100 Years Ago, ‘Crazy Blues’ Sparked a Revolution for Black Women Fans ~ NYT

Mamie Smith’s song wasn’t just an artistic breakthrough. It proved Black women and girls bought records, paving the way for today’s fan armies.

Credit…Donaldson Collection/Getty Images

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“Music was my refuge.”

 

This is how Maya Angelou opens her third memoir, “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas,” from 1976. When she was piecing together a life in 1940s San Francisco as a single teen mother, it was the need for vinyl — the blues of John Lee Hooker, the “bubbling silver sounds of Charlie Parker” — that drew her to the Melrose Record Shop on Fillmore. Her passion for records drove her to snatch two hours between jobs so she could rove its aisles. It was “where I could wallow,” Angelou writes, “rutting in music.”

Angelou would go on to join the store’s staff, basking in a world of wall-to-wall sounds — Schoenberg, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie — ordering stock and playing records on request. Maya the music wonk. Maya the D.J. Maya the record collector. This is a side of Black women’s cultural lives rarely considered and yet deeply woven into our modern pop universe.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of Mamie Smith recording “Crazy Blues,” African-American women’s breakthrough into the mainstream recording industry — a feat that is stunning and impactful, yet so often misunderstood or forgotten that most people would be hard pressed to name the artist whose smash altered the course of pop. And though they’re rarely acknowledged in histories of music, the Black women and girls who responded to Smith’s sound in mass helped upend the anti-Blackness of America’s nascent record business in the early 20th century.

In the summer of 1920, Smith, the Cincinnati-born New York vaudevillian, walked into a studio with Perry Bradford, a shrewd songwriter-musician and blues business hustler. They were on a mission to counteract the industry’s previous decade, when white blues artists like Marion Harris and the Ukrainian immigrant Sophie Tucker were breaking out with their own recorded renditions of Black music while African-American entertainers — legends like Ma Rainey, Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith — were confined to burning up the stages all along the “Chitlin Circuit,” the Theatre Owners Booking Association’s array of venues designated for Black performers.

For Smith and Bradford, one of the biggest questions was whether they could prove to record executives that, without a shadow of a doubt, Black music fans mattered.

The Wild Story of Creem, Once ‘America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine’ ~ NYT

A new documentary traces the rise and fall of the irreverent, boundary-smashing music publication where Lester Bangs did some of his most famous work.

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Credit…Charles Auringer

 

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On Jaan Uhelszki’s first day at Creem magazine in October 1970, she met a fellow new hire: Lester Bangs, a freelance writer freshly arrived from California to fill the post of record reviews editor. His plaid three-piece suit made him look like an awkward substitute teacher, she thought, and certainly out of place among the hippies and would-be revolutionaries using the publication’s decrepit Detroit office as a crash pad.

Uhelszki, still a teenager, was majoring in journalism at nearby Wayne State University, and had been sent to the fledgling rock magazine by editors at the student newspaper. “They said with a sneer, ‘We can’t publish you, you don’t have any clips, but Creem will publish anybody, why don’t you go walk down the street,’” Uhelszki said in a phone interview. “So my first clips were Creem. I started at the top.”

She’d arrived at the headquarters of “America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine,” as Creem’s front covers would soon proclaim. What began as an underground newspaper soon evolved under Bangs, the editor Dave Marsh and the publisher Barry Kramer into a boisterous, irreverent, boundary-smashing monthly that was equal parts profound and profane. During his half-decade at Creem, Bangs would publish many of the pharmaceutically fueled exegeses that made him “America’s greatest rock critic” — including his epic three-part interview with his hero/nemesis Lou Reed. By 1976, it had a circulation of over 210,000, second only to Rolling Stone.

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Credit…John Collier

The magazine’s roller-coaster arc and its lasting impact on the culture is the subject of a spirited new documentary directed by Scott Crawford, “Creem: America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine,”which Uhelszki co-wrote and helped produce. The film opens Friday for virtual cinema and limited theatrical release, and comes to VOD on Aug. 28.

As a teenager, Crawford bought old issues of Creem from used bookstores near his home outside Washington, D.C. His first film was “Salad Days,” a 2014 documentary about the city’s hardcore punk scene.

“I was aware of the personalities involved,” he said of the Creem crew. “I’d heard stories over the years of their fights, literal fistfights, so I knew that this would make for a hell of a film because in addition to how much they contributed to music journalism, a lot of the writers were just as interesting as the artists that they covered.”

The documentary traces how Creem’s high-intensity environment mirrored that of the late 1960s Detroit rock scene, which was centered around the heavy guitar assault of bands like the MC5, the Stooges and Alice Cooper. Barry Kramer, a working-class Jewish kid with a chip on his shoulder and a volatile temper, was a key local figure: He owned the record store-cum-head shops Mixed Media and Full Circle.

“I liked Barry a great deal, and in fact I wanted him to manage the MC5,” the band’s guitarist Wayne Kramer, who is not a relation, said in a phone interview. (He also handled original music for the film.) “He had a vision and saw ways that this emerging counterculture could be monetized.”

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Credit…Barry Levine

 

The original idea for Creem came from a clerk at Mixed Media, Tony Reay, who persuaded Barry Kramer to put $1,200 into the venture, which began in March 1969. When the cartoonist Robert Crumb wandered into Mixed Media in need of cash, Reay offered him $50 to draw the cover of issue No. 2. Crumb’s illustration included an anthropomorphized bottle of cream exclaiming “Boy Howdy!,” which became the magazine’s mascot and catchphrase.

Reay soon departed over creative differences, and the magazine briefly took on a more political flavor, thanks to Marsh, a 19-year-old Wayne State student. The arrival of Bangs in 1970 was explosive.

“They both had different ideas of what Creem should be,” Uhelszki said. “Lester just saw us as bozo provocateurs, and David wanted it to be a more political magazine and saw us as foot soldiers of the counterculture.”

