Bob Dylan and Miles Davis: Sony’s big box sets compared

November 13, 2009

As far as Bob Dylan and Miles Davis, its major assets, are concerned, Sony does a creditable job managing the treasures locked away in its priceless vaults.

However much hardcore fans might moan about the slow drip-feed of the unreleased Dylan legacy, Columbia Legacy is to be commended on its Bootleg Series.

Columbia Legacy also manages its Miles Davis assets pretty astutely, though some Miles aficionados whinge that Sony has released too much inconsequential blathering by the Prince Of Darkness!

But the imminent release of the Complete Miles Davis Columbia Album Collection will leave Bobfans drawing unfavourable comparisons with the Zim equivalent, 2003’s Bob Dylan Revisited: The Reissues Series.

The two reissue projects are similar in key respects – all the albums in both collections have remarkable upgraded sound and both boxes reintroduce the original album artwork, in seductive digipak format.

But, in other ways, the new Miles box is more compelling:

* it pulls together all of the label’s Miles albums – Bob Dylan Revisited: The Reissues Series was selective, with only 15 titles, against the Miles box’s whopping 52, many of them double albums!

* many of the Miles albums carry worthwhile bonus tracks – the Dylan reissues eschewed any.

* even if you already own most of the original recordings, the incentives to buy the Miles box are persuasive – a newly released live DVD, a couple of previously unreleased CDs-worth of music, a substantial 250 page book by two leading Miles experts, and striking packaging.

* value: the “street” launch prices of the two boxes are similar, but the Miles box gives you far more bang for your buck.

Bottom line: I already had virtually all releases by both musicians. I passed on the Dylan box; I’ve ordered the Miles box.

Gerry Smith

New Age rock: But Is This Music for Grown-Ups? #1

November 4, 2009

The record label have sent me details of a new album “which transforms popular rock bands like Bob Dylan, The Beatles and U2 into relaxing meditation music.”

But is this music for grown-ups?

Gerry Smith


Information and song samples:


Slated for release November 17, the ³Modern Meditations² series¹ ³Rock Classics² and ³Modern Classics² 12-track collections feature meditative renditions of some of rock music¹s best-known
and most beloved songs. Also available on November 17 is an album dedicated to the songs of The Beatles. Aimed at introducing a brand new, modern rock perspective on ³new age² music fare, the ³Modern Meditations² series will be available for purchase at all traditional music retail outlets and online services, as well as distributed to many high-end lifestyle retailers.

Featuring the work of renowned producers from across the globe, ³Modern Meditations² has transformed contemporary rock favorites into meditation music for the rock & roll generation. Shimmering rock guitars and warm percussion create lush instrumental soundscapes. While yoga, Pilates, and meditation have all entered the mainstream, the music has not. The ³Modern Meditations² series aims to introduce an alternative to traditional new age fare to the growing modern rock audience.

The first of two compilation releases, ³Rock Classics,² features serene instrumental versions of songs from classic rock¹s most revered artists including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Police, Led Zeppelin and many others. ³Modern Classics² dives into the contemporary rock catalog with tranquil renditions of songs by The Verve, U2, The Cure, Oasis, R.E.M., Nirvana and more.

Radiohead @ Reading 2009: spellbinding

October 30, 2009

I’ve been re-watching a video of Radiohead’s recent Reading gig. Their performance was spellbinding.

Radiohead @ Reading 2009 had it all: an inspired festival set-list from across the seven-album catalogue (below)… impressive stylistic range… virtuosic musicianship…

Not to mention Thom Yorke, who reached a special place, playing, er, Thom Yorke to perfection. And a stage set which enriched the music, emphasising its sheer ambition.


The National Anthem
15 Step
There There
Karma Police
Paranoid Android
Everything In Its Right Place

Those of us who are resolutely anti-outdoor gigs (and festival-averse) were well served by Britain’s Ministry Of State Culture, aka the BBC, bringing Reading into our homes.

And while I’m hardly in the target demographic for BBC3, the digital TV channel targeting acne-ravaged bed-wetters, this superlative concert illustrated a core Music For Grown-Ups belief: great art knows no boundaries.

