BOB DYLAN - FRAGMENTS; TIME OUT OF MIND SESSIONS (Bootleg Series 17)

Fragments

Like Paul McCartney before him, Bob Dylan wanted justice for an album that he thought was mixed badly. McCartney has had a few chances to heal Let it Be. Let's hope Bob is happy with Fragments.

As with all these new mix projects there is a new vitality and sharper clarity to the instrumentation. You can hear lots of lovely little musical embellishments whether organ, guitar, pedal steel or harmonica previously lost in Lanois’ swampy mix. 

Best of all is Dylan’s vocals. This is Bob Dylan’s voice at its very best. This is where he is not a bad voice but the best voice. This is where it is a stunning instrument, articulate as the poetry of these songs deserved. 

The box is another Bootleg Series extravaganza of goodies. I have returned to being a vinyl buyer but for box sets I am going to always buy the affordable CD to get as many songs as possible. This one is so worth it. Every song is of the sharpest quality.

Yes, perhaps there are fewer different songs to those that made the original Time Out Of Mind but everything here is wonderful. All the alternative takes with their different keys and tempos seem finished and would have been ready to have come off the bench had the final mix selected not been used. 

As well as various versions of songs we get an entire live set of the songs which are recorded with some of Dylan’s best bands over the past 25 years, revealing other hues Dylan wanted to throw across the shades of these words.  

Fragments of treasure. 

My original review:

‘Goodness me!’ is the gold bar in the currency of superlatives that my students use and it aptly describes Bob Dylan's first album of new songs since the tragic Under the Red Sky in 1990. That album was particularly disappointing in the light of the quality of the Daniel Lanois produced Oh Mercy of 1989 and perhaps the omens were already visible when the news broke that that partnership had been reunited. 

This is the long awaited follow up, not a carbon copy by any means more a brother with a different personality but the same genes. It is rougher, bluesier and the most wondrous addition is the tinkle of honky tonk piano in the most beautiful places.

Dylan himself has said that the album is about feel rather than thought and performance rather than lyric. There is certainly a grain of truth in that comment and there is no doubt that this album may be less quoted in the more academic studies of Dylan's cannon. 

However, it seems to me that that kind of comment is relative. The writing of the best literature of the century does bring with it high expectations. Had this been a new Dylan on the block many would have been pretty impressed with the content here. 

Yes, the brooding and bleak music does scream to our emotions in it's gentle moody way but there is much here too for the Dylanophile who studies lyrics in Bible Study ways.

"It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there" is perhaps the linchpin phrase of the whole affair. Mortality, heartache and disillusionment spills out like blood on the tracks in a way that will recall the 1973 classic album of that name. For sure Dylan is Love Sick - "I'm sick of love/I wish I'd never met you/I'm sick of love/I'm trying to forget you" - and there seems little doubt that his sickness is with the romantic kind but the she here would seem to represent life itself and Dylan seems to have been jilted by all that he once saw as his lover; the poetry and the musical backdrop are of a man at the very end of his tether. And yet it is not dark yet and Dylan still sees glimpses, tiny and all as they are.

There is a lot of looking back and where in the past life was a jet plane that moved too fast here we have a life that is dragging - "Yesterday everything was going too fast/ Today it's moving too slow (Standing In The Doorway)" - and though the Never Ending Tour has kept Dylan travelling it has only been his feet and not his soul - "I know it looks like I'm moving but I'm standing still". Suicidal stuff which sadly seems to be where the best art comes from but there are still inklings of hope and indeed maybe the candle of the Born Again late 70s and early 80s still flickers - I know the mercy of God must be near (Standing In The Doorway)- But I know that God is my shield/ and he won't lead me astray(Til I Fell In Love With You). I do find it fascinating that when he sang a song around lines like those it was deemed sell out to the only religion deemed uncool but he throws in little traces and no review has mentioned them. If faith kicks in as a refuge in times of trouble perhaps this is a more truely Biblical work than saved.

This is not a 56 year old trying to be a 21 year old. Dylan is not competing with the Gallaghers for the teenage minds of the generation. One of our problems is in thinking he should be. Dylan still fits into the culture of Rock'n Roll, even though this is folk and blues which lived way before Presley. Rock N Roll is now forty years old and getting to that stage where those who are still alive are writing songs about old age. This is a new thing, being old. Certainly this is a mature piece of work and perhaps, as Freewheelin was a classic statement about being 22, this is another classic lesson from the book of growing up and old and the issues that lie therein.

Goodness me!

