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Monday, Dec 13, 2010
Bob Dylan - The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 -Columbia/Legacy [$18.98]

In all his various iterations—from folk troubadour to sunglass-clad, plugged-in contrarian to born-again Christian rocker to bluesy, plainspoken elder statesman—Bob Dylan’s artistic persona has always come across as one of clear vision. There’s no waffling in the moment, no tiny cracks of indecision or reticence. Bob Dylan picks his path—often blazing it for others to follow behind—and he doesn’t look back.


The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964, however, show us a new side to Dylan. They show us the Dylan who is just starting out, frantically writing songs, but still feeling for his own ground. At times, he’s as in command as ever, and in others, he feels a little green still, a little untested. Part of this comes from the fact that Dylan was a gamble for Columbia Records. Most of the Greenwich Village folk crowd ended up on smaller labels, like Folkways, and targeted smaller crowds. Dylan, though, was getting coverage in the Times as early as 1961, and John Hammond over at Columbia took a flier on him.


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Friday, Dec 18, 2009
Various Artists: Legends of Benin - Analog Africa [$25.98]

At the heart of Legends of Benin lies the spiral, the curve, the unfinished circle that leads to its replica. The silence at the start of the album is broken by the sound of a drumbeat, but this forward movement is eventually joined by a guitar, which introduces the spiral, and that’s that for the rest of the album—the spiral is there. Percussion shuffles; men shout, “yow!”; keyboards sprout rills of ice; horns proudly serenade singers; but through it all, this insidious curving tickle of noise goes on, always proposing an end and never reaching it. This sets it apart from the guitar chords of rock music, all beginnings and endings, stamping on the stage with one foot and declaring, “I’m here!” The West African guitar fills the middle ground of the song, and there’s nothing the other instruments can do to get away from it. The whole sound, spiral and everything else, comes together in a fat stew, stirring round and round and rising up and up.


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Friday, Dec 18, 2009
Ray Charles: Genius The Ultimate Collection - Concord [$18.98]

In 1959, Ray Charles released The Genius of Ray Charles, still considered one of his finest albums. Now, 50 years, hundreds of accolades, awards, hits, and a motion picture later, Ray Charles is again putting out a new album, albeit a compilation. And the genius that was back in 1959 seems to resonate just as much now. Part of Charles’ appeal was the fact that when asked what kind of music Charles made, critics couldn’t simply toss out one genre or niche that thousands of cookie-cutting artists fall into so easily. Country? Yes. Blues? Definitely. Rock? Yes. Gospel? That too. Soul? Without question. Just listening to the opening track off this 21-track collection, “Hit the Road Jack”, symbolizes how versatile Charles was. Part jazz, part swing, and completely solid, the tune shines despite being all of 119 seconds. This compilation should be in your emergency gift stash to pull from when you forgot someone – anyone, on or off your list, will love this album


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Thursday, Dec 17, 2009
Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song - Capitol [$18.98]

The best way to get into the holiday spirit is by listening to some classic Christmas songs, and I’m not talking about that schmaltz that’s piped in over loud speakers at some overcrowded, overheated and overstocked department store. This collection of Christmas songs is the perfect mood setter with classics such as “Deck the Hall”, “O Holy Night” and “Joy to the World”. The honey-voiced crooner, Nat King Cole, remastered here for ultimate sonic smoothness, can make anyone feel that this really is the most wonderful time of the year.


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Wednesday, Dec 16, 2009
Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 Rare and unreleased 1989-2006 - Sony [$11.49]

Since 1997’s Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan has benefited from increased exposure. 2001’s Love and Theft and 2006’s Modern Times both sold big, there’s a new installment of his groundbreaking Bootleg Series every couple years, and Dylan has contributed new recordings to a number of tribute albums and film soundtracks (“Things Have Changed”, from 2000’s Wonder Boys, won an Academy Award). The sales figures and consistently high quality of his work over the past decade have led critics to rightly declare that Dylan is undergoing a late-career renaissance. All the while, he’s been touring and occasionally shining onstage. And yet The Bootleg Series, other than the original box set, hasn’t acknowledged the fact that, yes, the man’s career has extended past 1975. Until now. Dylan (or his people, or Columbia) decided now would be a good time to dip into the more recent vaults and right that wrong, and Tell Tale Signs is what they came up with. It’s a 27-track collection of studio and live material dating back to 1989, with the bulk of the studio numbers coming from the Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind sessions. The two-disc set comes with a 64-page booklet and liner notes by Larry “Ratso” Sloman, author of On the Road with Bob Dylan, a chronicle of the first Rolling Thunder Revue. As in past Bootleg Series sets, the notes put the contents of the package in the context of Dylan’s career while also discussing the music, and the circumstances of its creation, in detail. This is the collection to complete the Dylan fan’s Dylan collection.


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