Gerry Smith

Dylan Different: jazz singer Ben Sidran covers Dylan

October 26, 2009

I’m not over-fond of Dylan cover albums, but when a favourite singer – Bryan Ferry, most recently – interprets Bobsongs, I usually buy and enjoy.

So I’m looking forward to Dylan Different, an album of covers by jazz singer/pianist Ben Sidran.

Sidran crossed my radar with his contribution on the grossly under-rated Van Morrison album, Tell Me Something (1996), a collection of Mose Allison covers which also featured Georgie Fame and Mose himself.

I searched out Sidran and saw him play a tiny London gig. He was outstanding – laconic, droll and a beautifully lyrical musician. Very similar to Mose Allison, in fact. Watching him perform at close quarters for a couple of hours a was sheer delight.

Ben Sidran’s Dylan Different, due 16 November, is a must-buy in these parts.


Everything Is Broken
Highway 61 Revisited
Tangled Up In Blue
Gotta Serve Somebody
Rainy Day Woman
Ballad of a Thin Man
Maggie’s Farm
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Subterranean Homesick Blues
On The Road Again
All I Really Want To Do
Blowin’ in the Wind

Gerry Smith

Krautrock for beginners

October 23, 2009

After last week’s Synth Britannia, a minute, unnecessary examination of the generally lightweight genre of late ‘70s/early ‘80s Anglo electronic pop, BBC4 atones tonight with Krautrock, a new doc exploring the legacy of rather more substantial musicians like the great Can, as well as Neu!, the Tans and Kraftwerk.

And it’s followed by a rare transmission of the legendary Kraftwerk gig, Minimum/Maximum.

They’re showing twice tonight, and repeated over the weekend.

You can also see them online for 7 days after broadcast:

Highly recommended – unlike the vapid English pop pap of last week’s programme, this is quintessential electronica for grown-ups.

Gerry Smith

New Sting CD – If On A Winter’s Night – due next week

October 19, 2009

Sting has always been a Music for Grown-Ups favourite and I’m looking forward to his new CD, on which Mr Sumner continues to ignore musical genre.

Bravo, bonny lad!

If On a Winter’s Night is due next week on Deutsche Grammophon.

Gerry Smith

Here’s the PR promoting the new CD, and a link to a sound sample:

Sting will release a new album dedicated to his favorite season – Winter – a season which has inspired countless songwriters over the centuries and produced a wealth of music exploring all of its many guises. “If On a Winter’s Night…” presents an arc of songs that conjures the season of spirits, resulting in a haunting, spiritual and reflective musical journey.

“The theme of winter is rich in inspiration and material,” comments Sting; “by filtering all of these disparate styles into one album I hope we have created something refreshing and new.” He continues, “Our ancestors celebrated the paradox of light at the heart of the darkness, and the consequent miracle of rebirth and the regeneration of the seasons.”

In collaboration with esteemed producer and arranger, Robert Sadin, “If On a Winter’s Night…” features traditional music of the British Isles as its starting point. Sting and guest musicians interpret a stirring collection of songs, carols, and lullabies including The Snow it Melts the Soonest (traditional Newcastle ballad), A Soalin’ (traditional English “begging” song) Gabriel’s Message (14th century carol), Balulalow (lullaby by Peter Warlock) and Now Winter Comes Slowly (Henry Purcell).

Two of Sting’s own compositions are also featured on the album, Lullaby for an Anxious Child and The Hounds of Winter, which originally appeared on his previous release Mercury Falling, alongside Hurdy Gurdy Man, – a musical reworking and English translation (by Sting) of Der Leiermann from Schubert’s classic winter song-cycle Winterreise.

For this exploration of the themes and emotions of Winter, Sting is joined by friend and long time colleague, guitarist Dominic Miller. Additional guests include an ensemble of three remarkable musicians from Northern England and Scotland: Kathryn Tickell (fiddle and Northumbrian pipes) Julian Sutton (melodeon) and Mary MacMaster (metal string Scottish harp), along with Daniel Hope (violin), Vincent Ségal (cello), Chris Botti and Ibrahim Maalouf, (trumpet), Cyro Baptista and Bijan Chemirani (percussion), the Webb Sisters (vocals) and Stile Antico (vocal ensemble).

