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Another underwhelming dip into the music world

A week or two ago – no doubt to the despair of publishers now fighting a rear-guard action to deny it by deploying such contradictory evidence as they can collect – there was a media story doing the rounds to the effect that in the 21st Century there was an increasing trend of people reading less books because of a preference for being online and/or social media and/or just generally using their smartphones to engage with the world.

See here for an article by Jean M. Twenge as appears on the website of The Atlantic magazine (Sepember 2017 edition)  – THE ATLANTIC

It’s not just the younger generations that are prone to ‘shortened attention spans’ either. Seven or eight years ago, horrified to learn that my daughter had met her new beau via an online dating site, I reacted by saying that – had she told me in advance she was considering this method of hooking up with men – I’d have done my best to dissuade her from it (on both the basis of the potential ‘dangers’ of meeting men who were potentially inventing their online profiles etc. that I’d read about in the media and my own ‘sense’ of whether or not anyone of my generation would have done this sort of thing in their day, to which the answer was no).

Needless to say, my drift got short shrift from my offspring.

I was told that I was ‘old hat’ and anyway the pace of life for her contemporaries these days was sufficiently hectic that they didn’t have time to waste hanging around in bar, clubs, pubs or parties hoping to meet and/or get to know eligible men.

Far better – she argued – to ‘swipe left (or was it right?)’ through about 50 profiles with accompanying pictures on a dating website, in order to get a vague snapshot view of whether or not a gentleman was an ‘attractive’ or not, and add those that were to a subset of ‘possibles’.

After all, said 50 males would be conducting an entirely similar operation to weed through about 50 female profiles in order to arrive at an equivalent subset … and (hopefully) that would not only narrow down the spectrum of choice but also save a whole heap of time going on dates with prospective boyfriends or girlfriends who turned out to be wholly unsuitable within about five minutes of meeting because of terminal nerd-ship, excessive acne issues and/or wigs, died hair, obesity, corsets, age lies and the like.

A fellow Rust contributor testified recently to the fact that he rarely buy books these days, preferring instead to read the Literary Review and the weekend newspapers arts sections, both of which feature erudite reviews by ladies and gentlemen of literary substance that not only convey the gist of any given new book’s contents, including its philosophical themes (if any) and the quality of research, lucidity and creative writing abilities of the author, but assist the thinking reader to reach a decision as to whether the volume is worth reading and indeed purchasing.

Today it is my duty to file a report from the average Ruster’s equivalent musical front line, a No Man’s Land in which the individual most probably formed their lifelong view of what sorts of music appealed to them on or before 1985 and hasn’t moved forward a great deal since.

Not that this is necessarily regarded as a negative or a problem, of course. None of us can like everything and therefore – as night follows day – we spend a good deal of our conscious time trying gradually to filter out of our lives the experiences and people to which we do not particularly respond … whilst simultaneously trying to maximise our exposure to those to which we do.

Even as I write these words I can see a pattern emerging – a ‘scheme’ that is very little different to my daughter’s aforementioned dating methods.

Some forty-odd years ago now, reacting with a raised eyebrow to the news that I and my wife had accepted an invitation to a drinks party from a couple widely regarded as uninteresting and boring, one of my oldest pals advised that he had politely declined the invitation, adding: “Life is far too short to spend it doing things you don’t want to do”.

Which may go some way to explain my own attitude to ‘new’ music that I have come across these past three decades – and when I say ‘new music’ I mean to encompass new offerings from artistes and bands across the spectrum from ‘just starting out’ to vets of the business as old as I am.

Mostly these days I don’t listen to music via radio or even the internet. In fact, I rarely listen to music at all.

Joan Osborne

Instead I tend to rely upon the album reviews published in music magazines and/or in the weekend newspapers arts sections. If I alight upon a 5-star review heartily recommending a new release – whether it be by a long-established artiste or a bunch of kids just out of art school – I might just go out and buy it, just for the hell of it.

Sadly, these days such instances are few and far between, and the overwhelming majority of them are disappointing.

About three weeks ago I read some newspaper review somewhere giving a new release entitled Songs Of Bob Dylan, by an American female singer called Joan Osborne, a pretty massive thumbs’ up. She had apparently breathed new life into the eclectic range of ditties she had chosen to cover from the cannon of the Nobel prize-winning songwriter.

I duly acquired a copy of the CD via Amazon – I hadn’t realised at the time of making my purchase that the album was still a fortnight away from being released in the UK – and it arrived on my doorstep yesterday (Saturday) morning.

I had played it through from beginning to end by lunchtime.

Joan Osborne is a 55 year-old, originally from Anchorage in Kentucky [it says here on Wikipedia] who moved to New York City in the late 1980s. She’s an accomplished musician and singer-songwriter who has moved through most musical genres and was nominated for a Grammy in 2013 for her blues covers album Bring It On Home.

The verdict – on my single play-through?

Osborne makes a commendable stab at her Dylan selections, albeit not an earth-shattering one.

Several of her versions play little games with the tunes and phrasing, adding something new.

She makes no concession to gender, singing Dylan as he intended (i.e. not switching the genders around because she’s female).

For example, on the Dylan opus Tangled Up In Blue off his brilliant 1975 album Blood On The Tracks (about the break-up of his marriage), it certainly makes you sit up when she sings the lyrics such as:

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ under my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces
Of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
I thought you’d never say hello, she said
You look like the silent type
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And everyone of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you
Tangled up in blue

(copyright Bob Dylan Music Co)

It wasn’t until I read further down the Wikipedia page that I learned La Osborne, who has a daughter, is bisexual.

However, being honest, whilst Songs Of Bob Dylan will get an occasional play at home and in my car when driving places, it’s competent rather than something special and I can only give it a rating of 6 out of 10.

For those readers who would welcome a chance to listen to a sample of the album, here’s a link courtesy of YouTube to Osborne’s version of – YOU AIN’T GOIN’ NOWHERE


About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts