – hardcore Southern drama – that kind of thing didn't exist. Nobody told anybody what to sing or do. They just didn't do that kind of thing where he came from. I'm always going to thank him for that. Johnny Cash was a giant of a man; the Man in Black. And I'll always cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Joan Baez. She was the queen of folk music then and now. She took a liking to my songs and brought me with her to play concerts, where she had crowds of thousands of people enthralled with her beauty and voice. People would say, "What are you doing with that ragtag scrubby-looking waif?" And she'd tell everybody in no uncertain terms, "Now you better be quiet and listen to the songs." We even played a few of them together. Joan Baez is as tough-minded as they come. Loyal, free minded and fiercely independent. Nobody can tell her what to do if she doesn't want to do it. I learned a lot of things from her. A woman of devastating honesty. And for her kind of love and devotion, I could never pay that back.

These songs didn't come out of thin air. I didn't just make them up out of whole cloth. Contrary to what Lou Levy said, there was a precedent. It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock & roll and traditional big-band swing orchestra music.

I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them, back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that's fair game, that everything belongs to everyone. For three or four years, all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I'd heard it just once.

Sheryl Crow

If you sang "John Henry" as many times as me – "John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain't nothin' but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I'll die with that hammer in my hand." If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you'd have written "How many roads must a man walk down?" too.

Big Bill Broonzy had a song called "Key to the Highway." "I've got a key to the highway / I'm booked and I'm bound to go / Gonna leave here runnin' because walking is most too slow." I sang that a lot. If you sing that a lot, you just might write,

Georgia Sam he had a bloody nose
Welfare Department they wouldn’t give him no clothes
He asked poor Howard where can I go
Howard said there’s only one place I know
Sam said tell me quick man I got to run
Howard just pointed with his gun
And said that way down on Highway 61

You'd have written that too if you'd sang "Key to the Highway" as much as me.

"Ain't no use sit 'n cry / You'll be an angel by and by / Sail away, ladies, sail away." "I'm sailing away my own true love." "Boots of Spanish Leather" – Sheryl Crow just sung that.

"Roll the cotton down, aw, yeah, roll the cotton down / Ten dollars a day is a white man's pay / Roll the cotton down/A dollar a day is the black man's pay / Roll the cotton down." If you sang that song as many times as me, you'd be writing "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more," too. If you’d had listened to the Robert Johnston singing, "Better come in my kitchen, 'cause it's gonna be raining out doors," as many time as I listened to it, sometime later you just might write, "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."

Crosby, Stills, & Nash

I sang a lot of "come all you" songs. There's plenty of them. There's way too many to be counted. "Come along boys and listen to my tale / Tell you of my troubles on the old Chisholm Trail." Or, "Come all ye good people, listen while I tell / the fate of Floyd Collins, a lad we all know well.”

"Come all ye fair and tender ladies / Take warning how you court your men / They're like a star on a summer morning / They first appear and then they're gone again." And then there’s this one, "Gather 'round, people / A story I will tell / 'Bout Pretty Boy Floyd, the outlaw / Oklahoma knew him well."

If you sung all these "come all ye" songs all the time like I did, you'd be writing, "Come gather 'round people where ever you roam, admit that the waters around you have grown / Accept that soon you'll be drenched to the bone / If your time to you is worth saving / And you better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone / The times they are a-changing."

You'd have written that too. There's nothing secret about it. You just do it subliminally and unconsciously, because that's all enough, and that's all you know. That was all that was dear to me. They were the only kinds of songs that made sense. "When you go down to Deep Ellum keep your money in your socks / Women on Deep Ellum put you on the rocks." Sing that song for a while and you just might come up with, "When you're lost in the rain in Juarez and it's Easter time too / And your gravity’s down and negativity don't pull you through / Don’t put on any airs / When you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue / They got some hungry women there / And they really make a mess outta you."

All these songs are connected. Don't be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It's just different, saying the same thing. I didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary. Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn't know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway.