Audio stream for “Soul Cake”:

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart – reviewed by Matthew Zuckerman

October 12, 2009

Well, Christmas In The Heart arrived in the post today — nice efficient service from Isis.

They always manage to get the new releases on the doormat the day before official release. Many thanks to Derek and Tracy (& great to see you at the Mott the Hoople reunion show!)

The deluxe version is just the regular jewel case in a cardboard sleeve, with five cards — blank inside — all with the album cover and envelope.

As for the album, I downloaded it on to my iPod and listened to it as I walked the dog around the local cemetery. What immediately struck me — well, not immediately, but what started to dawn on me by the second or third song and was clear by the fourth — was that this is not just a little dashed off side project.

Like it or not, the emotional commitment that Dylan has given to these songs makes Christmas In The Heart very much the new Bob Dylan album.

For many people, certain albums — Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait, Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love — were too associated with something they hated (rock & roll, country, schmaltz, Christianity) for them to want or be able to appreciate the albums for themselves.

You can add Christmas In The Heart to that list.

Those who cannot accept the fact that Bob might want to have such an album in his catalogue — as Bing Crosby, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington and many other of his favourite singers have done — will find the album a closed door. But for anyone else, it could be a small delight.

I have only listened to the album once, and do not have time to write more than the most fleeting impressions.

All I would say is listen to the musicians (Bob’s road crew plus David Hidalgo and a few others — and a startlingly fine piece of harmonica playing on one track); the really very fine melodies; the instrumental and vocal harmony arrangements that both recapture the slick 1940s/50s studio sounds that Bob grew up with and breathe life into them, humanizing them; the battered and beaten voice sometimes flaring and phlegming up but still hitting all the notes – and singing with the same intense intimacy that he invested in A Simple Twist of Fate.

And then there’s Must Be Santa. Bob Has often talked about his love for polka. And with this manic — yet always controlled — performance you can see why.

I wonder what the world would have done if Bob had mixed his folk lyrics and surreal verse with a polka outfit like the one backing him here instead of a rock & roll band.

Would we have booed? And would we all — supporters and booers alike — follow him down his various roads, as we have done in this layer of the multiverse?

I digress, and I must end. I have much to do and time is short.

Outstanding new releases from Kraftwerk, Sting, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato, John Coltrane and Miles Davis

October 8, 2009

Forget the Beatles remasters. Forget Dylan’s Xmas album (due in the UK on Monday).

There are some exciting new releases by Music for Grown-Ups favourites about to hit the streets, notably:

* Kraftwerk’s back catalogue – remastered, released singly and in a collectable box set, The Catalogue. Prima!

* Sting’s tempting foray into traditional and classical song – If On A Winter’s Night.

* Top mezzo-soprano outings – Cecilia Bartoli with Sacrificium; and Joyce DiDonato with Rossini.

* John Coltrane’s early work on Prestige as a sideman with a variety of bands (except Miles’s), collected as Side Steps

* All of Miles Davis’s Columbia albums – 70 discs! – in a single box.

A bumper autumn in store…

Gerry Smith

Paris, by Malcolm McLaren: Recent Discoveries #1

October 2, 2009

Thanks to neighbour Mike Middleditch who lent me a copy of Paris, by Malcolm McLaren.

It’s a heady mixture of dance beats, jazz inflections and not a little Maghrebian influence. All in the service of spoken vocals by McLaren as he successfully evokes the spirit of the French capital.

Particularly evocative are the trance-like songs featuring Gallic icons Francoise Hardy and Catherine Deneuve.

A lovely disc, unexpectedly engaging: recommended.

Gerry Smith

JOHN MARTYN: Music for Grown-Ups Insider’s Guide #2

October 1, 2009

By Martin Cowan

Criminally underrated in his lifetime, especially when compared to such highly praised colleagues and contemporaries like Nick Drake and Richard Thompson, John Martyn was a highly innovative vocal and guitar stylist.