In 1971, a robbery at the Cass Corridor offices spurred Barry Kramer to move the magazine to a 120-acre farm in the rural suburb Walled Lake. The staff lived there communally for two years: sharing three rooms and one bathroom, working and socializing around the clock amid a menagerie of dogs, cats and horses. In the film, Uhelszki reveals that a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night meant possibly encountering Kramer and getting a lecture about copy while half-awake, and that Marsh once deposited wayward excrement from Bangs’s dog onto Bangs’s typewriter.

“We had rolled out into the driveway,” Marsh recalls of the ensuing fistfight, “and I got my head smacked into an open car door. That’s OK, he wasn’t trying to hurt me, he was just trying to win.”

 

 

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac Co-Founder and Guitar Great, Dead at 73 ~ RollingStone

I have been listening to Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and Peter Green, Blues for Dhyâna while burning chicken this morning on the barby when i heard the news of Peter Green’s death … Fleetwood Mac was an English blues group, formed in 1967 and lasted until the mid-70’s when they went pop with the gals. What a fucking band … and so many listeners weren’t even aware of their blues past, in the beginning. What a loss.

rŌbert

 

Peter Green
British musician Peter Green, guitarist and co-founder of rock band Fleetwood Mac, circa 1968. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

Peter Green, guitarist and co-founding member of Fleetwood Mac, has died at the age of 73.

Green’s family confirmed his death in a statement to the BBC, “It is with great sadness that the family of Peter Green announce his death this weekend, peacefully in his sleep. A further statement will be provided in the coming days.”

Green was one of eight Fleetwood Mac members inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998; the blues guitarist also placed number 58 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists list.

The London-born blues guitarist first came to prominence beginning in 1965 when he was handpicked as Eric Clapton’s replacement in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. “He might not be better [than Clapton] now. But you wait… he’s going to be the best,” Mayall told his producer at the time.

Two years later, Green and fellow Bluesbreaker and drummer Mick Fleetwood formed their own band, later to be known simply as Fleetwood Mac; the pair would later recruit another veteran of the Bluesbreakers, bassist John McVie.

With Green at the helm, this early blues rock incarnation of Fleetwood Mac released three albums, beginning with their 1968 self-titled debut. The instrumental “Albatross,” a non-LP, Green-penned single, would reach Number One on the British singles chart soon after, with a follow-up single “Man of the World” peaking at Number Two. Green also wrote the band’s 1968 single “Black Magic Woman,” which later became a hit for Santana.

Following 1968’s Mr. Wonderful, Green’s Fleetwood Mac released their most revered album, 1969’s Then Play On. However, at that point, Green’s mental well-being began to deteriorate – he was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent time in psychiatric hospitals – and by May 1970, Green departed Fleetwood Mac after spending time in a commune and swearing off material goods.

“I’ve got to do what God would have me do, start some kind of positive action, despite newspaper distortion or whatever,” Green said at the time. “I’m not worried if it means I’ll fade from public view – it’s better to set a good example.”

In the early Seventies, Green remained musically active, releasing his solo LP The End of the Game and temporarily rejoining his Fleetwood Mac band mates. However, over the rest of the decade, the guitarist was plagued by mental illness; he wouldn’t release another solo album until 1979.

In February, Mick Fleetwood staged a tribute show in celebration of Green’s legacy, a gig that drew friends and admirers like David Gilmour, Billy Gibbons, Pete Townshend, Steven Tyler, Neil Finn and many more.

“I wanted people to know that I did not form this band — Peter Green did,” Fleetwood told Rolling Stone. “And I wanted to celebrate those early years of Fleetwood Mac, which started this massive ball that went down the road over the last 50 years.”

Fleetwood added in a statement in January, “Peter was my greatest mentor and it gives me such joy to pay tribute to his incredible talent. I am honored to be sharing the stage with some of the many artists Peter has inspired over the years and who share my great respect for this remarkable musician.”

Peter Frampton tweeted Saturday, “Most sadly have lost one of the most tasteful guitar players ever I have always been a huge admirer of the great Peter Green may he rest in peace.”

Green’s death comes just days after Fleetwood Mac announced plans to revisit the band’s early years with a massive boxset that includes the guitarist’s tenure.


 

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In this file photo dated Saturday, April 7, 2001, British rock and blues guitarist Peter Green, a founding member of Fleetwood Mac, backstage before performing with his own band, Peter Green’s Splinter Group, at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, in New York. 
July 25, 2020

 

LONDON — Peter Green, the dexterous blues guitarist who led the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac in a career shortened by psychedelic drugs and mental illness, has died at 73.

A law firm representing his family, Swan Turton, announced the death in a statement Saturday. It said he died “peacefully in his sleep″ this weekend. A further statement will be issued in the coming days.

Green, to some listeners, was the best of the British blues guitarists of the 1960s. B.B. King once said Green “has the sweetest tone I ever heard. He was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.”

Green also made a mark as a composer with “Albatross,” and as a songwriter with “Oh Well” and “Black Magic Woman.”

He crashed out of the band in 1971. Even so, Mick Fleetwood said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2017 that Green deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the band’s success.

“Peter was asked why did he call the band Fleetwood Mac. He said, ‘Well, you know I thought maybe I’d move on at some point and I wanted Mick and John (McVie) to have a band.’ End of story, explaining how generous he was,” said Fleetwood, who described Green as a standout in an era of great guitar work.

Indeed, Green was so fundamental to the band that in its early days it was called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.

Peter Allen Greenbaum was born on Oct. 29, 1946, in London. The gift of a cheap guitar put the 10-year-old Green on a musical path.

He was barely out of his teens when he got his first big break in 1966, replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers — initially for just a week in 1965 after Clapton abruptly took off for a Greek holiday. Clapton quit for good soon after and Green was in.

In the Bluesbreakers he was reunited with Mick Fleetwood, a former colleague in Peter B’s Looners. Mayall added bass player McVie soon after.

The three departed the next year, forming the core of the band initially billed as “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring (guitarist) Jeremy Spencer.”