Jackson Browne

Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn't think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down and you’ve just got to bear it. In a sense everything evened itself out.

Leiber and Stoller didn’t think much of my songs. They didn't like 'em, but Doc Pomus did. That was all right that they didn't like 'em, because I never liked their songs either. "Yakety yak, don't talk back." "Charlie Brown is a clown," "Baby I'm a hog for you." Novelty songs, not serious. Doc's songs, they were better. "This Magic Moment." "Lonely Avenue." “Save the Last Dance for Me.” Those songs broke my heart. I figured I'd rather have his blessings any day than theirs.

Ahmet Ertegun didn't think much of my songs, but Sam Phillips did. Ahmet founded Atlantic Records. He produced some great records: Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, LaVerne Baker, just to name a few. There were some great records in there, no doubt about it. But Sam Phillips, he recorded Elvis and Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

Radical artists that shook the very essence of humanity. Revolutionaries with vision and foresight. Fearless and sensitive at the same time. Revolution in style and scope. Radical to the bone. Songs that cut you to the bone. Renegades in all degrees, doing songs that would never decay, and still resound to this day. Oh, yeah, I'd rather have Sam Phillips' blessing any day.

Merle Haggard didn't think much of my songs, but Buck Owens did, and Buck even recorded some of my early songs. Now I admire Merle – "Mama Tried," "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down," "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive." I understand all that but I can't imagine Waylon Jennings singing "The Bottle Let Me Down." I love Merle but he’s not Buck. Buck Owens wrote "Together Again" and that song trumps anything that ever came out of Bakersfield. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? If you have to have somebody's blessing – you figure it out. What I’m saying here is that my songs seem to divide people. Even people in the music community.

John Mellencamp

People in the critical world too. Critics have always been on my tail since day one. Seems like they’ve always given me special treatment. Some of the music critics say I can't sing. I croak. Sound like a frog. Why don't these same critics say similar things about Tom Waits? They say my voice is shot. That I have no voice. Why don't they say those things about Leonard Cohen? Why do I get special treatment? Critics say I can't carry a tune and I talk my way through a song. Really? I've never heard that said about Lou Reed. Why does he get to go scot-free? What have I done to deserve this special treatment? Why me, Lord?

No vocal range? When's the last time you've read that about Dr. John? You've never read that about Dr John. Why don't they say that about him? Slur my words, got no diction. You have to wonder if these critics have ever heard Charley Patton or Son House or Wolf. Talk about slurred words and no diction. Why don’t they say those same things about them?

"Why me, Lord?"

Critics say I mangle my melodies, render my songs unrecognizable. Oh, really? Let me tell you something. I was at a boxing match a few years ago seeing Floyd Mayweather fight a Puerto Rican guy. And the Puerto Rican national anthem, somebody sang it and it was beautiful. It was heartfelt and it was moving. After that it was time for our national anthem. And a very popular soul-singing sister was chosen to sing. She sang every note that exists, and some that don't exist. Talk about mangling a melody. You take a one-syllable word and make it last for 15 minutes? She was doing vocal gymnastics like she was a trapeze act. But to me it was not funny.

Where were the critics? Mangling lyrics? Mangling a melody? Mangling a treasured song? No, I get the blame. But I don't really think I do that. I just think critics say I do.

Sam Cooke said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, "Well that's very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth." Think about that the next time you are listening to a singer.

Bruce Springsteen

Times always change. They really do. And you have to always be ready for something that's coming along and you never expected it. Way back when, I was in Nashville making some records and I read this article, a Tom T. Hall interview. Tom T. Hall, he was bitching about some kind of new song, and he couldn't understand what these new kinds of songs that were coming in were about.

Now Tom, he was one of the most preeminent songwriters of the time in Nashville. A lot of people were recording his songs and he himself even did it. But he was all in a fuss about James Taylor, a song James had called "Country Road." Tom was going off in this interview — "But James don't say nothing about a country road. He's just says how you can feel it on the country road. I don't understand that." Now some might say Tom is a great songwriter. I'm not going to doubt that. At the time he was doing this interview, I was actually listening to a song of his on the radio.

