On Bob Dylan’s Springtime In New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 (1980-1985), the king troubadour is looking back at a period of his career that is much maligned and often ignored. This project clearly is the 1980s Revisited and Bob Dylan’s Latest effort to pull back the curtains and let his fans get a true picture of what was going on in his creative process and his mind as he navigated a career of multiple highs and critically acclaimed lows.

I know I make a lot of admissions in these columns of my personal preference and nothing will be new about that in this column. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Dylan album “Empire Burlesque.” There are so many great songs on that album that when I heard this version of the Bootleg Series was coming out, I was very excited. One of my favorite songs is the ballad “Emotionally Yours.”

Furthermore more, the three album arc on this set includes outtakes from two other underrated albums “Shot of Love” and “Infidels.” Both albums have songs they’re known for, but they tend to get lost between the power house albums of the pre-Christian mid-1970s and the comeback records of the late 1990s early 2000s.

The Albums Broken Down

The first disc starts off with rehearsal outtakes of several older Dylan songs and some covers, as well. “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” kicks of the disc and then the rehearsal moves through other Dylan gems. This disc would be more than enough for me, but it’s just the appetizer. There are also some interesting covers on this disc, as well including “Sweet Caroline” and “Abraham, Martin, & John.”

Disc two delves into “Shot of Love.” Knowing either lovingly or disparagingly by fans as “the last Christian record” of Dylan’s evangelical era. I can remember some great live versions of “In the Summertime” back in the 2000s featuring Larry Campbell on mandolin. But, alas, it is not featured on this set. There are great versions of “Lenny Bruce,” “Borrowed Time,” and “Is It Worth It?” Also, another interesting cover is featured here which is the Hank Williams classic “Cold, Cold Heart.”

On disc three, “Infidels” is the subject matter, and this disc really delivers. “Jokerman” is a classic, and the version here gives it new life. One of my all-time favorite tunes, which didn’t make the original album, “Blind Willie McTell” is featured in a faster version than has been played live in recent years. And, there are two great takes of “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight.”

The fourth disc in this set contains more outtakes from the “Infidels” sessions and again there are some remarkable covers. Many musicians want to try songs in the studio and use them to get the band warmed up and look for cohesiveness. The old Porter Wagoner favorite “Green, Green Grass of Home,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” and “Union Sundown” make we wonder if at some point, there would (or in my opinion should) be Bootleg Series edition dedicated to covers.

The final disc tackles the aforementioned “Empire Burlesque,” and it is truly remarkable to hear these versions. “I’ll Remember You,” “Seeing the Real You At Last,” and “Emotionally Yours” are songs that stand the test of time. This makes me really want to go back and dig through the deep catalog of Dylan during the 1980s and work some of these tunes up myself.

Recommendation

While I was excited for this box set to come out, I was not sure how solid the complete set would be. Let me be clear – I was blown away by how powerful it is from beginning to end. It is a great study of this time period of Dylan’s career and can be a good way to view some of his newer works. The set is highly recommended to music fans of all ages and interests as it truly is the 1980s Revisited, Bob Dylan’s Latest.

Album Cover for Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers: Ramble in Music City.

Every so often, there’s an unreleased recording that really is a gem. That term “gem” gets thrown around a lot, but with the release of Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers: Ramble in Music City, it’s proven true.

I make no bones about it, I am a huge Emmylou Harris fan. One of my favorite albums is the Live at the Ryman album. I once saw a Nash Rambler reunion at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in Guthrie, OK hosted by Byron Berline. Her connection with Gram Parson at the beginning of her career is a huge influence. This led to her connection to the Louvin Brothers. These foundations in music prove all roads lead back to Emmylou for me. She’s one of the pillars of country music and a Country Music Hall of Famer. It should be noted that we had a beloved dog named Emmylou that lived a beautiful 19 years.

A Trip Back in Time

This album takes listeners back in time 30 years ago to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. From the opening number of Bill Monroe’s classic Roses in the Snow to the last note of Boulder to Birmingham, listeners are kept on the edge of their seat. Classic tunes and covers include The Boxer (Paul Simon), Two More Bottles of Wine (Delbert McClinton), If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt), and Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight Daylight (Rodney Crowell). My favorite cut on the album is, not surprisingly, If I Could Only Win Your Love a Louvin Brothers classic. Having known Charlie Louvin personally, this cut always gets to me, and Emmylou does a phenomenal version of it.

The Band

The Nash Ramblers were/are one awesome ensemble of outstanding musicians. This iteration featured virtuoso Sam Bush (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), everyone’s bluegrass go to the late Roy Huskey Jr. (bass), Larry Atamanuik (drums), Al Perkins (dobro, banjo, vocals), and Jon Randall Stewart (acoustic guitar, mandolin, vocals). This group was a perfect transition for Emmylou from the Hot Band. Listeners will enjoy this trip back in time and at the same time feel the connection across the years of the music world.