Fleetwood Mac made its debut at the British Blues and Jazz festival in the summer of 1967, which led to a recording contract, then an eponymous first album in February 1968. The album, which included “Long Grey Mare” and three other songs by Green, stayed on the British charts for 13 months.

The band’s early albums were heavy blues-rock affairs marked by Green’s fluid, evocative guitar style and gravelly vocals. Notable singles included “Oh Well” and the Latin-flavored “Black Magic Woman,” later a hit for Carlos Santana.

But as the band flourished, Green became increasingly erratic, even paranoid. Drugs played a part in his unraveling.

On a tour in California, Green became acquainted with Augustus Owsley Stanley III, notorious supplier of powerful LSD to the The Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey, the anti-hero of Tom Wolfe’s book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

“He was taking a lot of acid and mescaline around the same time his illness began manifesting itself more and more,” Fleetwood said in 2015. “We were oblivious as to what schizophrenia was back in those days but we knew something was amiss.”

“Green Manalishi,” Green’s last single for the band, reflected his distress.

In an interview with Johnny Black for Mojo magazine, Green said: “I was dreaming I was dead and I couldn’t move, so I fought my way back into my body. I woke up and looked around. It was very dark and I found myself writing a song. It was about money; ‘The Green Manalishi’ is money.”

In some of his last appearances with the band, he wore a monk’s robe and a crucifix. Fearing that he had too much money, he tried to persuade other band members to give their earnings to charities.

Green left Fleetwood Mac for good in 1971.

In his absence, the band’s new line-up, including Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, gained enormous success with a more pop-tinged sound.

Green was confined in a mental hospital in 1977 after an incident with his manager. Testimony in court said Green had asked for money and then threatened to shoot out the windows of the manager’s office.

Green was released later in the year, and married Jane Samuels, a Canadian, in 1978. They had a daughter, Rosebud, and divorced the following year. Green also has a son, Liam Firlej.

Green returned to performing in the 1990s with the Peter Green Splinter Group.

In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with other past and present members of Fleetwood Mac.

 

~~

Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac’s Founder, Is Dead at 73 ~ NYT

One of England’s finest blues guitarists, he wrote most of the group’s early songs. But he left the group after taking LSD, saying he wanted to change his life.

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Credit…George Wilkes/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

Peter Green, the English guitarist and singer who founded Fleetwood Mac, died on Saturday. He was 73.

He died in his sleep, according to a statement from his family’s solicitors, Swan Turton. The statement did not say where he died or what the cause was.

Mr. Green drew deeply on American blues to build a style that could be menacingly propulsive or darkly melancholy. His voice, and the songs he wrote, often spoke of troubled thoughts, and his guitar solos relied on expressive, long-lined melody rather than speed. “I like to play slowly and feel every note,” he once said.

Mr. Green led Fleetwood Mac for less than three years, from 1967 to 1970, and left the group before it became one of the world’s best-selling pop hitmakers in the late 1970s. But during the band’s first years it grew hugely popular in Britain; it had a No. 1 single in 1968 with the instrumental “Albatross,” written by Mr. Green.

Mr. Green wrote most of Fleetwood Mac’s early songs, including “Black Magic Woman,” which later became an American hit for Santana.

B.B. King, one of Mr. Green’s paramount influences, said, “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard,” and added, “He was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.”

Credit…Keystone Features/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

 

Peter Green was born Peter Allen Greenbaum on Oct. 29, 1946, in London, the son of Joe and Anne Greenbaum, and grew up in the Whitechapel neighborhood. He started playing guitar in elementary school.

In his teens, he was in bands including Shotgun Express, a Motown-style soul band featuring a young Rod Stewart. Mr. Green joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers as Eric Clapton’s successor on lead guitar, appearing on the band’s 1967 album “A Hard Road.”

Mr. Mayall gave Mr. Green some recording-studio time as a birthday present in 1966, and Mr. Green set up a session with the Bluesbreakers’ rhythm section: Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass. The recordings included an instrumental named “Fleetwood Mac.”

Mr. Green left the Bluesbreakers to start his own blues band in 1967, with Mr. Fleetwood, the guitarist Jeremy Spencer and, joining soon afterward, Mr. McVie. The group’s 1968 debut album — titled “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac” in Britain and “Fleetwood Mac” in the United States — vigorously emulated American blues.

In January 1969, the band visited the famed Chess Records studios in Chicago to record with the blues musicians Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and others for an album released under the titles “Fleetwood Mac in Chicago” and “Blues Jam at Chess.” They also made a full album with Mr. Spann, “The Biggest Thing Since Colossus,” in New York City.

But Mr. Green was moving the band away from narrowly defined blues in instrumental ballads like “Albatross” and “Oh Well (Part 2),” introspective pop like “Man of the World” and the hard rock of “The Green Manalishi.” He constructed much of “Then Play On,” his last album with Fleetwood Mac, on his own instead of cooperatively with the band.

“A blues doesn’t have to be a 12-bar progression,” he said in 1968. “It can cover any musical chord sequence. To me, the blues is an emotional thing. If a song has the right emotion and feel, I accept it as a blues.”

 Shortly after leaving Fleetwood Mac he withdrew from performing, but he eventually resumed his career.
Credit…George Wilkes/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

Touring America, Fleetwood Mac shared bills with the Grateful Dead and tried LSD from the Dead’s sound engineer and psychedelic chemist, Owsley Stanley. Mr. Green continued to take LSD and mescaline, and he grew increasingly erratic. On tour in Munich in early 1970, he visited a hippie commune and disappeared for three days when, he later said, he “went on a trip, and never came back.”

In his final concerts with Fleetwood Mac, he sometimes performed in a monk’s robe with a large crucifix around his neck; he also urged the other members of the band to donate Fleetwood Mac’s profits to charity. His last song with the group, “The Green Manalishi,” denounced the nightmarish power of money.

In 1970, he left Fleetwood Mac. “I want to change my whole life, really, because I don’t want to be at all a part of the conditioned world, and as much as possible, I am getting out of it,” he told New Musical Express. In 1970 he released a solo album, “The End of the Game,” edited from free-form jazz-rock jam sessions. “I was trying to reach things that I couldn’t before but I had experienced through LSD and mescaline,” he told Mojo magazine.

