Posts Tagged ‘Carolyn Dennis’

Bruce Springsteen - July 25, 1992

Performing with his new band in front of eager hometown fans, Springsteen goes the extra mile in this spirited set showcasing songs from Human Touch and Lucky Town along with a few special treats. New Jersey 1992 delivers 13 songs from the two albums, from “Living Proof” and “Souls Of The Departed” to “Real Man” and “All Or Nothin’ At All.” It also features the tour’s only performance of the gospel gem “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)” showcasing the background singers, plus a unique solo-to-band arrangement of “Open All Night” that hilariously updates the turnpike tale.

The 11-night stand at the Meadowlands Arena to kick off the 1992 U.S. tour was a bold statement of intent. It’s surely intentional that it was one show more than the famed ten-show run at the same venue in 1984, the difference being that this time Bruce was coming home with new friends, not familiar ones. Touring for the first time without the E Street Band and playing in front of what are arguably his most diehard fans is a daunting proposition. But with opening night jitters out of the way, the second show on July 25th, 1992 offers a hungry, highly entertaining performance that plays to the new lineup’s gospel-meets-roots-rock strengths.

Right from the top, Bruce is wholly committed and in stellar voice, his rich timbre leading the strong show-opening trio of “Better Days,” “Local Hero” (complete with local landmark namechecks to show his Garden State cred remained intact), and “Lucky Town.”

Bruce’s new musical collaborators “wouldn’t have looked out of place on stage with [Bob] Dylan circa 1978-81,” and that particular Dylan-era frame of reference applies to the music, too, as the approach to both new and old material was to make it more soulful while still rock ’n’ roll. The playing of the core band (Shane Fontayne on guitar, Tommy Sims on bass, and Zack Alford on drums) with a full European tour already under their belts is punchy and tight, while the background singers add gospel gravitas to the proceedings–an appealing combination.

Even on familiar material, these off-E Street versions don’t sound quite as “different” 27 years on, in a good way. The opening set features a first-rate “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” an eloquent reading of “The River” with a long, heart-heavy harmonica outro, and an inspired tour debut for “Open All Night.”

Aimed squarely at this turnpike audience, “Open All Night” starts solo and builds to full band in a manner that may suggest what the unreleased “Electric Nebraska”version sounded like ten years prior. Better still, in the middle of the song, Bruce tells an updated version of the yarn he spun on the Born in the U.S.A. tour, noting the closure of his beloved Howard Johnson’s and a reunion with the waitress at Bob’s Big Boy who reminds him her restaurant is still “open all night.” Good fun.

The first set wraps with four key tracks from the new albums, wrapped around a deeply personal “My Hometown,” introduced with an earnest story about parenting and dedicated from one relatively new dad to all the “moms and pops.” A dynamic performance of “Living Proof” again shows the song to be Bruce’s most powerful from the era. “Leap of Faith” is endearing and infectious thanks in large part to the singers, while the Sam and Dave-style vocal duet with Bobby King on “Man’s Job” raises it from catchy ditty to heartfelt homage. A feature-length “Roll of the Dice” wraps a spirited and undeniably entertaining first act.

After the break, the rarely performed “All or Nothin’ at All” proves a fine set opener and gets the energy of the show right back on track. It’s the one song from Human Touch that sounds like it could be a Born in the U.S.A. outtake, a spiritual cousin to the likes of “I’m Goin’ Down.” The crowd enjoys it too, singing along in full voice when tasked to do so. Having been played in concert fewer than a dozen times, its inclusion here is a welcome opportunity for fresh appreciation.

What follows is another rarity and one of the highlights of the tour, “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do),” inexplicably performed only this night (and at a private tour warm-up in June, suggesting it may have been considered for a regular feature in the set at that point). The gospel tune has been covered by everyone from Wilson Pickett to Creedence Clearwater Revival, but Springsteen’s version casts him as a humorous preacher questioning the commitment of men in relationships, while King, Carolyn Dennis, Angel Rogers and the rest of the background vocalists sing like they’re wearing choir robes. The result is amusing, cleverly arranged, and another lost gem rediscovered by the download series.

On the whole, the 7/25/92 performance has aged well, but there are a couple of exceptions. “Real Man” is another rarity, performed on 7/25 for the very last time in concert. Bruce himself admits, “This next song I almost threw off the album because I thought it was too corny, but what can say? It’s how I feel.” Corny we accept, especially from a man in love. More difficult to ignore is the synthesizer that could not sound more dated, though in the end, “Real Man” is interesting if only for the sheer novelty factor of it in the overall canon.