It was called "I Love." I was listening to it in a recording studio, and he was talking about all the things he loves, an everyman kind of song, trying to connect with people. Trying to make you think that he's just like you and you're just like him. We all love the same things, and we're all in this together. Tom loves little baby ducks, slow-moving trains and rain. He loves old pickup trucks and little country streams. Sleep without dreams. Bourbon in a glass. Coffee in a cup. Tomatoes on the vine, and onions.

Now listen, I'm not ever going to disparage another songwriter. I'm not going to do that. I'm not saying it's a bad song. I'm just saying it might be a little overcooked. But, you know, it was in the top 10 anyway. Tom and a few other writers had the whole Nashville scene sewed up in a box. If you wanted to record a song and get it in the top 10 you had to go to them, and Tom was one of the top guys. They were all very comfortable, doing their thing.

This was about the time that Willie Nelson picked up and moved to Texas. About the same time. He's still in Texas. Everything was very copacetic. Everything was all right until – until – Kristofferson came to town. Oh, they ain't seen anybody like him. He came into town like a wildcat that he was, flew a helicopter into Johnny Cash's backyard, not your typical songwriter. And he went for the throat. "Sunday Morning Coming Down."

Norah Jones

Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad
So I had one more for dessert
Then I fumbled through my closet
Found my cleanest dirty shirt
Then I washed my face and combed my hair
And stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.

You can look at Nashville pre-Kris and post-Kris, because he changed everything. That one song blew ol' Tom T. Hall's world apart. He couldn't see it coming. It might have sent him to the mad house. God forbid he ever heard any of my songs.

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
You say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you're gonna say
When you get home
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

If "Sunday Morning Coming Down" rattled Tom's cage, sent him into the loony bin, my song surely would have made him blow his brains out, right there in the loony bin. Hopefully he didn't hear it.

I just released an album of standards, all the songs usually done by Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., maybe Brian Wilson's done a couple, Linda Ronstadt done 'em. Rod [Stewart] of course, even Paul [McCartney] has done some of this kind of material. But the reviews of their records aren't like mine. In their reviews no one says anything. In my reviews, they've got to look under every stone and report about it. In the review they get, you seldom see any of the songwriters' names. Unlike mine. They've got to mention all the songwriters' names.

Tom Jones

Well that's OK with me. After all, they're great songwriters and these are standards. I've seen the reviews come in, and they'll mention all the songwriters in half the review, as if everybody knows them. Nobody's heard of them, not in this time, anyway. Buddy Kaye, Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh, to name a few.

But, you know, I'm glad they mention their names, and you know what? I'm glad they got their names in the press. It might have taken some time to do it, but they're finally there with importance and dignity. I can only wonder why it took so long. My only regret is that they're not here to see it.

Traditional rock & roll, we're talking about that. It's all about rhythm. Johnny Cash said it best: "Get rhythm. Get rhythm when you get the blues." Very few rock & roll bands today play with rhythm. They don't know what it is. Rock & roll is a combination of blues, and it's a strange thing made up of two parts. A lot of people don't know this, but the blues, which is an American music, is not what you think it is. It's a combination of Arabic violins and Strauss waltzes working it out. But it's true.

The other half of rock & roll has got to be hillbilly. And that's a derogatory term, but it ought not to be. That's a term that includes the Delmore Bros., Stanley Bros., Roscoe Holcomb, Git Tanner and the Skillet Lickers... groups like that. Moonshine gone berserk. Fast cars on dirt roads. That's the kind of combination that makes up rock & roll, and it can't be cooked up in a science laboratory or a studio.

You have to have the right kind of rhythm to play this kind of music. If you can't hardly play the blues, and you don’t have the hillbilly feeling, you’re not really playing rock & roll. It might be something else, but it’s not that. You can fake it, but you can't make it.

