Sounds of Music

Songbook: Seven Curses

Back to Dylan Time! Which should be all the time, basically.

“Seven Curses” by Bob Dylan

Album: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1

Year: 1963

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
It’s such a simple song, a true illustration of Dylan’s folk roots (I’d argue it’s truer than his protest songs even): with no ornamentation and a very simple, very stark story it raises Dylan’s vision of the Wild West to a mythical realm. And my personal favorite thing about Dylan’s songwriting is how he can tell a story: an actual story with characters, a plot and a resolution. Also, thank heavens they published it on the Bootleg Series because it’s such a loss it was never released on an album.

Favorite lyrics:
I like the simplicity as in a real folk ballad and the vengeful numbers game at the end. I’m not sure if I have a favorite line though, it’s such a consistent text.

Favorite moment:
I like the moment when the narrative changes once the judge has lied.

Best for: It’s a decent sing-along and it could make a decent movie.

Listen here.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: Iowa

I’m not sure I understand every single word of this song – though most of it is straightforward enough – but it speaks to me on this sub-intellectual level which makes me uncomfortable with poetry.

“Iowa” by Dar Williams

Album: Mortal City

Year: 1996

Category: Recent acquisitions

Why it rocks:
It creates its own gentle, hypnotic space that lulls me into wonderment, and teaches me about some emotions I’ve never really wanted to experience too much.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“Her husband had just left her, / She sat down on the chair he left behind, she said, / ‘What is love, where did it get me? / Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine'” for this moment of slice-of-life observation.
And for different reasons: “But way back where I come from, / We never mean to bother, / We don’t like to make our passions other people’s concern.”

Favorite moment:
The ending of the last verse.

Best for: The kind of love affairs that end up in broken hearts.

Listen here.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

Miley Cyrus is such a wasted potential of our times. If you know her regular music and if you heard her “Backyard Sessions,” you know what I mean. She’s incredible with those folk covers and I’m not ashamed to admit I love her (in them). This one is another of those folk songs for charity, her cover of a Dylan.

“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” by Miley Cyrus

Album: Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International

Year: 2012

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
It’s a sweet song and I like the original fine. But Miley’s version is just so much more relaxed and the guitar doesn’t seem to run against the tone of the song. She’s so lyrical and effortless here.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“I’ve only known careless love / It’s always hit me from below. /This time around it’s more correct, / Right on target, so direct.”

Favorite moment:
The prolonged “realize the time” in “I could stay with you forever and never realize the time.” And the whole part with crickets.

Best for: St. Valentine’s Day.

Listen here.

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Sounds of Music

Christmas Songbook: Silver Bells

So in 2009 Dylan recorded a Christmas album and everyone’s (who cared) jaws dropped open. But it was really such a Dylan thing to do. Me, I was always happy he did that because what’s better than two things you like separately? Two of them combined. (Somebody needs to come up with chocolate flavored comic books.)

“Silver Bells” by Bob Dylan

Album: Christmas in the Heart

Year: 2009

Category: Christmas playlist

Why it rocks:
I love getting ready for Christmas: shopping, cleaning, worrying about who to invite, you name it, I don’t mind. And this is a song which captures so well the feeling of Christmas in the city, rather than in some imaginary idyllic cottage in snow-covered woods. It’s an idyllic city though: it makes this time sound restful rather than full of berserk last-minute shoppers who curse one another in the mall parking lot.
And Dylan’s rendition makes the song sillier and more fun in the “anyone can sing” spirit. As someone who’s always the worst caroller, no matter what group I’m in, I really appreciate that.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
“Strings of street lights, even stop lights / Blinkin’ bright red and green / As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.” So visual.

Favorite moment:
Just the carelessness of his voice throughout.

Best for: A restful cup of cocoa after a whole day of frantic pre-Christmas pushing through a crowd of shoppers with their treasures.

Sidenote: I can only talk about a small selection of my Christmas favorites but “Must Be Santa” is totally on the playlist too.

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Sounds of Music

Christmas Songbook: Blue Christmas

To celebrate Christmas, which is my favorite holiday bar none and I’m not ashamed to admit it, all December songbook posts will focus on, well, Christmas. Here’s a classic rendered newer:

“Blue Christmas” by the Lumineers

Album: Blue Christmas (single)

Year: 2016

Category: Christmas playlist

Why it rocks:
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Elvis version. It’s been on my Christmas playlist forever, together with a ton of other Elvis songs. But I really like the way the Lumineers do covers and this one particularly. The way he seems to force those words out talks about more heartbreak than Elvis ever intended for this song and the simple arrangement underlines the truth of the voice. It also does justice to the pretty, pretty melody of the song.

Favorite lyrics:
I like how “blue snowflakes” turn into “blue heartaches.” It makes no sense but is true to the character of the cover.

Favorite moment:
His voice on “you’ll be doooooing alright.”

Best for: Dropping exhausted after a whole day of pre-Christmas cleaning. But the closer you get to actual Christmas, the more you should switch to Elvis’ version.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: To Ramona

It’s Dylan Time. I promised you we’ll be revisiting him regularly and here we go again, also continuing the unnecessarily personal Songbook posts. This is one of my favorites, not a funny little thing to admire the dry humor of his observations but one of those songs that are there for you when you need them.

“To Ramona” by Bob Dylan

Album: Another Side of Bob Dylan

Year: 1964

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
Maybe it’s the triple meter but this song rocks me like a lullaby in its simplicity and numbs existential anxiety (while also making me a little sad). This is not the most profound of Dylan’s songs but maybe the (relative) directness makes so many lines come to me so often and it has a certain spirituality to it. His voice has that intimate quality I love.

Favorite lyrics:
“And there’s no use in tryin’ / To deal with the dyin’ / Though I cannot explain that in lines” I find the strongest, of course, but it’s “Everything passes / Everything changes / Just do what you think you should do” that I usually remember.

Favorite moment:
I love the swaying rhythm introduced in the first line.

Best for: This time more seriously, this song helped me a few times in moments of pain so I say it’s best for when you need a bit of existential wisdom.

Sidenote: If R didn’t hate the name and if had a daughter, I think I’d call her Ramona because of this song.

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Sounds of Music

Songbook: New Lover

This is another light song with somewhat heavy lyrics. And despite its theme it always makes me smile.

“New Lover” by Josh Ritter

Album: The Beast in Its Tracks

Year: 2013

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
Supposedly it’s a song about Ritter’s divorce, which I don’t know if it’s true. But it is an extremely observant, self-aware song about heartbreak, which manages to still be funny in a dark way. I like the constant tug-of-war between the insincere good wishes towards the ex and the much truer bitterness of someone who got hurt. If you ever tried to be a bigger person and didn’t exactly succeed (not necessarily only in romantic situations), so many things will ring true here. This is a song that relies heavily on the words but the music is there to back them up and build the emotional tension between breezy and serious.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
This song has so many smart moments. Take “I feel low and mean / For accusing you of stealing / What I offered you for free” and the mischievous “Praise the fonder that still grows / On the absent heart in fields.” But I like the simple irony of this bit the most: “I got a new lover now / I know that she’s not mine […] / And she only looks like you / When she’s in a certain light.”

Favorite moment:
Possibly the fragment with “As you go from room to room / Dropping handkerchiefs and daggers / Smoking guns and other clues” (which is another great couple of lines, too).

Best for: Thinking of old, failed relationships that you no longer care about.

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