In 1971 — when Jeremy Spencer suddenly left Fleetwood Mac to join a religious cult — Mr. Green briefly rejoined the band to fulfill its remaining American tour dates. But then he withdrew from performing.

Mr. Green’s main instrument in Fleetwood Mac was a 1959 Les Paul Standard, known as Greeny, that had one pickup installed in reverse, creating a distinctive tone because it put the instrument’s two pickups magnetically out of phase. After leaving Fleetwood Mac, he sold the guitar to the Irish rocker Gary Moore; in 1995, Mr. Moore made an album of Mr. Green’s songs called “Blues for Greeny.” The guitar is now owned by Kirk Hammett of Metallica.

Mr. Green was found to have schizophrenia in the 1970s. He underwent electroconvulsive therapy and was in and out of mental hospitals.

In 1978 he married a Canadian fiddle player, Jane Samuels; they divorced in 1979. He is survived by their daughter, Rosebud Samuels-Greenbaum.

He sat in with Fleetwood Mac during studio sessions for the band’s 1979 album, “Tusk,” appearing on the song “Brown Eyes.” He returned to making music in public in 1979 with the solo album “In the Skies,” followed by an album a year into the mid-1980s — often working with his brother Michael Greenbaum, also known as Mike Green, who wrote songs for him.

But his medications left him increasingly sluggish and unable to make music until he weaned himself from prescription tranquilizers in the 1990s.

Credit…Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

 

He re-emerged in 1996 with the Peter Green Splinter Group, which mostly played old blues and songs written by its other guitarist, Nigel Watson; the group released eight albums before disbanding in 2004. In 2009, Mr. Green toured Europe with a band called Peter Green and Friends.

In 1998, Mr. Green was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Fleetwood Mac. Santana was also inducted in 1998, and Mr. Green jammed with the group on “Black Magic Woman.”

On Feb. 25, 2020, Mick Fleetwood organized a tribute concert to Mr. Green at the London Palladium that brought together some of Mr. Green’s admirers, including Pete Townshend, Billy Gibbons, Steven Tyler, David Gilmour, Bill Wyman, Noel Gallagher and Mr. Hammett, who was playing Mr. Green’s celebrated guitar, Greeny.

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Farewell, Peter Green: The Timeless Blues Perfection of Fleetwood Mac’s Original Guitar Hero ~ RollingStone

Rob Sheffield on why the band’s co-founder and mystery man is a lost guitar genius

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Rob Sheffield tributes Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green and breaks down why the band’s co-founder and mystery man is a lost guitar genius.

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If there’s one song that sums up the stoic guitar genius of Peter Green, it’s “Jumping at Shadows,” recorded live in February 1970, at the Boston Tea Party. Green was on top of the world; a 23-year-old rock star leading the London band he founded, Fleetwood Mac. They were the toast of Britain, riding their Number One hit “Albatross.” But “Jumping at Shadows” is a doomy blues ballad, his voice full of wistful dread, his guitar full of delicate pain. “I’m going downhill and I blame myself,” he sings. So much sadness in his fingers; so much tender fury. Peter Green’s serene, unhysterical sense of calm just makes the song scarier. He never lets his voice or guitar rise above a whisper, but you can hear the hellhounds on his trail.

“Jumping at Shadows” tells the whole Peter Green story in five minutes. He takes the song from U.K. bluesman Duster Bennett, but turns it into his own haunted autobiography. There’s no other rock & roll sound quite like the ache of Peter Green’s guitar. That’s why he’ll alway be remembered, and that’s why the music world is mourning his death at 73. Fifty years after he left Fleetwood Mac, his classics — “Love That Burns,” “Before the Beginning,” “Black Magic Woman” — still sting. The Mac hit Number One with his blissed-out space-surf instrumental “Albatross,” so great the Beatles copped it for Abbey Road, turning it into “Sun King.” He sang their 1969 ballad “Man of the World,” murmuring, “Shall I tell you about my life?”

But at his peak, he suddenly turned his back on music and vanished. He became one of rock & roll’s all-time mystery men. He had a tragic LSD-related mental breakdown, dropped out, ended up digging ditches or sleeping on the streets. By the time the Mac became Seventies superstars with Rumours, he was the forgotten man in their story, like Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd. When Stevie Nicks joined the band, she’d never heard of him. “I’ve cried myself to sleep many a night listening to early Fleetwood Mac and going, ‘What happened to this guy?” Mick Fleetwood said in 1997. “I’d always get people up in the hotel room on tour and say, ‘Now I want you to hear Peter Green.’ I’d put on a record and I would always end up in tears.”

Green eventually began playing again, touring with his Splinter Group. But there was always that fragility. “The guitar used to speak for me, but I can’t let it do that for me anymore,” he said in the documentary Man of the World. “I can’t let it break my heart again.”

He had a unique tone — he accidentally put the pickup on his Gibson Les Paul backwards, after taking it off to clean it, but kept it because he loved the sound. Like so many other U.K. rockers, he first got inspired by the Shadows’ master of twang, Hank Marvin. But he got hooked on the blues, going down to the corner cafe to play Howlin’ Wolf records on the jukebox and study Hubert Sumlin’s guitar. He replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1965, making his name with the dazzling vibrato freak-out, “The Supernatural.” Two years later, he took off with Bluesbreakers drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie to start their own band, named after the rhythm section. The English blues scene was fixated on technical dexterity, but Green had a deep contempt for show-offs. As he sneered, “Good luck to the Snoggley Blues Band who are growing very popular now in the white blues world with a rhythm guitarist who can play 7,541 notes a minute.”

That wasn’t his style — he was all about emotion. “Sumlin and Wolf had it,” Green told Mojo in 1996. “The guitarists who copied them old black players were doing an interpretation, but couldn’t get to the feeling behind it. It was too deep, too painful if you do it right. It got too deep for me anyway. It ended up hurting my soul so I started to make up stories instead.”

