The opening cut on Dion’s new album, The Son of Skip James, is a Chuck Berry tune called “Nadine.” Dion sounds just like Levon Helm from The Band. Sadly, Levon had throat surgery a few years ago and can no longer sing. Comparing Dion to Levon is comparing the child to the father. But what strikes me is that if this album was under Levon Helm’s name there would be a totally different buzz around it. WYEP, the listener supported adult contemporary music station I listen to at work, would be playing a Levon Helm album non-stop. The Dylan connection. Right. Dion influenced Dylan.
Since the Dion album hasn’t been officially released yet, I’m not going to speculate that radio stations won’t play it. I am going to pitch some ideas to WYEP. Maybe they’ll let me write something for their web-site. It just doesn’t seem right that your success in the 1950s excludes you from recording something really cool in 2007. The Son of Skip James sounds really fresh. The band is tight. Each song has a really strong beat. All the guitar work is accoustic–which gives it a less predictable flavor than if Dion was ripping into a Stratocaster. Whoops. That’s me fantasizing that I’m playing lead guitar in Dion’s band.
Back to work.
The following post may cause embarrassment to some people.
On April 1, 2006 I became a Dwight Yoakam fan. For the whole month of April I listened to no other music. So when I heard that he had a new album coming out Oct. 23rd, I had to get it. It is his first new album since I’ve been a fan. But cash is tight around the Sullivan household, and I would feel guilty dropping $15 just like that.
Then I remembered the box of chocolate bars that a friend had given us. It was a big box that people bring to work for fundraisers. Please support Johnny’s soccer team etc… Yes I did.
I took the box of candy-bars to work and put up a sign that said in big letters “Free Candy Bars.” In small letters it said, “any donations will go toward the purchase of the new Dwight Yoakam album.” In one day I had ten bucks which gets you the whole album on iTunes.
When I pressed play on my iPod this morning for the first listen, I expected a let down. What kind of person would sell candy-bars to his co-workers to buy an album. How lame? I knew I would be disappointed. Not. Three listens later, and I’m loving it more and more. I know all the words to all the songs already because it’s Buck Owens. What’s the matter with that?
How could I doubt that the great Dwight Yoakam would not deliver the goods on a tribute to his idol?
Back to the iPod.
Before listening to Dion’s new album, The Son of Skip James, the extent of my Dion listening was playing “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue” over and over. Usually this was accompanied by lip-synching and running back and forth from the living room to the dining room. Listening to those two songs is the only time I can remember wanting to be a lead singer. I’m an air-guitarist mostly.
When I heard Dion came back to the Church, I listened to some of his later stuff, but it didn’t grab me. The more I listen to The Son of Skip James the more I like it, and the more I understand what a great album is all about. A great album increases my thirst for music. It makes me want to pick up my guitar and learn some new songs. It makes me want to pull out the Skip James CDs and give them another listen. It makes me want to call up John Hiatt and say, “Come on back to the Church. Look at the cool stuff you can do. You don’t lose your edge. Actually, you get sharper.”
I’m hoping to interview Dion for an article in Our Sunday Visitor. Until then…
First a new Dion album. Now a new Dwight Yoakam album. Released TODAY! Dwight Sings Buck. I can’t get a copy quick enough. “Dwight sings Buck” could be a career summary for Yoakam.
His second album, Hillbilly Delux, was dedicated to Owens.
His third album, Buenos Noches From a Lonely Room, had a duet with Buck and was his first number one hit, “The Streets of Bakersfield.
Buck was also on Tomorrow’s Sounds Today.
I can’t wait to hear this one. You can never listen to enough Dwight Yoakam.
That’s correct. A rock and roll legend quotes John Paul II on his new album. It’s not ironic either. In fact he says, “John Paul II, who I love.”
AND there is a song on the album about St. Jerome, “The Thunderer.” What is Bruce Springsteen gonna say when he hears it?
Stay tuned for a marksullivanwritings.com exclusive interview.