Yes. We thought Bob was old as a 56 year old. I just saw him in November as an 81 year old! Interesting that I am now 5 years older than Dylan was in 1987 and perhaps listening rather differently. 


MY DREAM OF BEING A JOURNALIST FULFILLED AT 4 CORNERS FESTIVAL

GARY L AND ME LAUGHING

For quite a while now I have had one night every year where I get to do what teenage Steve wanted to do - be an interviewer like Parkinson. Like Wogan. Nothing like Norton.

There was a day when Television chat shows were not hosted by comedians. They were serious shows. I loved them. I wanted to know about the artist and the art. 

So, as a sixteen year old I wanted to be a journalist. Indeed, in 1979 I went off to Sunderland Polytech to do Media Studies but three days later came home, went back to school and shifted my direction towards ministry. 

Yet, at every turn I have had an opportunity to do my journalism. At the Presbyterian Church’s annual Youth Reach Festival I got to co-host a magazine show with my mate David Montgomery. I then did some radio in Dublin in the early 90s before hosting a music show on BBC Radio Ulster for 10 years from 1996. I have also written articles, even been a magazine editor and of course blog and more recently podcast.

Never am I more happy that when I have someone to interview. The 4 Corners Festival has given me the chance to chat to Gary Lightbody, Ricky Ross, Ruth McGinley, Duke Special, Brian Houston and Iain Archer. Tonight it is a sold out Fitzroy for Dana Masters.

I am deeply grateful for those who say they like my interviewing style, particularly if they are artists. Many artists are almost insulted by a template of dull repetitive questions from journalists. I like to fool myself into thinking that I am a little different.

I am primarily a fan. I have a favourite artist in front of me. Yes, there is an audience there too but I pretend that I am in my kitchen. What would I like to know? What have other journalists not asked? My only fear is that I bore the audience with my own interests. Ricky Ross even had a song that would break the seriousness if needed!  

Tonight it is Dana Masters and it was during her songs at the closing event of the Festival last year with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, that a spark went off in my head. Her story of growing up in the deep south, her Granny being a Civil Rights activist yet here she is in Northern Ireland. I knew there were tales to dig into not just for the sake of it but to hear insights that might help us as we try to do our little bit for reconciliation here.

Of course we never planned that she’d be featuring on BBC TV the two nights before I interview her. We’ll get to talk about Ottilie Patterson too.

A bonus. She’s going to sing. What a voice! 

I’m getting excited. Being a talk show host in the same spot that I preach. God didn’t erase my dreams. I am grateful!


THE CASE FOR VISION AND DREAMS

Visions

Dreams and visions begin with God. In the beginning God imagined. Blue, red, green. Blue sky. Red at night. Green valleys underneath that blue sky. Shapes and textures and movement and dance. Mountains and stars and beaches of sand. Gemsbok skipping, birds in flocks throwing shapes over the city bridges at twilight and humans touching lips and hearts. All a dream, a vision, imagined and then…then created.

The entire relationship between God and humanity has been about firing that imagination, giving a vision of how people could live; a dream of how society could be. The law would put in place a visionary pattern of how a society in a land promised could be better than what slavery had been in Egypt. 

The prophets continued to dream and rant about it. Isaiah imagined a lion and lamb lying down together! Micah imagined swords turned into ploughshares! Jeremiah imagined a brand new covenant and Ezekiel imagined a new shepherd king who would do justice.

God told his people that “young men would see visions and old men would dream dreams.” It is crucial to the whole deal. Sadly the modern church seems to have sent the life of faith up blind alleys of dreamlessness. Indeed imagination and art became something to be suspicious of and even to despise. 

Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann has been trying to get the imagination back into Christian thinking for sometime. His books Hopeful Imagination and Prophetic Imagination have made Old Testament theology exciting as well as showing so articulately how high on the Biblical agenda imagination sits. 

He writes, “Jesus’ way of teaching through parables was such a pastoral act of prophetic imagination in which he invited his community of listeners out beyond the visible realities of Roman law and the ways in which Jewish law had grown restrictive in his time.”

Writing about Isaiah he shows how the prophet inspires the people with his poetic utterances to believe that another way is possible. He sparks their imagination to have faith in another day. Brueggemann says;

 “The practice of such poetic imagination is the most subversive, redemptive act that a leader of a faith community can undertake in the midst of exiles. This work of poetic alternative in the long run is more crucial than one-on-one pastoral care or the careful implementation of institutional goals. That is because the work of poetic imagination holds the potential of unleashing a community of power and action that finally will not be contained by any imperial restrictions and definitions of reality.”