His stories took many forms. He could write melancholy ballads on par with Nick Drake or Richard Thompson, but also heavy rockers like “Oh Well,” with its taunt: “Don’t ask me what I think of you / I might not give the answer that you want me to.” (Haim do a great version live.) “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)” was his proto-prog-metal epic. With his last Mac album, Then Play On in 1970, he explored the psychedelic dream-scapes of “Before The Beginning” and “Underway.” There were still traces on his solo album The End of the Game. But he got dosed with some bad acid, and disappeared.

 

I first heard his music one night when I was 23 and a friend came to visit from Los Angeles; we drove around Boston all night listening to a mix tape she made for the occasion. It was loaded with moody guitar songs, but “Man of the World” threw me for a loop — he sounded so gentle, yet so intense. (At dawn, we threw the tape out of the car window.) It’s ironic that his best-known song, “Albatross,” is his most anomalously cheerful, not far from the Shadows’ proto-surf twang. Robert Christgau described his “miraculously fluent” playing perfectly: “Peter Green, who filters B. B. King through Santo & Johnny with a saxophonist’s sense of line.” He was a cult hero with a mess of a discography — if you were a Green freak, you learned to grab any record you saw with his name on it, no matter how shady it looked, because you might never spot it again.

After he left Fleetwood Mac, his shadow seemed to hang over the band. Jeremy Spencer disappeared one day in L.A. in 1971 — he didn’t show up for a gig at the Whiskey a Go-Go, because he’d just joined a religious sect. Danny Kirwan also suffered a sad breakdown. As Lindsey Buckingham put it in 2013, “Historically, the track record has not been kind to the guitar players in this band.” Since then, that tradition has continued.

If you were a Green freak, you learned to grab any record you saw with his name on it.

But Stevie Nicks felt a kinship with Green. “There’s always been a very mystical thing about Fleetwood Mac,” she said in 1980. “When I first joined Fleetwood Mac, I went out and bought all the albums — actually, I think I had asked Mick for them because I couldn’t possibly afford to buy them — and I sat in my room and listened to all of them to try to figure out if I could capture any theme or anything. What I came up with was the word ‘mystical.’” She responded to that. “There is something mystical that went all the way from Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac,” she said. “And since I have a deep love of the mystical, this appealed to me.” Last year, on the band’s 50th Anniversary tour, Stevie paid tribute to Green: she sang “Black Magic Woman” as if he wrote it for her, which in a way he did.

Like Syd Barrett, Green found some kind of peace in old age, keeping his distance from the outside world. When Mick Fleetwood did an all-star tribute in London in February, Green wasn’t there. “He’s not the Peter that I knew, clearly. But he plays acoustic guitar,” Fleetwood told Rolling Stone in January. “He loves painting, and fishing is his hobby. It’s no secret that he took a left turn and never came back, but he’s OK. He also has really little or no ego at all, which is unbelievable. You want to go, ‘Do you realize what you did?’ ‘No, no. Yeah, I suppose so.’ He has no ego about what he did.”

But the music Peter Green left behind is full of love that still burns.

 

Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams on Art and Empathy

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From a studio in Nashville, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle talk about protest songs, how compassion feeds creativity, and why artists should never read the comments.

 

The musicians Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams—longtime friends and twin titans of so-called alternative-country, though neither is especially keen on genre distinctions, especially that one—have been grounded by the coronavirus pandemic. For Earle, who is sixty-five, and Williams, who is sixty-seven, sitting still is anathema; both have been recording and touring since the late nineteen-seventies. They’re both waiting out this strange season in Nashville, and considering, among other things, what the politics of this moment mean for the arts.

Earle’s most recent record, “Ghosts of West Virginia,” centers on the Upper Big Branch coal-mine explosion, in 2010, one of the grisliest and most egregious mining disasters in American history. Twenty-nine miners were killed in the explosion, which created a blast that was felt for miles around the mine. Over the past four years, Earle collaborated with the playwrights Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank to develop a companion theatre piece, “Coal Country,” based on first-person accounts of the disaster. The show opened at the Public Theatre, in New York, on March 3rd, and, of course, closed shortly thereafter, as the city shut down to staunch the spread of the coronavirus. Williams’s new album, “Good Souls Better Angels,” is dark, bluesy, and urgent; it was released in late April, and includes a scathing musical indictment of Donald Trump, a song pointedly titled “Man Without a Soul.”

One afternoon in early July, Earle and Williams met up in a Nashville studio, and I joined them remotely. We talked about songwriting, the legacy of Bob Dylan, the cruelty of online comments, protest music, poetry, compassion, and their decades-long friendship. Some of their music is explicitly political—but even the songs that do not directly address a sitting President or narrate an industrial disaster have things to say about the state of the world; both Earle and Williams are world renowned for their storytelling and the ways in which they structure and refine tender narratives about people getting by, or failing to.

During our time together, they both played a few new songs—a tiny concert conducted via Zoom. You can see our conversation, and these performances, in the video above. They finished with a collaborative cover of “Deportee,” which features lyrics by Woody Guthrie. It’s a brutal, heartbreaking song about what happens when we stop regarding one another as human. “Making art in the United States of America is a political statement in and of itself,” Earle said. “This is the most hostile environment to art that’s ever existed in the world.” Yet Earle and Williams have kept going. That’s a lesson for all of us.

Why the Chicks Dropped Their “Dixie” ~ The New Yorker

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The all-female country band, which survived an instance of proto-cancel culture for its politics in the past, again wants to meet the current moment.

 

In late June, the Dixie Chicks dropped the word “Dixie” from its name. The band’s statement was brief and elegant: “We want to meet this moment.” The Dixie Chicks were founded in Texas, in 1989. Back then, the band was a four-piece. (The sisters Martie and Emily Erwin, now Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer, are the remaining original members; since 1995, the band has been fronted by the singer and guitarist Natalie Maines.) They wore prairie skirts and fringed blouses, and played a mixture of bluegrass and traditional country—cowgirls with chops. The band’s name was a riff on “Dixie Chicken,” a 1973 album by the chooglin’ rock band Little Feat. Sifting through early press coverage of the group, I couldn’t find a single critic who thought the name was repugnant.