Back in the spring I was writing an article about Catholicism in the South, and I was looking for a way to cover Flannery O’Connor. I hadn’t read much of her stuff. I randomly came across a review of Hillbilly Thomist by Marion Montgomery in First Things. I found out later that was the only publication that ran a review of the book. I contacted the publisher to interview Montgomery not knowing who I was interviewing except that he had written a book about Flannery O’Connor. Our first conversation had enough material for three articles. I posted the interview that ran in the National Catholic Register. A longer piece is scheduled to run in Catholic World Report later this year. Mr. Montgomery and I have exchanged a number of letters, and he’s kept me up to date about his newest book on Nathanial Hawthorne.
If you look to the left on this blog and see the links to the Summa and Walter Farrell’s Companion to the Summa, those are a direct result of my contact with Mr. Montgomery–himself a HillBilly Thomist.
The two interesting things about In Rainbows: 1) it’s a return to a more accessible sound, and 2) Radiohead released it from their web-site without a record company. Both items are about rebellion. As I’ve mentioned before, I like The Bends and the first half of O.K. Computer. If you’re a band trying to be cool, you have to avoid becoming a band that the uncool listen to while trying to be cool. You don’t want some jock saying he put your song on a mix tape between Van Halen and Kansas. (I show my age.) You don’t want to be played during half time of a sporting event. You don’t want the President of the United States to quote you. To avoid that, you make albums that are really difficult to listen to. Only your true fans will make the effort to listen.
The record company thing is obvious. You always have to have “the man” to “stick it to.” It’s a limited concept because eventually you have to become your own man. Radiohead released the album on their own, but who handles the on-line orders? Who sent out the press release to all the critics? Who made Radiohead a household name in the first place? The man. But that’s what I love about Radiohead. They are clinging to the last postage stamp size area of cool. Who cares about contradictions? Maybe in 10 years their stuff will sound really dated. Who came first, Radiohead or Sigur Ros? Its that 2000s sound.
Anyway, it’s on to something new.
Listening to “In Rainbows” I’m reminded of how difficult it is to write a song. By a song I mean something that can stand alone. Carole King wrote songs. Cole Porter wrote songs. A song has its own inner logic—to get a little bit technical—harmonic development and resolution for one. That’s why 12-bar blues always works. There aren’t that many good songs in rock. Think of how many songs you would want to hear no matter who was playing it.
Rock is all about performance. The artist goes into the studio and does their thing and it gets recorded. That one moment, screech, slur, or whatever is preserved forever. If you’re a cover band, you can’t cover a performance the way you would a song. You would just be trying to imitate a performance. That’s why cover bands play the same old stuff.
Take the “great” Robert Johnson and the non-stop praise he gets from the likes of Eric Clapton and Keith Richards because you can’t imitate him. You can play the songs easy enough, but you can’t imitate Johnson’s performances. Just like if I went into the studio and recorded “Crossroads Blues” nobody would be able to imitate me. I wouldn’t even be able to imitate me a second time.
I think Radiohead understands the difference between song and performance. To be a great you have to write songs. They want to be great. But songs are dangerous because they exist out on their own. To submit to a 32-bar song form or a 12-bar blues is to risk becoming predictable. To submit to the form and still make something original is really, really hard. It’s much easier to create some musical landscape/wallpaper in the studio and use your taste to make sure nothing “cheesy,” predictable, used by someone else not cool doesn’t slip in.
I wanted to hear In Rainbows because I think Radiohead is the last rock band. I think that they know that. I like hearing them squirm to stay cool in a genre that has so desperately painted itself in a corner it’s suffocating.
Tune in tomorrow for part 2.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited about the release of an album. I went to their web-site and downloaded the new album In Rainbows. I need to listen to the album a few times before I can make any judgments.
I don’t call myself a Radiohead fan. I will say that the first two cuts off The Bends and the first half of O.K. Computer is some great rock and roll and makes them worthy of any serious music fan’s attention. I’m a serious music fan. I can’t say any of their other stuff has made me want to listen more than once–if that.
Here’s a piece I wrote that ran recently in OSV. Dr. Whelan writes a relationship column for the web-site BustedHalo.com and has also written a book called Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women. What I like most about Dr. Whelan is the spark of hope that lights up all her research. I look forward to her work in the future.