Willie Nelson

Critics have said that I've made a career out of confounding expectations. Really? Because that's all I do? That's how I think about it. Confounding expectations. Like I stay up late at night thinking about how to do it. "What do you do for a living, man?" "Oh, I confound expectations." You're going to get a job, the man says, "What do you do?" "Oh, confound expectations. And the man says, "Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don't call us, we'll call you." Confounding expectations. I don't even know what that means or who has time for it.

The Blackwood Bros. have been talking to me about making a record together. That might confound expectations, but it shouldn't. Of course it would be a gospel album. I don't think it would be anything out of the ordinary for me. Not a bit. One of the songs I'm thinking about singing is "Stand By Me" with the Blackwood Brothers. Not "Stand By Me" the pop song. No. The real "Stand By Me."

The real one goes like this:

When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the storm of life is raging / Stand by me / When the world is tossing me / Like a ship upon the sea / Thou who rulest wind and water / Stand by me

In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / In the midst of tribulation / Stand by me / When the hosts of hell assail / And my strength begins to fail / Thou whomever lost a battle / Stand by me

In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / In the midst of faults and failures / Stand by me / When I do the best I can / And my friends don't understand/ Thou who knowest all about me / Stand by me

That's the song. I like it better than the pop song. If I record one by that name, that's going to be the one. I'm also thinking of recording a song, not for that album, though – a song called "Oh Lord, Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." But I don’t know, it might be good on the gospel album too.

Neil Young

Anyway, I'm proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I'm honored to have all these artists singing my songs. There's nothing like that. Great artists. Who all know how to sing the truth, and you can hear it in their voices. I'm proud to be here tonight for MusiCares. I think a lot of this organization. They've helped many people. Many musicians who have contributed a lot to our culture. I'd like to personally thank them for what they did for a friend of mine, Billy Lee Riley. A friend of mine who they helped for six years when he was down and couldn't work. Billy was a Sun rock & roll artist.

He was a true original. He did it all; played, sang and wrote. He would have been a bigger star but Jerry Lee came along. And you know what happens when someone like that comes along. You kind of have to take a step back. You just don't stand a chance.

So Billy became what is known in the industry – a condescending term, by the way – as a one-hit wonder. But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who's got 20 or 30 hits behind him.

And Billy's hit song was called "Red Hot," and it was red hot. It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life. He did it with power and style and grace. You won't find him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's not there. Metallica is. Abba is. Mamas and the Papas – I know they're in there. Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan – I've got nothing against Metal, Soft Rock, Hard Rock, Psychedelic Pop. I got nothing against any of that stuff. But after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Lee Riley is not there. Yet. And it's taking too long.

I'd see him a couple times a year and we'd always spent time together and he was on a rockabilly festival nostalgia circuit, and we'd cross paths now and again. We'd always spend time together. He was a hero of mine. I'd heard "Red Hot." I must have been only 15 or 16 when I did and it's impressed me to this day. I never grow tired of listening to it. Never got tired of watching Billy Lee perform, either. We spent time together just talking and playing into the night. He was a deep, truthful man. He wasn't bitter or nostalgic. He just accepted it. He knew where he had come from and he was content with who he was.

Photos courtesy of MusiCares/Grammy Foundation

And then one day he got sick. And like my friend John Mellencamp would sing – because John sang some truth today – one day you get sick and you don't get better. That's from a song of his called "Life is Short Even on Its Longest Days." It's one of the better songs of the last few years, actually. I ain't lying. And I ain't lying when I tell you that MusiCares paid for my friend's doctor bills, mortgage and gave him spending money. They were able to at least make his life comfortable, tolerable to the end. That is something that can't be repaid. Any organization that would do that would have to have my blessing.

I'm going to get out of here now. I'm going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. I probably left out a lot of people and said too much about some. But that's OK. Like the spiritual song, 'I'm still just crossing over Jordan too.' Let's hope we meet again. Sometime. And we will, if, like Hank Williams says, "the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise."