Three recent classics return us to regularly scheduled programming: a spot-on “Cover Me” with fine fretwork from Fontayne, and two Patti Scialfa features, “Brilliant Disguise” and “Tougher Than the Rest,” the latter derailed slightly by those pesky period synths, though Bruce sings all three superbly.

The show’s denouement comes with the pairing of “Souls of the Departed” into “Born in the U.S.A.” “Souls” begins in desert darkness, with news reports of bombs over Baghdad riding desolate guitar strains a la U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky.” It is a sharp-edged, commanding performance that moves through flourishes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” a la Hendrix into “Born in the U.S.A.” to slam home the point Bruce made so clearly on last month’s release: “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”

The show wraps with a run of crowd pleasers–”Light of Day,” “Glory Days,” “Working on the Highway,” “Bobby Jean,” “Hungry Heart”–and the tour’s gorgeous, stripped-down “Thunder Road,” before “Born to Run” and Bruce’s best-ever coda,“My Beautiful Reward,” send us out on a high, hopeful note.

Because of the new band, 1992-93 always carries an asterisk in Bruce’s live history, like a strike-shortened baseball season. But as was the case in the major leagues, they still played the games and the games still counted, especially to Springsteen himself. One can feel his commitment in this performance, joyfully trying to win over the Jersey crowd and largely succeeding.

Words by Erik Flanagan.

Bob Dylan’s Gospel years inspired and rankled in unequal measure – with the critical brickbats and audience boos often drowning out the strength and beauty of the impassioned musical ministries delivered by Dylan between 1979 and 1981, gathering around him his five-strong chorus of gospel singers, and a crack band that included Little Feet guitarist Fred Tackett, bassist Tim Drummond, Muscle Shoals keyboardist Spooner Oldham and pianist Terry Young, and veteran drummer Jim Keltner. it’s no great mystery that when Bob Dylan seemed to find new faith around 1979, a lot of fans and Dylanologists lost theirs — in him. it seems clearer that another major impetus for him in heading down the path of spirituality had to be the opportunity to tap into the higher power of a great rock-gospel band.

So what were audiences to think when, with the release of 1979’s “Slow Train Coming” album, he sang that he was “Gonna change my way of thinking / Make myself a different set of rules” and preached that “there’s only one authority / And that’s the authority on high”?.

Roots music aficionado that he’s always been, Dylan has long understood the power gospel music has to move and inspire listeners. In turn, Bob Dylan served up some of his most impassioned, electrifying performances with these gospel-steeped songs.

Bob Dylan — Trouble No More — The Bootleg Series Vol. 13/ 1979-1981.” This one spans the so-called “Christian period” of his trio of albums: “Slow Train Coming,” “Saved” (from 1980) and “Shot of Love” (1981).

Slow Train Coming was at least a challenging and engaging album, with much typical imagery and complexity. A stunning gospel version of the title track features in the current hit play Girl from the North Country at the Old Vic theatre. The follow-up album, though, 1980’s Saved was too close to pure gospel, too devotional, and alienated even more fans. Shot of Love in 1981 continued the religious theme to a degree, but it was intermingled with what one might term secular tracks, and there was evidence that Dylan was once again changing course.

Filmed at Toronto’s Massey Hall and in Buffalo, New York, Dylan’s gospel shows have long been a bootlegger’s holy grail, and it was only on last autumn’s Trouble No More boxed set, the latest volume in the official Bootleg Series, that some of that footage finally found official release. Now that hour-long film has made it The nights of religious fervour and impassioned performances. It intersperses up-close and personal studio rehearsals with exceptionally intimate live footage of some of Dylan’s strongest Gospel songs – the likes of “Solid Rock”, “Slow Train”, “When He Returns” and “Precious Angel” – with slightly contrived but absorbing enough “sermons” written by Luc Sante and performed by Michael Shannon, who plays a lean, mean kind of preacher who wouldn’t be out of place in Girl from the North Country, the hit Dylan musical.

