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The Top 10 Post “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan Albums: 3. “Modern Times”

Both Time Out of Mind and “Love and Theft” found Bob Dylan looking to the American musical past in a way that he hadn’t in years.  Time Out of Mind was mostly blues-based, and “Love and Theft” covered blues and Americana.  Modern Times covers that seem territory, but also includes swing and jazz influences.  This era must have been on Dylan’s mind.  The album covers includes a fuzzy version picture of a 1930s car surrounded by city lights, and the album title alludes to Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film, Modern Times.

And like its two predecessors, Modern Times finds Dylan in familiar territory, but he’s not coasting.  “Thunder on the Mountain” moves along with a rockabilly bounce as Dylan tells the listener that Alicia Keys has been on his mind.  “When the Deal Goes Down” might be Dylan at his jazziest.  It’s a sound that could easily turn into something cheesy in the hands of some-one like Rod Stewart, but Dylan gets inside the song and uses a business exchange, or card game depending on your view, as a metaphor for death.  “I owe my heart to you, and that’s saying it true,” He croons.  “I’ll be with you when the deal goes down.”

And in case you think that Dylan has forgotten the social issues of his youth he’s laments the state of the working man in “Working Man Blues #2”.  It’s the type of song that one can imagine that men would sing on trains during the Depression as they made their way from town to town in search of work.  “The Levee’s Gonna Break” is based on the blues standard “When the Levee Breaks” made famous by Led Zeppelin.  While Zeppelin’s version was furious, Dylan’s version is more sorrowful, and gains more resonance since the song was recorded less than a year after Hurricane Katrina.  It’s hard not to picture the devastation of New Orleans when Dylan observes, “some people on the road carrying everything they own”.

Like many classic Dylan albums, Modern Times ends with an epic that only Dylan could conceive.  “Ain’t Talkin”  one of the darkest and spookiest songs Dylan has recorded.  Over a sparse guitar Dylan walks through “the mystic garden” and admits that he’ll “burn that bridge before you can cross”.  “Ain’t Talkin” comes off as an updated version of “Talkin’ World War III Blues” where the narrator wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world.  In that song, Dylan seems shocked by what he sees.  In “Ain’t Talkin” though, Dylan isn’t shocked, but just bitter.  He says that he’s still yearning, but then he wants you out of his miserable brain.

Ultimately, Modern Times uses the past to shine light on contemporary subjects.  In it’s own way, it’s Dylan’s most political album (without being explicitly political) since the protest days.  It’s not as direct, and he’s still got a lot on his mind – we just have to listen.

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10 Glaring Omissions From The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame

The rock and roll hall of fame is known for excluding numerous bands and artists over the years.  Here’s a list (in no particular order) of artists that are eligible, but currently not in the hall of fame.

Joy Division

With just two albums Joy Division influenced generations of artists from the early U2 records to The Killers.  Emerging from the punk scene, they were one of the first groups of that era to take the lo-fi esthetic of punk and emphasize mood and texture rather than sheer energy and bombast.  Ian Curtis’ cold baritone and lyrical fascination with isolation and despair  was a perfect mix for the icy, atmospheric music found throughout Unknown Pleasures and Closer.   And no matter what you think of the genre, it’s hard to think of Emo existing without Joy Division.

Television

Television more or less invented post-punk taking cues from the Velvet Underground.  even though they began their career just as the punk scene was beginning to explode in New York City in the mid 70s.  Guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd circumvented the traditional roles of lead and rhythm guitar, specifically on such songs as “Marquee Moon”, which often led the rhythm section of Fred Smith and Billy Ficca to anchor the songs.  What’s even more profound is the lack of blues influences, which even the more avant-garde and wild groups (like The Velvet Underground) had used as a blue-print.  While U2’s The Edge gets most of the credit to popular audiences for the extensive use of delay pedals, Verlaine was perhaps the first to really explore it.

