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WRIU Folk & Roots

CD Reviews for 09/23/05 - Bob Dylan, Marty Stuart, Fern Jones by Dan Ferguson

Bob Dylan
No Direction Home: The Soundtrack - The Bootleg Series Volume 7
Legacy C2K-93937

As part of its ongoing American Masters series, next Monday and Tuesday evening PBS presents a two-part film focusing on the life and music of icon Bob Dylan. Covering the period from 196166 when Dylan truly established himself, the film includes never before seen performance footage along with interviews with artists and musicians whose lives intertwined with Dylan's during that time. It takes us from his humble beginnings in the Northern Minnesota town of Hibbing where he grew up to Greenwich Village where he became the cultural epicenter of the music scene toeing the line between folkie and something that could not be categorized at that point in the American music quilt. Most importantly, the film features Dylan himself up close and personal discussing this critical period in his career, detailing the journey from Hibbing to New York City. Perhaps most noteworthy with regard to this film is it was produced by Martin Scorcese. Let's just say that if Scorcese does for Dylan on No Direction Home what he did with The Band on The Last Waltz, this will be essential viewing. Cancel that. Because of his cultural importance alone, this American Masters installment is vital viewing, Dylan fan or not. In conjunction with this film, Legacy Recordings has just released the companion soundtrack to the film which also doubles as the seventh installment in the acclaimed Bob Dylan bootleg series from the label. The two-disc set features 28 Dylan tracks of which 26 are previously unreleased. The mix is a varied one featuring rare private recordings, live concert, television and festival recordings including tracks from the 1963, 1964 and 1965 Newport Folk Festivals, and a dozen alternate takes of songs from his Columbia Records recording sessions in New York and Nashville during this period. Considering the varied origins of many of these recordings, the sound and performances are for the most part top shelf. They date back to 1959 and a high school recording of "When I Got Troubles" which may likely be the first original song he ever recorded). It takes the listener as far as alternate takes from the recording sessions for the 1966 Blonde on Blonde album as well as a couple of live numbers from Dylan's legendary United Kingdom tour from that same year. As if the music isn't enough, the No Direction Home soundtrack also includes an extensive 60-page color booklet with previously unpublished photos, memorabilia and newly commissioned liner notes. Dylan fan or not, this is as much essential listening as the American Masters film is essential viewing. (Legacy Recordings, 550 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022, or www.legacyrecordings.com)

No Direction Home appears on Monday and Tuesday, September 26 and 27, as part of Public Television's American Masters Series. In these parts, the program will air on WGBH Channel 2.

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives
Soul's Chapel
Superlatone/Universal South Records B0004389-02

Since joining the band of bluegrass great Lester Flatt as a mandolin playing 15-year-old in 1973 fresh out of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty Stuart, from producing to supporting roles to his own albums, has been involved with a ton of great music. A walking encyclopedia of sorts when it comes to Southern-based music, Stuart is most associated with country and in particular the hillbilly rockin' brand of honky tonk music that has been his chief calling card. Perhaps one of Stuart's best albums was one on which his name can barely be found, a gospel record called A Joyful Noise from the Alabama-based duo of Jerry and Tammy Sullivan. Released in 1991 by the Country Music Foundation, Stuart co-produced the record and played mandolin and guitar. It is the liner notes, however, where he bares his soul and his love for the gospel music of the Sullivan's and how it made him just feel good. At the time, it made me think that Stuart had a gospel record in him somewhere down the line. Now some 14 years later, along comes Soul's Chapel from Stuart and his superb band the Superlatives. Let's set the record straight right out of the gates that this is not a country gospel record. Instead, Stuart and his band have crafted a deeply soulful sort of album that lives on the fringes of country music, that being dips into Delta blues, rockabilly, and deep soul. The encyclopedic song knowledge of Stuart's displays its hand on a number of the selections that find him tapping into the catalogue of the aforementioned Sullivan as well as such icons of the gospel songwriting world as Albert E. Brumley and Pops Staples. In fact, it is Staples' "Somebody Save Me" that sets the tone for Soul's Chapel as the opening track to the collection. A near a cappella piece save for Kenny Vaughn's savory tremolo guitar work, it is a take-notice piece of highly spiritual quality. Brumley's "Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time" provides the perfect segue with Stuart handling the vocals in fine fashion and the band working itself more into the mix with Vaughn once again delivering understated guitar bliss. Next up is the rousing gospel rockabilly of "Way Down", an original song from the band, with Superlatives regular Harry Stinson handling the lead vocals in a song readymade to get the faithful a-swaying and a-hipshakin'. "Come Into the House of the Lord" is chock full of soulful waves of organ and plenty of tasty licks. Only the first four of 12 tracks, the remainders are equally as potent and down-home with "Move Along Train" featuring guest singer Mavis Staples no doubt the attention grabber. About that Sullivan release, Stuart said how their music made him feel good. Soul's Chapel has that same way about it. It's a record defined by superior musicianship, solid songs buoyed by tasteful arrangements, singing in the spirit of the material, and the sum total of which wears oh so well on the ears. In other words, here's thinking one of this year's best albums is a spiritual one. (Universal South Records, 40 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203)

Fern Jones
The Glory Road
Numero Group Records 005

Originally released in 1959 for Dot Records, gospel is also where the reissue of the album Singing a Happy Song from Fern Jones is rooted. Re-released by a relatively new label on the scene in Chicago-based Numero Group which has been making noise of late in the reissue world thanks to compilations ranging from Chicago soul to under-the-radar pop to French-Belgian electro-samba, the Jones reissue which they re-dub The Glory Road, while the first release in a country direction, is right in line with the off-the-beaten track approach to selections. Essential listening the reissue of The Glory Road from Ms. Jones is not. On the other hand, listen to it and there is just something about the composition of this record that has the potential to suck you into Ms. Jones' web. Maybe it's the voice, a husky, hard-charging instrument that lands somewhere between the tough-edged side of Patsy Cline and the big-bellied singing of 1950s country gospel mama Martha Carson. It's earthy and its real and it gets to you. The label's press release says it best describing Jones as follows: "She sounded like Saturday night on a Sunday morning. Patsy on Jesus. Elvis without the pelvis." An ordained minister in addition to her wife and motherly duties, Jones was a regular on the "tent" circuit performing in over 2000 tents and churches for nearly 50,000 people over 20 years. That all came about thanks to marrying Roy Jones who gave his life to God and preached the gospel from town to town. Fern was all of a teen when she married Roy and it enabled her to take her singing to the common people. In all, Jones' output was two albums and a few extremely rare 78s, not to mention writing one song that would be a classic on the gospel circuit for years to come. That song was "I Was There When It Happened" which the likes of Jimmie Davis (of "You Are My Sunshine" fame), The Blackwood Brothers, Jimmy Swaggart, and Johnny Cash each covered. As a matter of fact, it was the lone gospel song that Cash recorded during his Sun Records days. If there is such a thing as gospel bop, that is what you'll encounter on The Glory Road which brings together the original dozen album tracks and four bonus cuts. (Track number five on the collection, a song called "Strange Things Happening Every Day" from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, flat out rocks and rolls.) It all comes as a result of the rockabilly styled instrumentation behind Jones which featured legendary country cat Hank "Sugarfoot" Garland on guitar along with equally legendary Nashville studio types as Floyd Cramer, Joe Zinkan and Buddy Harman. Altogether, it adds even more to the curiosity of this reissue and Ms. Jones. In retrospect it is a wonder why Jones never caught on. She had genuine talent, not to mention a superb supporting cast. Perhaps it was the fact that her label, Dot, never really put much into the marketing of its gospel artists - the label shut down its gospel line not long after the release of Singing a Happy Song. What I do know is The Glory Road is a genuine snapshot of one of those gems of the minor leagues of American music. Recommended. (The Numero Group, 2217 North Hoyne Suite 3R, Chicago, IL 60647, or www.numerogroup.com)

(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at boudindan@cox.net.)


posted by Boudin Dan, 09/23/05

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