"...been wadin' through the high muddy water"
Flash Reviews by Kevin Harvey
First Salvoes From The Sidelines
Perennial Brian Wilson, Approximate Bob Dylan, Just Neil Young and Frozen Clapton
Reviews have become unwieldy. There is too much out there to consider and too little time to read about it. Still, some points need to be made. Here, then, the first salvoes from the inundated sidelines.
Brian Wilson, rock’s fragile uncle, has been making music that no one listens to and it’s a shame. That Lucky Old Sun sounded at first like a collection of advertising jingles; but, given a chance, it grows on a listener. Getting In Over My Head was overproduced and often jarring but it too has its moments. SMILE was better in its pre-breakdown fragments than as the freeze-dried paperweight that finally came out. Which brings us to Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin. It’s ok, but it’s a bit too respectful. Only on They Can’t Take That Away From Me does Brian turn Gershwin’s stuff into something that might have been on an old Beach Boy album. But I could be wrong. Hearing Brian Wilson sing: I Loves You Porgy is a gender bender worth the price of admission. And it plays well when you’re stuck in traffic.
Sean Wilentz has written a book about Bob Dylan. Mr. Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton. (His dad was co-owner of one of NYC’s three greatest bookstores; the other two being the Gotham Book Mart and The Strand. I still have an old Wilentz’ s bag in my bag collection.) Mr. Wilentz is a real historian and this proves to be a good thing: He begins his book with an exceptional chapter on Aaron Copland and follows it with the best chapter ever written on Dylan’s relationship with the Allen Ginsberg. (Trust me: I’ve read all of them and this forces me to make a another comment: Greil Marcus is a phony. He’s the bright but insecure kid who tries desperately to prove that he’s the shiniest apple in the room. Mr. Marcus does this by mutating Norman Mailer’s style and point of departure into something that we are supposed to think is original. This often results in silly stuff like long essays on Bill Pullman’s face.) Anyway, Mr. Wilents goes on to write detailed chapters on the real life stories that inspired such songs as Delia and Stagger Lee. Here he is in the company of the never phony Peter Guralnick whose Elvis bio should be in every American home, but that’s another story. Mr. Wilentz is so decent a fellow that he is actually kind to Bob’s Christmas album, which makes me glad that we are nearing that time of year when we can play it without fearing arrest. So if you have space in your minds and hearts for another book on BOB, this is the one.
Neil Young has made a short, jarring record with the always mannered Daniel Lanois. Most everything that Lanois touches sounds great at first but fades, finally, into moody trickery. It’s too early to tell if Neil’s recording will survive him. Right now, I think it will.
Eric Clapton has made a record of frozen covers no one cares about; taken in small dosages over a painful commute, it isn’t too bad. It just isn’t very interesting. Eric looks great on the cover though, sort of like a Puritan elder. (I think it has some of that JJ Cale stuff that only Eric loves on it, but its hard to tell.) Right now, I’d predict that very few people will be listening to it on long commutes: there’s nothing on it as odd as Brian Wilson singing I Loves You, Porgy.
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