More “rock’n’roll” than rock’n’roll, his death-defying escapades became legendary, as did the dichotomy between the at times disturbed and disturbing man and the moving and beautiful music he created.

Assuaging his demons – whatever they were – with drink, drugs and out of control behaviour, Martyn was a deeply romantic poet whose blurred and slurred singing style challenged the listener in much the same way as Van Morrison.

Putting aside such over-anthologised gems as “Solid Air”, “May You Never” and “Sweet Little Mystery”, Martyn’s extensive catalogue is hard to fillet.

Quickly tiring of the fast finger picking style espoused by the Bert Jansch school of guitar playing (heard to good effect on his second LP, 1968’s The Tumbler), Martyn soon moved into more experimental and jazz-flavoured areas by amplifying his acoustic guitar and using distortion.

Feeding his uniquely percussive guitar playing through an echoplex unit, Martyn achieved layer upon layer of startling and innovative guitar noise, best heard on live solo recordings.

There was so much more to the man’s output than those ‘70s touchstone releases Bless the Weather (1971), Solid Air (1973) and One World (1977).

1981’s Glorious Fool is astonishing in its range and diversity (from the libidinous “Perfect Hustler” to the keening protest song “Don’t You Go”) and as the years rolled by, Martyn continued to experiment with sounds and textures.

Listeners should check out the intimate “Number Nine”, the trip hoppery of “A Little Strange”, the quasi religious “My Creator” and the wilfully bizarre “Back to Marseilles.”

Over a recording and performing career that spanned 40 years, John Martyn proved himself to be a soul singer extraordinaire, an artist with his heart on his sleeve, and someone who was wounded by, and yet in thrall to, love.

John Martyn: A 2CD primer

Disc 1
1) Don’t You Go GLORIOUS FOOL 1981
2) A Little Strange AND.1996
3) Seven Black Roses THE TUMBLER 1968
4) Hurt In Your Heart GRACE AND DANGER 1980
5) Parcels ROAD TO RUIN 1970
6) Perfect Hustler GLORIOUS FOOL 1981
7) Couldn’t Love You More ONE WORLD 1977
8) All In Your Favour AND. 1996
9) Walk To The Water BLESS THE WEATHER 1971
10) Don’t Want To Know (live) PHILENTROPY 1983
11) Wildflower GLASGOW WALKER 2000
12) Sunday’s Child SUNDAY’S CHILD 1974
13) Piece by Piece PIECE BY PIECE 1986
14) John The Baptist STORMBRINGER! 1970
15) The Cure COOLTIDE 1991
16) Ways To Cry INSIDE OUT 1973
17) Back To Marseilles ON THE COBBLES 2004
18) Small Hours ONE WORLD 1977

Disc 2
1) My Creator ON THE COBBLES 2004
2) A Day At The Sea THE TUMBLER 1968
3) Fine Lines INSIDE OUT 1973
4) Save Some (For Me) GRACE AND DANGER 1980
5) You Can Discover SUNDAY’S CHILD 1974
6) Suzanne AND. 1996
7) Let The Good Things Come BLESS THE WEATHER 1971
8) Number Nine COOLTIDE 1991
9) Hung Up (live) PHILENTROPY 1983
10) Please Fall In Love With Me GLORIOUS FOOL 1981
11) Stormbringer! STORMBRINGER! 1970
12) One World ONE WORLD 1977
13) Rope-soul’d SAPPHIRE 1984
14) Ain’t No Saint INSIDE OUT 1973
15) Go Down Easy SOLID AIR 1973
15) The Field Of Play GLASGOW WALKER 2000
16) Never Let Me Go WELL KEPT SECRET 1982
17) Call Me Crazy SUNDAY’S CHILD 1974

Music for Grown-Ups will be publishing similar Insider’s Guides to other musicians from all genres. If you’d like to contribute to the series, please contact website Editor Gerry Smith – before you start writing –