A lot of fans abandoned Bob Dylan during his Gospel [de]tours, largely to their own detriment

The subjects for each “sermon” were apparently suggested by Dylan, but it seems the singer had no further part in shaping their texts. A shame. There was a bit of a disconnect between the tone of these spiritual homilies and the music itself, so intimately captured, and so strong and vivid an expression of Dylan’s spiritual journey at the time. It might have made more sense to, say, use Hank Williams’ Luke the Drifter song-sermons. It was material that certainly chimed with Dylan from an early age (“I could listen to the Luke the Drifter record all day and drift away myself, become totally convinced in the goodness of man…” he wrote in Chronicles).

Director/producer Jennifer LeBeau excelled in choosing the strongest musical performances, all of it prefaced by that remarkable rehearsal footage, and closing with an extremely affecting performance of “Abraham, Martin and John” by Dylan and Clydie King, his then-girlfriend and a Gospel singer whose voice sounds like the female voice of an Old Testament God – tearing the air like paper and raising whatever roof it’s under until it hits the ground.

A lot of fans abandoned Dylan during his Gospel [de]tours, largely to their own detriment, but this was a film that put the music’s undeniable power up front, in your face and centre stage. Plenty of people back in 1979 and 1980 were talking up the “end times” and we’re enjoying a new flavour of “end times” right now, aren’t we, in a more solid, indigestible form? In that light, it’s fascinating to see and hear these spiritually impassioned songs performed under “the darkness that will fall from on high” that Dylan felt pressing down on him during those Gospel years. But let’s leave the last word to one of the men who was there, Fred Tackett. Here’s what he thinks of the film: “I was amazed, man. Everything was just so good. They picked the very best songs. Him and Spooner Oldham playing this harmonica and Hammond organ together at the end of ‘What Can I Do for You’… it was just so cool and hip, and Bob Dylan is playing so great. They found the best stuff and put it in this movie.”

In tracks like ‘Solid Rock’, you can feel his heart bursting with religious passion

That force comes through as well in the best tracks of Bob Dylan’s Trouble No More – The Bootleg Series Vol 13 1979-81, the concert chronicle of his much-maligned “Christian” albums. The fiery gospel fervour delivered here benefits a great deal from being live rather than reproduced in the studio. These two discs are dynamite, containing, I am sure, some of the very most stirring moments of Dylan’s gigantic opus. In tracks like “Solid Rock” from San Diego in 1979, you can feel his heart bursting with religious passion, and everyone else – from the tightest of bands to five red-hot back-up singers – possessed by the spirit. This combination of note-perfect excellence and total letting-go can only be good for the soul, Dylan’s own, but for us the audience as well.

The deluxe set from Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings encompasses eight CDs and one DVD with director Jennifer Lebeau’s new documentary, “Trouble No More: A Musical Film.” An abridged two-CD set and a four-LP vinyl version are also available.

The deluxe set comprises 100 tracks: alternate studio versions, rehearsal takes and live performances. Only one has been previously released: “Ye Shall Be Changed,” which appeared on the first installment from 1991, “The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3.”

The first two discs of the “Trouble No More” set are drawn from various tour stops from 1979-81, while discs 3 and 4 collect rare versions of songs from the studio albums along with several that didn’t wind up on any of those releases. The fifth and sixth discs contain his full show from April 18th, 1980 in Toronto, while CDs 7 and 8 offer up another full concert from June 27th, 1981 at Earl’s Court in London. (For Dylan completists, the singer-songwriter’s website is offering two additional discs with yet another complete performance, this one from his Nov. 28th, 1979 tour stop in San Diego.)

Discs 1 through 4 are framed smartly, each of the four opening with markedly different renditions of the same song: “Slow Train Coming,” displaying how Dylan’s restless artistry was always in search of the right feel, tempo and attitude for a given song.

An alternate studio take of one of the “Slow Train Coming” album’s higher profile songs, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” features a livelier bounce in the rhythm section of Drummond and drummer Pick Withers, while keyboardist Barry Beckett pushes the song forward with beat-anticipating piano interlaced with funky clavinet parts. The backing gospel singers on the released version are absent.

The fidelity of the live versions varies noticeably in places, which makes for some compromises. The performance of “Man Gave Names to All the Animals” on the first disc, recorded in 1980 in Portland, Ore., benefits from a more fluid reggae-ized lilt by the band, and is buoyed further by a break where the gospel singers are featured.

But Dylan’s vocal is low in the mix, rendering certain lines difficult to discern, especially to anyone not already intimately familiar with his clever roster of creation stories he cooked up for so many critters.

Bob Dylan's 'Trouble No More' examines the gospel years, 1979-81