Yet, among historians, there is little ambiguity about what the word “Dixie” communicates. Its use as a doting nickname for the Confederacy was popularized by “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land,” a minstrel song published in 1860 and usually performed in blackface. The song is credited to Daniel Decatur Emmett, a white man from Knox County, Ohio, though the scholars Howard and Judith Sacks have suggested that Emmett stole the tune from the Snowdens, a family of freed slaves who performed and farmed around Emmett’s home town.

“Dixie songs”—which typically expressed nostalgia for the antebellum South—continued to appear throughout the first decades of the twentieth century. “They were quite popular. Irving Berlin even wrote one,” Karen L. Cox, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the author of “Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture,” told me recently. She does not find the word to be merely descriptive: “As a scholar of the South, I regard ‘Dixie’ as a term that not only refers to the states of the former Confederacy but is synonymous with segregation.” Cox cited the Dixiecrats, the group formed in 1948, by Strom Thurmond and other Southern Democrats who seceded from the Democratic Party because they disagreed with its support of civil rights. “These resonances are part of what the Dixie Chicks selected when they selected the name, whether they intended to or not,” Gregory Downs, a professor of history at the University of California at Davis, said. “It’s important that they—and everyone who received that message of white Southern pride—think about what they took on.”

Within modern country music, tropes that address a kind of vigilante Southern swagger—an insistence on both the rebelliousness and the deep moral purity of the Southern states—remain wildly popular, even rooted as they are in racial violence. Yet country music itself owes an incalculable debt to the Black string bands and players—the Mississippi Sheiks, Gus Cannon, Frank Patterson, and Nathan Frazier, among others—who predated the proliferation of the phonograph. (There are several compilations of the few Black string bands that did record; two exceptional ones are “Altamont: Black Stringband Music from the Library of Congress” and “Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia.”) Early labels deliberately sold country and hillbilly 78s to white customers, and blues and jazz 78s (or “race records”) to Black customers, thereby enforcing a racial fissure along genre lines.

For the descendants of people subjugated under slavery, neither intention nor ignorance now feels like a reasonable defense of these tropes. Yet white history is frequently marked by a kind of inherited blindness. In “Southern Accents,” published last year, Michael Washburn dissects how, in 1985, Tom Petty—a Floridian—used Confederate iconography to promote a concept album about the South. Washburn suggests that ideas of Southern heritage are frequently and purposefully divorced from the historical record. “We inherit, restate, sometimes re-inscribe these notions, and then represent these ideas to the world,” Washburn writes. “If we push hard enough on just about any part of our life, we plunge through the surface into a history that’s unknown to us even as it structures much of how we live.”

Is it possible to love a place and to also disclaim its history? Does the place begin to disappear when its foundational myths are challenged? Washburn jokingly describes Faulkner’s oft-quoted line about the nature of time—“The past is never dead, it’s not even past”—as “the first Southern-history meme.”

The Chicks have been at the center of controversy before. In 2003, nine days before the American invasion of Iraq, the band performed in London. As Maines introduced the single “Travelin’ Soldier,” she told the crowd that she was ashamed that the President of the United States was from Texas. When the backlash came, it was precipitate, catastrophic, and unrelenting. The Chicks had recently become the only female band in any genre to have released two consecutive diamond-certified albums, signifying sales of ten million copies or more. In our era of anemic chart numbers and fragmented attention, it’s difficult to reckon with sales of that magnitude. There was a lot to lose.

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What Dixie Really Means ~ The Atlantic

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The trio initially offered only a terse statement on its new website: “We want to meet this moment.GETTY / THE ATLANTIC
 

Yesterday, the Dixie Chicks announced that they have excised the “Dixie” from their band name, becoming simply The Chicks. They’ve followed the lead of their country-music compatriots Lady Antebellum, now known as Lady A. For both groups, the rechristening serves a symbolic purpose of disowning romanticized images of the slavery-era South before the Civil War. As Black Lives Matter protests spark a national reckoning, there’s been a growing reappraisal and outright rejection of racist public symbols—whether they be Confederate flags, statues of enslavers or Confederate generals, corporate brands and logos, or other items in the shared American lexicon.

In the case of Lady Antebellum, the band said it was “regretful and embarrassed” for not having previously considered what the word antebellum evokes: “We did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before the Civil War, which includes slavery.” After the group changed its name to Lady A, the writer Jeremy Helligar wrote an opinion piece for Variety in which he called on the Dixie Chicks to follow suit. Helligar called the word Dixie “the epitome of white America,” observing, “For many Black people, it conjures a time and a place of bondage.” Although the decision to rebrand as The Chicks seems to have been in response to criticism by Helligar and others, the trio initially offered only a terse statement on its new website: “We want to meet this moment.”

The Theater Where Ella Fitzgerald Got Her Start ~ NYT

The Apollo in Harlem has had a greater influence on American musical history than perhaps any other venue of the past century.

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Credit…Rob Stephenson

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In this series for T, the author Reggie Nadelson revisits New York institutions that have defined cool for decades, from time-honored restaurants to unsung dives.

 

On Nov. 21, 1934, Ella Jane Fitzgerald appeared at the Apollo. It was the Harlem theater’s first amateur night, and Fitzgerald was just 17. Her friends had dared her. “They said, ‘Well, if you don’t go, you’re chicken,’” she would later recall in a 1978 television interview with the pianist and composer André Previn. She had originally entered the show to dance, but after watching the Edwards Sisters’ dazzling tap-dancing act from the wings, she told him, “I said there’s no way I’m going out there and try to dance.” As she stood awaiting her cue, the M.C. told her, “Just dosomething.”