Copyright 2015 Bob Dylan

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Diana Krall - Wallflower (2015), Pure Pop Perfection on Her Twelfth Album

Diana Krall's new album, Wallflower (her twelfth), out today, is a collection of well-loved pop songs mostly from the seventies. Diana says, “A lot of the songs on Wallflower are ones I grew up loving on the radio and on vinyl, songs I heard at home. These are songs I’ve been singing to myself for years. I just needed the lyric sheet to make sure I wasn’t singing the wrong words all this time. I got the 45 for “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc. I listened to Bryan Adams all the time. My parents and I both loved Linda Ronstadt, who was my inspiration to sing ‘Desperado.’ I even had a Peter Frampton poster on the wall. I was just a typical teenager hanging out with friends, not just listening to jazz."

1. California Dreamin' - "California Dreamin'" was written by John and Michelle Phillips and released by the Mamas & Papas in 1965. In this lush sounding update, Graham Nash adds backing vocals. The song starts out kind of dreamy and dramatic, but when the band kicks in there is an inexplicable laser beat that sounds like a drum machine. We know that it can't possibly be a drum machine, producer David Foster would never use a drum machine, right? I just listened to it again and damn, it sure sounds like a drum machine. This isn't so much a cover version as it is an interpretation, and on that level it succeeds nicely.

2. Desperado - "Desperado" (Glenn Frey and Don Henley) is the title track of the Eagles 1972 album. This song has a beautiful arrangement of piano, vocal, and strings. This is a cover of Linda Ronstadt's cover of this achingly beautiful song. It sounds every bit as good today as it did forty years ago.

3. Superstar - The 1971 hit by The Carpenters was written in 1969 by Bonnie Bramlett, Leon Russell, and Delaney Bramlett and was called "Groupie (Superstar)" in its original release by Delaney and Bonnie. Although I consider Karen Carpenter's voice to be the end all and be all of pop music, Diana's version is a stunningly beautiful mix of just voice and strings; a slower and more adult lament. Diana's "Superstar" is different from, but totally holds its own as compared to The Carpenters'.

4. Alone Again (Naturally) - If you hated the Gilbert O'Sullivan original, which was inescapable in 1972, you are in for a treat. O'Sullivan's sing-songy, almost happy-go-lucky sounding vocal belied the serious nature of the lyric; the singer threatens suicide after being left at the alter, and that's just in the first verse. Diana's brilliant duet with Michael Bublé plumbs the richness of the many emotions in this song. The arrangement and construction of the duet show off the expertise of producer Foster; she's sings a verse, he sings a verse, they sing a section together, then they go back and forth all topped off by a tasty guitar solo.

5. Wallflower - Written by Bob Dylan in 1971 for, but not included on, the Self-Portrait album, "Wallflower" is the first unfamiliar song on the record. It has it all; poignant emotional lyrics, beautiful vocal by Diana, excellent band with guest guitarist Blake Mills, and strings deftly applied by Foster, showing why he's the master of this kind of material.

6. If I Take You Home Tonight - This is another major winner. "If I Take You Home Tonight" is an unreleased Paul McCartney song, written for his Kisses on the Bottom album but not used. Diana explained on NPR that she worked with McCartney on that album, loved the song, and when he didn't use it she got up the courage to ask if she could record it. This is the happy result.

7. I Can't Tell You Why - I've always loved this Timothy B. Schmit song from the Eagles' 1979 album, The Long Run (Schmit, Frey, and Henley). Diana apparently does too, and she applies a little bossa nova flavor as she turns in possibly the most expressive vocal performance of her career. Foster also shows off a bit by placing some agreeable background vocal choruses during Diana's piano solo.

8. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word - Diana doesn't stray far from the Elton John original (1976). As with the last track, Diana sings her heart out on this, one of John and Taupin's most serious and emotional songs. "My biggest influence beside Oscar Peterson is Elton John,” Diana says. “I have a picture somewhere of Christmas morning when Elton John's Blue Moves album came out. I wanted that album so badly. The photo is of me when I was 16 with my mom and my dad holding that album. I used to listen to it downstairs on my record player. I had a Rhodes down there so I could play along. Over the years Elton has become like family. A while back we sang ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ together on my husband Elvis Costello’s TV show Spectacle. So many Elton songs mean so much to me but that one in particular is special."

9. Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels) - Jim Croce had a string of hits during the seventies, great songs all, but "Operator" (1972) is an interesting choice. A gem of a song, Diana once again slows it down a tad and reveals the bittersweet tone of the lyrics, something that was easy to miss in Croce's breezy hit version. Foster again applies his producer magic, the first verse with just voice, piano, and a touch of strings. Then the band kicks in, minimally, with just bass, drums, and some tasteful guitar.

10. I'm Not In Love - 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" (Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, 1975) had a lovely melody and some production firepower all it's own. I don't think I've ever heard a cover, but "I'm Not In Love" is ripe for a version like this. It begins as almost a lounge arrangement, then Foster works his production wizardry resulting in a gorgeous setting in which Diana revels in the delicious combination of melody and a lyric that says one thing but means the opposite.

11. Feels Like Home - This 1995 composition by Randy Newman gets an affectionate duet treatment, Diana singing with Bryan Adams. The setting is delightfully spare (basically voices and piano for most of the song) then when the band comes in for the final verse Foster's light hand on the production makes for a perfectly pretty song. I've read that Newman intended the lyrics to be sarcastic, but Diana leaves the sarcasm out and you won't hear a lovelier love song than this rendition of "Feels Like Home".

12. Don't Dream It's Over - Crowded House's biggest hit "Don't Dream It's Over" came from their debut album in 1986, and it makes for the perfect conclusion to Wallflower. Diana totally nails the vocal, which is set in an appropriately powerful production of band and strings, which at the height of the track melt away to just voice and piano for the finish. "Recalling Neil Finn’s 'Don’t Dream It’s Over'," Diana remembers “lying on my floor when I had a little tiny apartment in Pasadena, California, listening to that song over and over. I just loved it. That song has been going around in my head since I was about 22 and I really wanted to get it right. The lyrics still feel just right for the world today.”

If it seems like I am getting more and more impressed by this record with each successive track, it's true, I am. The song selection is impeccable; older audiences will delight in hearing these great songs again, younger audiences may be in the enviable position of discovering this wonderful music for the first time. I have long enjoyed Diana's work, especially her treatment of Nat King Cole and Oscar Peterson, but with Wallflower she offers what I think are the most expressive and excellent vocals in her career to date. Listening to the album as a whole, there is a tinge of sadness to many of the songs primarily exposed by Diana's exploring the full range of emotions contained in the lyrics, as well as her choice of songs. This album is a creative triumph both for her and producer David Foster; no less than pure pop perfection.

“I have to give a lot of the credit for this album to David,” Diana says. “He’s always said, 'Let’s work together’ and finally the timing was right. I was ready to work with David and let him do what he does best. He did all of the arrangements and played a lot of the piano. He blew me away. I always knew David was good but I gained an even further appreciation for his talents as a producer and as a musician.”

That feeling proved to be extremely mutual. “Working with Diana was fantastic,” says Foster. “I always wondered what it would be like working together. I never thought this would happen because I live in this `pop’ world and Diana lives in this `jazz’ world— or at least that’s how it’s perceived. But one of the many great things about Diana, after knowing her for 25 years, is that she’s truly an outstanding pop singer. Her ability to cross over into pop was a fabulous discovery for me. I’m sure Diana secretly knew about it all along. She tends to be way ahead of the rest of us.” (Quotes courtesy of Verve Records)

Note: Amazon has an exclusive deluxe edition of Wallflower that adds four tracks, "In My Life" and "Yeh Yeh" [feat. Georgie Fame], plus two live tracks.

Wallflower (Amazon Deluxe Exclusive)

Photos courtesy of Diana Krall

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