Posts Tagged ‘Oh Mercy’

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After the colourful detour of Deep Heat (2012), Oh Mercy’s ARIA-winning singer Alexander Gow relocated to the USA, where things didn’t go necessarily as planned. Recorded across three cities, “When We Talk About Love” is rife with homesickness, lovesickness and nods to Gow’s heroes – from Raymond Carver, to Burt Bacharach, the Triffids to the Go-Betweens. Opener “Without You” is expansive and evocative, with sweeping string arrangements and the kind of honest vocal delivery that pours out like an open wound. “I’m always thinking of you with some other guy,” he deadpans. Songs like “I Don’t Really Want To Know” and “Sandy” pull off that great songwriter’s trick of pairing a melancholic lyric with an optimistic melody, but it all comes to a head on Lady Eucalyptus, a lush finger-picked take on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. “My cards are all dealt and done,” he sings like a man who’s burned everything to the ground just to start again.

After the swaggering glam of the Portland-recorded ‘Deep Heat’, Alex Gow holed up in the NSW coast with producer Scott Horscroft to craft a breakup record for the ages. Largely eschewing the characters he filtered his emotional point of view through on the last record, Alex (playing almost every instrument here) marries a lyrical vocabulary tied to the mature pop of the sixties and early 70s (Bacharach/David, Carole King) with a timeless sonic approach that gives his tender melodies room to breath. The vividness of ‘Lady Ecalyptus’ and ‘I Don’t Really Wanna Know’ is devastating, but the album is never a depressing or unpleasant listen, just a collection of great pop tunes.

bob dylan Oh-Mercy

Oh Mercy is the 26th studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released in September 1989 by Columbia Records. Produced by Daniel Lanois, it was hailed by critics as a triumph for Dylan, after a string of weaker-reviewed albums. When Dylan went recording Oh Mercy, his career was at a low-point after two poorly received albums (Knocked Out Loaded and Down In The Groove), and the feeling he lost his spark, according to his own memoir Chronicles Volume One. Bob himself thought he lost his voice back in 1987.

Oh Mercy gave Dylan his best chart showing in years. Standout tracks: ‘Where Teardrops Fall’, ‘Ring Them Bells’, ‘Most of the Time’, ‘What Was It You Wanted?’ Tracks recorded but not selected: ‘Dignity’ and ‘Series of Dreams’.

One of Dylan’s most ambitious compositions, “Series of Dreams” is given a tumultuous production from Daniel Lanois. The lyrics are fairly straightforward, giving a literal description of the turmoil encountered by the narrator during a “Series of Dreams.” However, the descriptions quickly unfold into a set of highly evocative verses.

 “Series of Dreams” was his pick for the opening track, but ultimately, the final decision was Dylan’s. Music critic Tim Riley would echo these sentiments, writing that “‘Series of Dreams’ should have been the working title song to Oh Mercy, not a leftover pendant.”

Another outtake, “Dignity“, was one of the first songs written for Oh Mercy. Dylan viewed “Dignity” as a strong contender for the album, and an extensive amount of work was done on it. However, Dylan was dissatisfied with the recorded results, resulting in his decision to omit it.

The two most celebrated outtakes fromOh Mercy’s sessions, Dylan would not only perform “Dignity” and “Series of Dreams” live, he would eventually release them. “Series of Dreams” was the final track on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991, and it was later included on 1994’s Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 3. “Dignity” was performed live during a 1994 appearance on MTV Unplugged, and the same performance was later issued on the accompanying album. A remixed version of “Dignity” featuring new overdubs was released on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 3, while the original Lanois production would not see release until the soundtrack album of the television show, Touched by an Angel.

Two more outtakes, “Born In Time” and “God Knows“, were set aside and later re-written and re-recorded for Dylan’s next album, Under the Red Sky. Versions of both songs from the Oh Mercy sessions were also included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs. “The Oh Mercy outtake of ‘Born In Time’ was one of those Dylan performances that so surrendered itself to the moment that to decry the lyrical slips would be to mock sincerity itself”, wrote an enamored Heylin.

The songs were haunting, the songwriting excellent and it proved Dylan wasn’t done yet and relaunched his career. It thusly culminated with the success of his turn of the millenium albums, Time Out Of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times. However, although Oh Mercy is a great album, some outtakes are better than the songs who made the cut. This is also the last albums where you can find several outtakes from the sessions only on bootlegs as for now. The sound is crisp, the performances intense, and Lanois production, although echoey, truly matches the songs.

Oh Mercy can perhaps best be thought of as a collaboration between Dylan and producer Daniel Lanois. Lanois, who most recently produced the Neville Brothers’ extraordinary album Yellow Moon, hooked Dylan up with members of the Nevilles’ band — guitarist Brian Stoltz, bassist Tony Hall, drummer Willie Green and percussionist Cyril Neville — and fashioned evocative, atmospheric soundscapes that elicit every nuance of meaning from Dylan’s songs while never overwhelming them. Dylan’s lyric style on Oh Mercy — a plain-spoken directness with rich folkloric and Biblical shadings — finds an ideal setting in the dark, open textures of Lanois’s sonic weave.

The album opens with “Political World”, a song that Dylan described in Chronicles Volume One as a “catalog of troubles…almost an update on ‘With God on Our Side.'” A cranky tirade against the modern world, it begins with the verse, “We live in a political world/Love don’t have any place/We live in a time where men commit crime/And crime don’t have a face”,  which leaves one to argue, which age does this not apply to?.

