Got To Have Rock & Roll

Here are my 12 favourite albums of 2012 (so far). You can check out some older covers from nine of those acts below. Click on the images above to make them larger and click on an artist’s name below to go to their website. The final dozen (in no particular order):

Cat PowerSun
RumerBoys Don’t Cry
Diana KrallGlad Rag Doll
Aimee MannCharmer
Alabama ShakesGirls & Boys
Heartless BastardsArrow
DexysOne Day I’m Going to Soar
The LumineersThe Lumineers
Bob DylanTempest
Richard HawleyStanding at the Sky’s Edge
Bill FayLife is People
The Avett BrothersThe Carpenter

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The Right Stuff

A few weeks after seeing a wonderful tribute to The Last Waltz, I was saddened to hear of original drummer Levon Helm‘s passing on Thursday. Helm shared vocal duties with the other members of the band and was best known for The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and, one of my favourites, Up On Cripple Creek. He was born in Arkansas in 1940 and went on to become a member of The Hawks, fronted by fellow Arkansan Ronnie Hawkins. They eventually settled in Toronto where Levon would end up as the only American amongst a group of Canadians. They then became Bob Dylan’s backing band and decided to just call themselves The Band. At the end of the sixties they released two albums that are amongst my favourites from that decade, though they sound more like the 1860s than the 1960s. As well as sharing vocal duties, the group also swapped instruments and Levon often came out from behind the drum kit to pick up a guitar, bass or mandolin. His singing and playing in Martin Scorsese’s film of The Last Waltz farewell concert is quite prominent and his chats with Marty in the film are also worth checking out

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Mercury Rising

The winner of the 20th Mercury Music Prize will be announced later tonight and the victor will come from one of a dozen albums released by British and Irish bands during the last year. PJ Harvey has received her fourth nomination for Let England Shake and she previously won it in 2001 for Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. It’s the third time that Elbow have made the list and they won it three years ago. The only other previous nominee is Adele who lost out to Elbow with her debut album. The remaining acts are up for the award for the first time and the self-titled debuts from James Blake and Anna Calvi are both tipped to do well. Anna Calvi’s is my own favourite album from the list, the one I’d like to see win, and the one I think will come out on top tonight. Anna is a pretty impressive guitarist, but is an even more amazing singer who has released a consistently fine album that rewards repeated listens. Here are seven of the nominees taking on some new and older songs. I guess there’s more than a 50/50 chance that the winning album will come from one of these acts

Highway 61 Revisited (Bob Dylan cover) – PJ Harvey

Make You Feel My Love (Bob Dylan cover) – Adele

Jezebel (Édith Piaf cover) – Anna Calvi

Let Me Go (Maverick Sabre cover) – Katy B

Teardrop (Massive Attack cover) – Elbow

I’ve Been Losing You (A-ha cover) – King Creosote & Jon Hopkins

A Case Of You (Joni Mitchell cover) – James Blake

How Does It Feel, Bob?

Barack Obama’s first official visit to Ireland came and went yesterday. It was certainly a success as the US president knocked back a pint of Guinness in the village of Moneygall and got to show off his command of the Irish language in Dublin. Another famous American who has been a regular visitor to these shores in recent years celebrates his 70th birthday today. In the early sixties, Bob’s music had been used to soundtrack the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Dylan’s championing by the movement was not something he encouraged, though he was present at the march in Washington on August 28th, 1963, when Martin Luther King delivered his powerful I Have a Dream speech

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Salute Them When Their Birthdays Come

Tonight is Burns Night in Scotland and it’s a commemoration of one of that country’s literary greats, the poet Robert Burns (above). Burns was born on this day in 1759 and his influence is still evident in parts of Scotland today. His poetry and lyrics were an influence on Bob Dylan, who chose A Red, Red Rose as the biggest inspiration on his own work for a music campaign a few years ago. Today’s date is also significant in relation to a number of other figures in Dylan’s life. 25 years ago, Albert Grossman died from a heart attack on a flight to London. Grossman was, of course, Dylan’s manager throughout the sixties. On the sleevenotes to his 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home, Dylan writes at one point: “i’m standing there watching the parade /feeling combination of sleepy john estes. jayne mansfield. humphrey bogart”. Sleepy John Estes was a blues musician who was also born on this day in 1904 and his nickname came from his narcolepsy and not his fondness for shut-eye. The influence of Estes’ musical and vocal rhythms can be heard on a lot of the blues-influenced songs that Dylan released in 1965, including such numbers as Outlaw Blues and From a Buick 6

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Mr Bad Example

Yesterday, I had one of those serendipitous moments when I was listening to my iPod on shuffle while walking home from the shops. Warren Zevon‘s hilarious Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner came on and kept me company for four minutes of my journey. I’ve been meaning to write a post for some time now about this great American songwriter who sadly passed away in 2003. So, I looked up his biographical details and was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was born 64 years ago today (January 24th) in Chicago. I first came across Zevon’s music through his only actual hit, Werewolves of London, and later his first compilation album, the ironically entitled A Quite Normal Life (1986). His sense of irony was also present in the lyrics of songs such as Excitable Boy, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead and Poor, Poor Pitiful Me. I subsequently picked up most of his albums on CD, LP and cassette, but his self-titled album from 1976 eluded me for almost two decades until its recent re-release. A particular favourite of mine was the covers album of blues and rock songs that he did with three quarters of R.E.M. as the Hindu Love Gods. That tape was one of my most played throughout the 90s and it’s one that I still return to now and then

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Winter Wonderland

Last year, I remember being quite surprised when I heard that Bob Dylan was going to release an album of Christmas songs. Still, Dylan’s one guy whose albums I always check out and I’ve enjoyed some of his recent ones just as much as the early ones. I wasn’t very impressed by the choice of carols and hymns on the collection, but I still gave it a listen. Christmas in the Heart is not one of my favourites, however. In fact, I only like one track on it and that’s his sprightly take on the old chestnut, Winter Wonderland. It was written nearly seventy years ago and has been recorded by everyone from Elvis to Radiohead. I actually prefer the version by Ray Charles, though I’ve decided to go for Bob today. I’ve always liked its melody and simple lyrics, in particular the song’s third verse. Take it to the bridge:

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