In a raggedy dress and workman’s boots, Fitzgerald, who was then homeless and living on the streets of Harlem, looked out at the 1,500-seat theater with its glittering chandeliers and glamorous crowd. Designed by the American architect George Keister, the neo-Classical music hall was built for burlesque performances in 1914, when Harlem was largely white and African-Americans were not allowed in, but in 1933, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia cracked down on burlesque, and the following year the theater was transformed into a venue for variety revues. Harlem was 70 percent black by then, and the Apollo, on 125th Street, now open to black performers and audiences, became “monumental,” as the legendary Motown singer, writer and producer Smokey Robinsondescribed it to me. “In the lobby,” he said, “there’s a mural with people I had grown up hearing about: Sammy Davis Jr., Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington — and Ella Fitzgerald, of course. When I made it on that wall, I felt I had really made it, because the Apollo is the Apollo.”

Credit…Carl Van Vechten © Van Vechten Trust, courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University

The iconic dancer and choreographer Norma Miller, a contemporary of Fitzgerald’s who later made her name as a Lindy Hopper at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, was there for Ella’s debut. “We were a bunch of rowdy teenagers in the balcony ’cause they were introducing somebody we didn’t know,” she told me in 2018, when I was working on a documentary about Fitzgerald (“Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things,” which will be available to stream on Eventive starting June 26). “Can you imagine?” she said. “We booed Ella Fitzgerald?”

Fitzgerald, who had never performed in public before, stepped forward and began not to dance but to sing. She chose “Judy” (1934), by the great singer and songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, and suddenly, as she later recalled to Previn, “everybody says, ‘Oh, that girl can sing.’”

“We heard a sound so perfect,” said Miller. “She shut us up so quickly, you could hear a rat piss on cotton.” Within a few months, Ella was a star, singing with Chick Webb’s band at the Savoy on 142nd Street, where the crowd roared for the teenager who could play around with the band and swing like nobody else.

The exterior of the Apollo in 1934, the year Fitzgerald won the theater’s first amateur night.

 

A 1938 handbill from the Apollo.
Credit…Courtesy of the Apollo Theater Archives.

 

When I met Miller at the Apollo two years ago, Ms. Norma, as everyone called her, arrived wearing a sequined tuxedo jacket. Singing, Miller recounted, “You went through these doors and you were aware you were in … Harlem, Harlem.”

“Everything was race,” she went on to say about the neighborhood, where she was born and raised in the 1920s and ’30s. “You couldn’t go to Woolworth across the street from the Apollo,” she said. “If you wanted to buy a hat, you couldn’t try it on. They wouldn’t have black girls on the cash registers, you couldn’t go out of your zone. You can’t work for nobody — remember, slavery is over, but you don’t have jobs. So the confinement meant you had to do it yourself. How do you pay the rent?” In the 1920s, Miller’s mother would host rent parties where people would pay 50 cents for pig’s feet, potato salad and a place to drink and mingle. Dancing in her mother’s living room was the beginning of Miller’s career, and she subsequently performed at the Apollo and toured the country, including with Fitzgerald.

 

Fitzgerald onstage at the Apollo in 1937, with the singer Charles Linton, who first brought her to the attention of the bandleader Chick Webb.
Credit… Duncan Butler/Frank Driggs Collection

 

“Just as the theater itself is in the geographical epicenter of Harlem, the Apollo has always been ground zero for every major development in African-American vernacular music,” says Will Friedwald, the jazz writer and author of a new biography about Nat King Cole, “from swing bands in the 1930s, to bebop and R&B in the ’40s, gospel and soul in the ’50s and ’60s, followed by funk, reggae, rap, hip-hop and every sound that has come since.”

Painstakingly restored in 2017, with red plush seats and gilded balconies, the Apollo is somehow both dynamic — in 2018, it debuted a stage version of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 book “Between the World and Me” — and drenched in nostalgia. Sitting near the stage today, I imagine hearing James Brown, who recorded his most mythic album here, and of course Fitzgerald, who played the theater too many times to count.

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Doug & Heather ~ local San Juan troubadours

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The music happened in the alley behind the Sherbino Friday night.  Local pros Doug and Heather sang and played for two hours, enough time for a couple of Pabst tallboys. They are fine (better than fine) musicians.

 

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Racial Hate’: A famed folk singer, Trump’s dad and angry lyrics at a Tulsa landmark ~ The Washington Post

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In 2013, workers put the finishing touches on Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Center, which features a mural of the Oklahoma-born folk singer-songwriter. (Justin Juozapavicius/AP)

Bob Dylan’s “Rough and Rowdy Ways” Hits Hard ~ The New Yorker

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Bob Dylan’s first album of original songs since 2012 is gruesome, crowded, marauding, and unusually attuned to its moment. Photograph by Dave J. Hogan / Getty

Two months later, “Murder Most Foul” hits different: “We’re gonna kill you with hatred / Without any respect / We’ll mock you and shock you / And we’ll put it in your face,” Dylan sings in the song’s first verse. His voice is withering. “It’s a Murder. Most. Foul.” Dylan has spent decades seeing and chronicling American injustice. Forty-four years ago, on “Hurricane,” he sang frankly about police brutality: “If you’re black, you might as well not show up on the street / ’Less you want to draw the heat.”

This week, Dylan will release “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” a gruesome, crowded, marauding album that feels unusually attuned to its moment. Unlike many artists who reacted to the pandemic with a kind of dutiful tenderness—“Let me help with my song!”—Dylan has decided not to offer comfort, nor to hint at some vague solidarity. Lyrically, he’s either cracking weird jokes (“I’ll take the ‘Scarface’ Pacino and the ‘Godfather’ Brando / Mix ’em up in a tank and get a robot commando”) or operating in a cold, disdainful, it-ain’t-me-babe mode. Dylan’s musicianship is often undersold by critics, but on “Rough and Rowdy Ways” it’s especially difficult to focus on anything other than his voice; at seventy-nine, he sounds warmed up and self-assured. There are moments when he appears to be chewing on his own mortality—he recently told the Times that he thinks about death “in general terms, not in a personal way”—but mostly he sounds elegant and steady, a vocal grace he might have acquired while recording all those standards. “Three miles north of Purgatory, one step from the great beyond,” he sings calmly on “Crossing the Rubicon.”

