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Thursday, May 22, 2008

GMVW # 20: "Top Cat"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 20: Top Cat
Song: Shelter From the Storm by Bob Dylan
(Songwriter: Bob Dylan)
May 22, 2008

A big factor in my admiration for a band/musician is longevity, which usually comes with a maturity in music and lyrics.  It also must take a certain sacrifice to dig deeper, in order to maintain a creative edge after early success.  Two musicians have done an amazing job of keeping a consistent excellence in the quality of their music over the years.  Neil Young is one (more on him in a later Gem).  The other is Bob Dylan.

In practically all cases where I’ve enjoyed a good band from the 60’s, it’s their post-60’s period that I end up appreciating even more.  I believe the Who and the Stones made their best stuff in their 2nd decade as bands.  A case can even be made with the Beatles, who did not make it out of the 60’s as a group, but individually went on to make some great solo albums.  Van Morrison, the Kinks, the Grateful Dead, Joni Mitchell, Clapton, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, and many others carried on as well.

On the flip side, I rarely latch on for very long to musicians or bands that were great in the 60’s, but in one way or another never really crossed that late 60’s / early 70’s finish line.  Whether they literally did not make it (Hendrix, Joplin, Jim Morrison), burned out (Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett) or lost their creative edge (Grace Slick, Eric Burdon, Ike Turner), I clearly recognize the talent, but the long-term interest doesn't stay with me.

Dylan could have fallen into this latter group as well, having supposedly survived a scare of his own in the mid 60’s (a near-fatal motorcycle accident).  Immediately following that incident, however, he reinvented himself (again) with his ‘John Wesley Harding’ album, and then later released ‘The Basement Tapes’ from the same period.  His sound has kept morphing to this day.  My connection to Dylan's post-60s music has included the albums ‘Blood on the Tracks’, ‘Infidels’, ‘Oh Mercy’, ‘Slow Train Coming’, and ‘Time Out Of Mind’.   Others have latched onto entirely different sets of Dylan albums.  With Dylan, there is really no launch off point, no album where you can tell someone ‘start here’.  It’s ever changing, and almost always great.

….and then there’s Dylan’s live act.  I’ve seen Dylan 4 times and must admit that I’ve been consistently under whelmed.  It’s not the song selection or the music (which in all 4 shows was superb on both accounts).  It’s Dylan’s vocal effort. Even for those of us who enjoy Dylan’s studio vocals (to this day), it’s a tough pill to swallow when he hits the road and tosses his lyrics out like they are one long word. 

It was this frame of mind I had back on a winter nite in the early 90’s (after having already seen Dylan several times), as I was driving thru Inman Square, trying to find a parking spot so I could hook up with Phil & Mac at the Ryles Jazz Club.  As I circled the neighborhood, a live Dylan sound came on the radio that I had never heard before.  Wow!  Even as I found a spot to park, I stayed in the car and turned up the volume.  Gem Music Video of the Week ‘Shelter from the Storm’, was intense and solid, but most important, the vocals were great. After the song ended, the DJ stated the song was from a Dylan mid-70’s tour with the Rolling Thunder Review.  I later found out this was just the temporary name given to the musicians who toured with Dylan on this loosely organized gypsy-caravan road show, including Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Scarlet Rivera, T-Bone Burnett, and Joan Baez.  This live version of ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and a number of other songs from the same show were later released on the live Dylan album ‘Hard Rain’. 

The audio quality is nowhere near as good on the link below as it is on the album, but hopefully the talent is revealing of one of the most important figures of our time.  I’ve included a 2nd video, ‘I Pity the Poor Immigrant’ from the same show (including Dylan's impromptu ‘Ha, Ha!’ after the line ‘who fills his mouth with laughing’, while singing to Baez in the 3rd stanza) to round out some understanding of what this tour with the Rolling Thunder Review must have been like. 

“The Deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, its doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
Come in she said I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

- Pete

Gem Music Video: Shelter From the Storm

I Pity the Poor Imigrant

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About the Video: Footage from The Rolling Thunder Review Tour, ‘76 (I believe this is a Texas concert)

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Best Feedback: Tom

Hi Pete

Yet another great write-up, full of new info and a couple of great song choices.

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