As the Church in the west hits the crisis of diminishing numbers  and less influential in the wider world. As I seek to be a better father than I have been until now. What needs lit is the spark of imagining. Dreaming a different world. Grasping God’s vision of a Kingdom where the last person becomes the most important, where we treat the tramp on the street like he was Jesus himself, where the poor are blessed, where the mourn rejoice, where there is dignity and love and a place of belonging for all.

It starts in the life of Jesus, the world that his life inspired us to live, that his death and resurrection won us the ability to make it a reality. The Kingdom will only ripple out as the engine of imagination fires visions and dreams. Let us dream…


MY NAME IS OTTILIE

My Name Is Ottilie

“Can this white woman sing the blues?”

When the question was pointed at Ottilie Patterson the answer was “Oh my goodness she really can”. 

I am interviewing Dana Masters this week at 4 Corners Festival so it caught my eye that she was doing a Tribute To Ottilie Patterson back in November.

I immediately assumed that Ottilie was a Nina Simone kind of singer, some blues or jazz voice from Dana’s homelands of the American deep south. 

But no… Ottilie Patterson was from Comber close to where Dana Masters now lives. Ottilie it seems was a significant influence on the early sixties English blues scene. 

In the late 50s and early 60s she toured constantly across Britain and did seven tours of America in the Chris Barber Jazz Band. She played with the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the bluesmen Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy, bringing her among the influencers of The Rolling Stones and The Pretty Things. 

Most favourite of all anecdotes is of a night in Smitty’s Corner, Muddy Water’s renowned blues club in Chicago’s South Side. After her stunning performance, a member of the rapturous black audience called out – “Hey lady, you sing real pretty. How come you sing like one of us?”

When Dana Masters first heard Ottilie sing she said ‘You have to really understand the pain expressed in the Blues in order to sing it, I had to know where that was coming from for Ottilie Patterson”.  

The documentary is just that. Another stunning documentary produced by Double Band, its magic is that Dana who hosts the show doesn’t know Ottilie’s story before they begin. Dana only discovers as they go. That leaves the Dana’s face on the screen to paint a thousand words as Ottilie’s brilliant but then painful career is revealed. There is more magic as Ottilie and Dana’s voices are blended. 

It ends in the tragic. How a woman so strong to ask a band leaving the stage after a gig to let her sing, and how that gets her the gig, ends up broken in mental health in a retirement home in Ayr, hardly even remembered but never feeling the victim.

A previously unheard cassette is the spine of the film. A cassette on to which Ottilie told her life story, the highlights and the pain. It takes away all the conjecture, almost moving the documentary from biographic to memoir. It ends with the truth that perhaps Ottilie overcame the racial boundaries but lost the gender battle, being treated terribly as a woman in a man’s world. 

My Name is Ottilie is another beautiful piece of documentary. It tells a story that has long needed told. It has Ottilie Patterson on my playlist, at last.

 

My Name is Ottilie will be shown on BBC 1 NI on February 1 at 10.40pm and again on BBC 2 NI at 11.15pm

 

Dana Masters will be In Conversation at 4 Corners Festival on February 3, Fitzroy Church, 77 University Street, Belfast at 7.30 - BOOK TICKETS HERE


PROPHETIC DREAMING - 4 CORNERS FESTIVAL RADIO SERVICE

Fitzroy

We are very grateful that yet again BBC Radio Ulster are once again broadcasting our 4 Corners Festival Sunday Morning service.

For various reason this has taken a couple of hits over the past two weeks so let me spell out the what, where are who.

In keeping with this year's Festival theme, our guest speaker, Paul Lutton is preaching on Joel and Acts - where God's people dream dream and see visions. In our broken city, particularly as it is now we need prophetic dreamers. Paul will call us to that. Paul's assistant minister at Kirkpatrick Memorial Church and a very able communicator.

Celtic Psalms, made up of Kiran Young Wimberly and The McGrath family, will be with us after an amazing performance at our opening event in Skainos. Bringing those reflective Psalms to shine light on prophetic dreaming - beautiful.

On of Fitzroy's bands will lead us in and out of the service and there will be a range of people taking part. 

The service is NOW in Fitzroy Presbyeterian Church (77 University Street). You need to be in your seat by 10 as the broadcast goes live at 10.15.

So, we encourage you to join us live or listen on the radio! Regular Fitzroy streamers note that the service will go up on Fitzroy TV at 11.pm