It’s sometimes hard to think of Dylan doing normal, vulnerable things like falling in love, though he sings about heartache—his compulsion toward it, his indulgence of its wounds—constantly. My favorite track on “Rough and Rowdy Ways” is “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You,” a gentle ballad about deliberately resigning oneself to love and its demands. It’s not the album’s richest or most complicated song—“Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” is Shakespearean—but I’ve been listening to it constantly, mostly for its evocation of a certain kind of golden-hour melancholy. Imagine sitting on a porch or on the front steps of an apartment building, nursing a big drink in a stupid glass, and reluctantly accepting your fate: “Been thinking it all over / And I thought it all through / I’ve made up my mind / To give myself to you.” It’s not quite romantic, but, then again, neither is love. The song’s emotional climax comes less than halfway through, when Dylan announces, “From Salt Lake City to Birmingham / From East L.A. to San Antone / I don’t think I could bear to live my life alone!” Ever so briefly, his voice goes feral.

Dylan is a voracious student of United States history—he can, and often does, itemize the various atrocities that have been committed in service to country—and “Rough and Rowdy Ways” could be understood as a glib summation of America’s outlaw origins, and of the confused, dangerous, and often haphazard way that we preserve democracy. He seems to understand instinctively that American history is not a series of fixed points but an unmoored and constantly evolving idea that needs to be reëstablished each day—things don’t happen once and then stop happening. In this sense, linear time becomes an invention; every moment is this moment. This is why, on “Murder Most Foul,” Buster Keaton and Dickey Betts and the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicksand the Birdman of Alcatraz can coexist, harmoniously, in a single verse. That Dylan named another dense, allusive song on the album, “I Contain Multitudes,” after a much-quoted stanza from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”—“Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”—also seems to indicate some reckoning with the vastness and immediacy of American culture. (Dylan’s interests are so wonderfully obtuse and far-ranging that it’s sometimes hard to discern precisely what he’s referring to: Is the “Cry Me a River” that he mentions on “Murder Most Foul” a reference to the jazz standard made famous by the actress Julie London, in 1955, or to the dark, cluttered revenge jamthat Justin Timberlake supposedly wrote about Britney Spears, in 2002? My money is on the latter.)

Now thirty-nine albums in, it’s tempting to dismiss Dylan as sepia-toned—a professor emeritus, a museum piece, a Nobel laureatecoasting through his sunset years, the mouthpiece of some bygone generation but certainly not this one. (It’s hard, admittedly, to imagine bars of “I Contain Multitudes” finding viral purchase on TikTok.) The sheer volume of writing about his life and music suggests a completed arc, which makes it easy to presume that there’s nothing useful, interesting, or pertinent left to say. Yet, for me, Dylan’s vast and intersectional understanding of the American mythos feels so plainly and uniquely relevant to the grimness and magnitude of these past few months. As the country attempts to metabolize the murder of George Floyd, it is also attempting to reckon with every crooked, brutal, odious, or unjust murder of a black person—to understand a cycle that began centuries ago and somehow continues apace. What is American racism? It’s everything, Dylan insists. Indiana Jones and J.F.K. and Elvis Presley and Jimmy Reed—nothing exists without the rest of it. None of us are absolved, and none of us are spared.

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Bob Dylan Still Bristles on ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ ~NY

His first album of original songs since 2012 is a death-haunted, cantankerous collection with a late-night sense of seclusion.

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Credit…Fred Tanneau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
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NYT Critic’s Pick

 

Latter-day Bob Dylan is for die-hards. His voice is tattered and scratchy, not always bothering to trace a melody. His lyrics can be cryptic or throwaway when they’re not downright bleak. His music is adamantly old-fashioned, and he’s not aiming to ingratiate himself with anyone.

But for those who have stuck with him this far, his new album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” is at once a summing-up and a taunt, equal parts death-haunted and cantankerous. “Today and tomorrow and yesterday too/The flowers are dyin’ like all things do,” he sings as the album begins, in “I Contain Multitudes.”

“Rough and Rowdy Ways” is Dylan’s first album of his own songs since “Tempest” in 2012, and song for song, it rivals the grim, gallows-humored conviction of his albums “Time Out of Mind” (1997) and “‘Love and Theft’” (2001). After “Tempest,” Dylan recorded collections of vintage pop standards, but he hasn’t tried to emulate the urbane concision of Irving Berlin or Hoagy Carmichael on the new album. Instead, the music is often rootsy and open-ended, while the many verses of lyrics move through ever-shifting perspectives.

At 79, Dylan is entitled to the long view, and his new songs riffle through history, biography, theology, tall tales, myths and threats. “Three miles north of purgatory — one step from the great beyond/I prayed to the cross and I kissed the girls and I crossed the Rubicon,” he declares, over a slyly lurching blues, in “Crossing the Rubicon.”

“Rough and Rowdy Ways” often feels quietly conspiratorial. The band — Dylan’s long-evolving touring band — patiently circles through slow, stealthy vamps or, in more upbeat moments, lopes through 12-bar blues shuffles. The music has a late-night, after-hours sense of seclusion and confidentiality, the sound of musicians who have been listening to one another long and intently.

The album title echoes “My Rough and Rowdy Ways,” a song from the 1920s by the country-music forefather Jimmie Rodgers about not entirely settling down. Dylan’s new songs are, for better and worse, a blizzard of allusions: song titles and musicians, historical figures and movie characters, authors and hints of quotations. Dylan builds a cultural pantheon and, for once, he lodges himself in it.

“Rough and Rowdy Ways” follows albums of pop standards.
Credit…Ian Berry/Columbia, via Associated Press

 

The album’s first two songs, “I Contain Multitudes” and “False Prophet,” include declarations like, “I sing the songs of experience like William Blake/I have no apologies to make.” Later, in “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” — a Jimmy Reed-style electric blues that also harks back to Dylan’s own “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” — he growls, “Never pandered, never acted proud.” Rarely one to tell his own story, even in his memoir, “Chronicles, Volume One,” Dylan seems candid for those few lines.

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