Brian Eno

To many Brian Eno is just the guy who worked with U2, David Bowie and Coldplay.  As a producer and a member of Roxy Music, he certainly deserves recognition, but his solo albums have proved to be extremely influential as well helping to popularize minimalism.  Eno is often credited with coining the term (and also creating) “ambient music” – low volume music which is meant to change the listener’s perception of the environment around them.  His collaboration with David Byrne  1981’s My Life in the Bushes was one of the first records with extensive use of sampling.

Gram Parsons

There are so many alt-country artists on the scene, that it can sometimes be hard to distinguish what exactly constitutes the term.  But Gram Parsons was a true pioneer.  He welded together his love for traditional Country & Western into the emerging rock scene in a way that was not only groundbreaking, but also respectful to its original source. Country-rock never sounded as glorious as it does on GP and Grievous Angel.  While Parsons never had huge success, his influence can be felt on many records by The Rolling Stones, The Black Crowes, Ryan Adams and Wilco among countless others.

Toots and the Maytals

Bob Marley is more universally known, why omit Toots and the Maytals, one of the key artists in reggae?  They might not have had the big names songs that the wanna-be white dude with dreads plays in his dorm, but they might be more consistent.   The band had some of the best harmonies found in reggae, particularly on such as “Sweet and Dandy” the immortal “Pressure Drop”.  It also doesn’t hurt that Toots Hibbert has often been called a Jamaican Otis Redding for his soulful, tender vocals.

Emylou Harris

Emylou Harris has one of the best voices in rock and country music that is gut-renching and aching as it beautiful and angelic. So it’s no wonder she has been a go-to back up singer for artists such as Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Warren Zevon, John Denver, and Ryan Adams among others.  Like her mentor Gram Parsons, Emylou Harris helped make traditional country cool for a rock audience.  And like many of those artists, Harris has a restless musical soul with consistently great records (Elite Hotel and Luxury Liner in particular).

Son House (Early Influence)

Thankfully the Rock Hall inducts early influences from artists who pre-dated rock and roll.  If you can include Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Lead Belly where the hell is Son House? Torn between his spiritual upbringing (he grew up wanting to be a preacher) and the secular and profane delta music, Son House embodied the Blues like no one else before or since.  Son House’s rhythms provided blueprint for hundreds of artists Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson to most recently The White Stripes.

The Faces

While The Faces aren’t as well known (or influential) as The Rolling Stones, they’re torn from the same cloth.  If you want dirty, sloppy rock and roll for a bad-ass party, The Faces are an essential soundtrack.  And like The Stones, you can feel the sweat and sheer joy from the performance. It’s hard not to want to get up and dance when listening to songs like “Stay With Me” and “Too Bad”.  A Nod Is As Good as a Wink To a Dead House is an undisputed classic in straight-up rock and roll boogie.  It’s also proof that, despite his cheesiness now, Rod Stewart was once pretty fantastic.

The Smiths

If you can include R.E.M. in the Rock Hall, you also have to include their British contemporaries, The Smiths.  Like Peter Buck, The Smith’s guitarist Johnny Marr favored a clear ringing style of guitar that was under-stated but brilliant.  The Smiths’ jangled, melodic, alternative rock with Morrisey’s articulate and literate crooning style was a direct anthesis to the synth-pop that was over-taking the British music scene at the time.   Like Joy Division, The Smiths had a huge influence on Emo, providing the soundtrack for many alienated and confused teenagers.

Harry Smith (Non-performer)

It’s hard to over-estimate the importance of The Anthology of Folk American Folk Music (aka The Harry Smith Anthology).  Prior to this collection, many of these recordings would otherwise go unnoticed and be lost in time.  The Blues, Folk and Bluesgrass music culled from Depression-Era America, directly resulted in the Folk-Revival off the late 50s and early 60s.  Simply put, without Smith’s archival the Coffeehouse perfomances in Greenwich Village probably wouldn’t have existed.  And who can imagine music without that?

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