Oldies But Goldies: Dylan and Conor 2009
Look at it this way: every album Conor Oberst and Bob Dylan have ever released are must owns with the possible exception of the 1973 “Dylan”. And it looks like Conor’s “Outer South” (due May 5th) and Dylan’s “Together Through This” (April 28th) could well be masterpieces.
Start with Oberst: recording as a member of Bright Eyes as early as ’98’s “A Collection Of Songs” you could find perfect first steps like “Saturday As Usual,” and the very next album included “June On the West Coast” and now… well here are his last coupla albums by release date (latest first):
I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Digital Ash In a Digital Urn
And here are my fave Conor albums (fave first):
I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Digital Ash In A Digital Urn
I don’t know how to praise “Conor Oberst” highly enough: a country rock diamond gem of songs going effortlessly from one highlight to another. Here is the highest praise I can think of: “CB” is as good as “GP”.
“Cape Canaveral” was the best song released in 2008 (a great year for music: equal to 1967 and 1979), “I Got a reason #2” was better, a poetic look at the dangers of technology and science which reaches not just Conor’s personal best, but a poetic height for any singer-songwriter when “eligible and handsome men” plot laying a young widow on “the table of the elements” (a metaphor that doesn’t stop exploding in your head, the way Dylan’s best metaphors don’t stop exploding in your head) against a pounding Al Kooperish keyboard riff right off “Blonde On Blonde”.
“I Got The Reason” (its official name) is the penultimate moment on “Outer South”. I haven’t heard the album yet but I have heard some songs off it. “Ten Women” leaves me cold and there is no “Kodachrome” (which he covered on the tour) and no “Gentlemen’s Pact” (from an EP available on the tour) but “Slowly (So Slowly)” is real good (you can stream it from conoroberst.com), “Eagle On A Pole” appeared on his first album so I guess its a remake and while I don’t believe it needs a remake I bet he’s done something spectacular with it and right at the midway point is “Nikorette” (available as a free mp3 on conoroberst.com) and “Nikorette” is almost as good as “Reason”. On a plane Conor chews nicorette as he goes though nicotine withdrawl and seems to free associate (this is a stylistic shift for Oberst: from the highly poetic Byronic tone of, say, “A Perfect Sonnet” to the so casual it is almost an act of grace lyric of “Gentlemen’s Pact”) -maybe its withdrawal, maybe its weed, but by the time he reaches “I don’t wanna a dream if it doesn’t come true” it feels as though he has reached a type of conclusion, a realisation, a vision of how life is lived.
My only concern is Conor has not written all the songs on “Outer South”. Last year Conor, Jimmy James of My Morning Jacket and M. Ward promised to record an album together (they had performed live for a charity but didn’t reach NY) and that’s one thing and if Conor wanted to release an album as the Mystic Valley Band that would be another thing but I don’t see why the most gifted songwriter of his generation would chose to share writing chores with any one else on his own album.
To Dylan: everybody gets Dylan wrong. Let’s not bother about the 60s. Let’s not bother with the live albums. Dylan reached his nadir (RELATIVELY SPEAKING!!!) with “Desire”/”Street Legal” and would bounce back big with possibly his greatest vocal performance of all “Slow Train Coming” and two albums later write one of the great Christian albums of all time “Shot Of Love” in ’81.
The 80’s are considered a lost decade for Dylan. Nonsense. “Down In the Groove” -critics consider it his low point- had “Silvio” (a staple of his live shows well into this decade) plus a terrifyingly lonely cover of “Rank Stranger to Me,” a dynamitized cover of “90 Miles An Hour Down a One Way Street” and a Dylanisation of “Let’s Stick Together”.
By ’93 Dylan was terrific again live (blew the roof down at Roseland -better than he is now -get away from the goddamn keyboards, Bob) and followed “Oh Mercy,” and “Under The Red Sun” with yet another career high “The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3”.
Last year’s Bootleg Series Vol. 8 “Tell Tale Signs” was a (RELATIVE) disappointment and I thought “Modern Life” was the weakest of the so called return to form triumverate (“Time Out Of Mind” and “Love and Theft” being the other two) BUT I have heard two songs from the new album “Together Through Life” and they are both terrific. “Feel A Change Coming On” (isn’t that awful close to “The Times They are A-Changing”? -the second “Time A-Changin'” change up -“Things Have Changed” from “Wonderboy” soundtrack was the first) … it is a gorgeous song that has the tug of nostalgia. You can buy “Beyond Here Lies Loving” -a full throated blues-rocker- (available on itunes now -if you can’t wait till Tuesday). I sure can’t wait till Tuesday.
Last August 2008, I caught Conor at “Other Music” (a record store) in the afternoon and Dylan at Prospect Park in the evening.
Conor was better.