Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Stuck Outside of Cairo With Those Memphis Blues Again

I was just reading singer-songwriter Megan Reilly's guide to her hometown Memphis, Tenn. in the July 2003 issue of CMJ New Music Monthly. Describing the Pyramid Arena, she writes: "Why our mayor had this bright idea I'll never know." Could it be, Megan, that Memphis, Tennessee is named after Memphis, Egypt, the site of many a great pyramid? Check out this picture from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

(c) Wayne Robins, 2003.

Monday, August 11, 2003


by Wayne Robins

Everything I've read about "Masked and Anonymous," is about the movie of that name, Bob Dylan's latest and apparently typically tricky, cryptically idiosyncratic foray into feature films. But as always with Dylan, it's the music that matters, and the brilliantly compiled and astutely executed CD of "Masked and Anonymous," ("Music from the Motion Picture") on Columbia is a treat, no trick.

The disc contains only a smattering of performances by Dylan himself: There's a roaring new version of "Down in the Flood" with his current hell-bent-for-leather touring band, a version of "Cold Irons Bound" that has some of the steady rolling groove of John Lee Hooker, and a rendition of the traditional "Diamond Joe" that sounds perfunctory. Dylan also sings the Confederate anthem "Dixie," sure to confound graying boomers who still hear "Blowin' in the Wind" when they heard Dylan in the windmills of their minds. Outside the context of the movie, "Dixie" sounds gleefully perverse, and a ripe topic for South Carolina and Georgia talk-radio.

The essence of "Masked and Anonymous" is in the versions of Dylan songs by an array of visitors from a small planet, most of them licensed from Sony Music's various international divisions. The kick off is an arresting "My Back Pages," in Japanese, by the Magokoro Brothers. "One More Cup of Coffee" is hauntingly re-brewed as Turkish coffee by Sertab Erener.

Sweden's Sophie Zelmani gives a near spoken-word performance on "Most of the Time," intimately intoning the lyrics over an odd musical track that at moments seems like it wants to break into Lou Reed's "Walk On the Wild Side."

Two Italian performers take their cracks at the Dylan catalog from divergent angles. Francesco de Gregori takes a conventional folk-pop approach to "Non Dirle Che Non E' Cosi' (If You See Her Say Hello).'' Much more adventurous, and the disc's most strangely satisfying track, is Articulo 31's hip-hop variation of "Come Una Pietra Scalciata," otherwise known as "Like A Rolling Stone." The track samples Bob shouting, "How does it feel?," while the rap rolls in understated Italian.

Among the other notable moments are Los Lobos' similarly cross-cultural version of "On A Night Like This," mixing English, Spanish, and the spirit of Smiley Lewis' "One Night (of Sin)."

Two gospel tracks" Shirley Caesar's impressive but never indelible "Gotta Serve Somebody" and the Dixie Hummingbirds' "City of Gold" may be your thing but don't have a direct dial to my own higher power. What takes me to heaven, though, is Jerry Garcia's "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" recorded circa 1991 and a reminder of the dead Dead's guitarist incomparable touch.

(c) 2003 Wayne Robins. All rights reserved. Syndication and sales: wrobins@nyc.rr.com

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