In regard to “Everything Is Broken”, Dylan wrote, “Danny didn’t have to swamp it up too much, it was already swamped up pretty good when it came to him. Critics usually didn’t like a song like this coming out of me because it didn’t seem to be autobiographical. Maybe not, “Everything Is Broken,” is a rollicking catalog of psychic dislocation but the stuff I write does come from an autobiographical place.” A propulsive, riff-driven number, it was the first single issued from Oh Mercy

“Ring Them Bells” is one of the more celebrated tracks on Oh Mercy, and also where Lanois’s production is at its most subtle and restrained. The song features some spiritual overtones, invoking St. Peter, St. Catherine and a “Sweet Martha” who may or may not be the biblical Martha. It opens with the verse, “Ring them bells ye heathen/From the city that dreams/Ring them bells from the sanctuaries/’Cross the valleys and streams.”

“Ring Them Bells” may be the only song on the album that was released with its live vocals intact.

“One of my favorites is ‘Man in the Long Black Coat,’ which was written in the studio, and recorded in one take”, recalls Lanois. Praised by author Clinton Heylin as a “powerful reinterpretation of The Daemon Lover motif”, “Man in the Long Black Coat” also contains some prominent use of apocalyptic imagery, evoking a place where the “water is high” and “tree trunks uprooted”. In his own assessment of “Man in the Long Black Coat”, Dylan wrote that “in some kind of weird way, I thought of it as my ‘I Walk the Line,’ a song I’d always considered to be up there at the top, one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time, a song that makes an attack on your most vulnerable spots, sharp words from a master”.

The second half of Oh Mercy is notable for its sustained moodiness and resignation, often in relation to romantic dissolution. This is immediately apparent on the atmospheric “Most of the Time”, which features the richest production on the album. the narrator in “Most of the Time” sings of an estranged lover whom the narrator can’t quite shake from his memories. The song addresses an irreconcilable, personal relationship, and this theme would continue through “What Good Am I?”, a frank look at the narrator’s moral worth, and “What Was It You Wanted”.

Though he is still uncertain of its origins, in his autobiography Dylan does write that “Disease of Conceit” may have been inspired by the defrocking of Jimmy Swaggart. Lou Reed selected this song as one of his ‘picks of 1989’.

The album closes with “Shooting Star”.

While recovering from a hand injury in December 1987, Dylan wrote “Political World”, his first new song in a long time. According to his autobiography, the lyrics for “Political World” came to him spontaneously and were easy to write; though no melody was composed, he came up with 20 verses.

The onset of inspiration did not stop there. Days later (during the first week of 1988), he wrote verses for a second song, “What Good Am I?”, over the course of one evening. The next day, he wrote another called “Dignity”. Unlike his previous two songs, “Dignity” was written with the rhythm, tempo, and melody all in Dylan’s head. Completed over the course of an afternoon and evening, Dylan composed the song after hearing of Pete Maravich‘s death.

Over the next month or so, Dylan composed many more songs (20 by his estimate), including “Everything Is Broken”, “Disease of Conceit”, and “What Was It You Wanted?” Melodies were written for only a few of them. In the meantime, Dylan’s injured hand was healing well; he was encouraged by his doctor to play guitar again. Dylan began playing concerts again soon after his recovery.

Clinton Heylin reports, while promoting The Traveling Wilburys in the fall of 1988, George Harrison discussed some of Dylan’s upcoming work. “Harrison enthused about Dylan’s new songs…informing a skeptical world that the experience of recording the Wilburys had given him the urge to write again.”

Bono, lead singer of U2, paid Dylan a visit at his home. When he asked Dylan if he had written any new songs, Dylan showed him the ones stored in his drawer. Bono urged him to record the songs, but Dylan was reluctant. Dylan said, “Bono…suggested that Daniel [Lanois] could really record them right. Daniel came to see me when we were playing in New Orleans last year and…we hit it off. He had an understanding of what my music was all about. It’s very hard to find a producer that can play…and [still] knows how to record with modern facilities. For me, that was lacking (in) the past.”

“Most of them [the songs on “Oh Mercy” are stream-of-consciousness songs, the kind that come to you in the middle of the night, when you just want to go back to bed. The harder you try to do something, the more it evades you. These weren’t like that.”
~Bob Dylan (to Edna Gundersen, 21 September 1989)

While it would be unfair to compare ‘Oh Mercy’ to Dylan’s Sixties recordings, it sits well alongside his impressive body of work. Heylin countered this remark, arguing that the Oh Mercy sessions had the songs to compete with Dylan’s most celebrated work. A few of these songs were not issued on the album, but they soon found their way into private circulation where they acquired a strong reputation among critics and collectors.
~Clinton Heylin (Behind The Shades)

In 1989, Bob Dylan released Oh Mercy, his twenty-sixth studio album. Watch the official music video of “Most of the Time” now.

Track listing:

  1. “Political World” – 3:43
  2. “Where Teardrops Fall” – 2:30
  3. “Everything Is Broken” – 3:12
  4. “Ring Them Bells” – 3:00
  5. “Man in the Long Black Coat” – 4:30
  6. “Most of the Time” – 5:02
  7. “What Good Am I?” – 4:45
  8. “Disease of Conceit” – 3:41
  9. “What Was It You Wanted” – 5:02
  10. “Shooting Star” – 3:12