Recommendation

Give this album a listen. It will make you smile and also make you remember a time when we took live music for granted. The power in the songs of this Find of the Year: Emmylou Harris & the Nash Ramblers will transform how and what you are listening to today.

Bob Dylan performs during Shadow Kingdom.

It was clear that it would be huge when the word came out that Bob Dylan would be performing in his first virtual concert on July 18th, 2021. It was titled Shadow Kingdom: and clearly Bob Dylan is Back. While the description of the show said he would have an opportunity to perform songs off his latest album “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” instead Dylan opted for a pre-recorded set of deep catalog songs, many of which have not been performed for years. In any case, it was awesome to have Bob back.

Clocking in at under an hour, fifty minutes to be exact, this 13-song set that was shot in black and white proved that Bob has had time to rest his vocal chords during the pandemic, as his voice sounded great. Set in a jazz club/speakeasy vibe, with audience members smoking and a completely new set of musicians backing him, Bob also featured new arrangements of many of the songs. Anyone that has followed Dylan over the years knows that this is nothing new as he has been rearranging his songs forever. Whether it’s a natural evolution or just boredom of the road, you can count on Bob to come up with different interpretations on almost every leg of each tour.

The setlist included these songs:

  • When I Paint My Masterpiece
  • Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine
  • Queen Jane Approximately
  • I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
  • Just Like Tom Thumb Blues
  • Tombstone Blues
  • To Be Alone with You
  • What Was it You Wanted (from Oh Mercy)
  • Forever Young
  • Pledging My Time
  • Wicked Messenger
  • Watching the River Flow
  • It’s All Over Now Baby Blue

Particular highlights to me included “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “Queen Jane Approximately,” “Tombstone Blues,” and “Pledging My Time.” The concert was highly entertaining and with editing, it moved rapidly between songs. There was a notation that this was the first volume, so the assumption could be that there will be other editions. However, Dylan’s autobiography “Chronicles” also said Volume 1 on it, and it came out in 2004 without a peep about the second volume since.

Shadow Kingdom was a fun event to participate in and be a part of, and it was satisfying to sit back and appreciate the 80 year old bard’s stage presence, phrasing, and overall slyness in performing in this medium. It reminded me of what I’ve been missing and how much I can’t wait to get back out there and see some live music. Let’s beat this pandemic and get back to normal and get back to concerts!

Cover Art

Cooley, Hood, & Isbell Together Again – and I’ve got the goods to prove it!

The Song that Started it All For Chris

I’ve been a huge fan of Drive-by Truckers since I was driving through a Nashville cemetery back in 2003 or 2004 looking for Roy Acuff’s grave when “My Sweet Annette came on my radio. I about wrecked the car. It was like nothing I’d heard before, and I wanted more. I immediately left the cemetery and headed to a local record store in Madison, TN and found a copy of the album “Decoration Day” and also picked up a copy of “The Dirty South.” Both records changed my life. When I heard that a new release Thirty Tigers would be featuring a reunion show of the three main songwriters and singers for the band from that era, I had to have a copy.

Info about the Record

Released by Thirty Tigers, this album “Live at the Shoals Theatre” documents a reunion show between the three from June 15, 2014. Much has been written about Jason Isbell leading the band, and it’s not my purpose to rehash that here. Having been in a band myself, I know that people and tastes evolve, and it sometimes gets the point that a change is needed. Jason’s gone on to a meteoric rise and DBT has continued to churn out great music, as well. It’s been a things of beauty for fans to witness the creative output.

This show has all the great songs and is played in a songwriter in the round format. It’s pure joy to listen to, as the sound quality is great, and the artists are clearly enjoying themselves. Nothing is worse for music than for people to produce it together and to hate every minute of doing it. Been there, done that. It sucks the creativity and fun out of the room. This show is the complete opposite.

Song Highlights

“My Sweet Annette,” the song that hooked me to begin with his here. Other highlights include “Outfit,” “Puttin’ People on the Moon,” “Heathens,” “Danko/Manuel,” and “Zip City.” I put this album on in my back room when it came in, and I listened to it without being distracted by anything else. I was absorbed in the music, and that’s how it should be. I know that the pandemic has caused me to have withdrawals for live music, but live albums like this can get you close to the feeling.

Check this album out for a fun collaboration through people that clearly love playing music with each other and songs that still stand the test of time. Cooley, Hood, & Isbell – Together Again, and it is magical!

Cover Art for Surrounded by Time
Album Cover – Surrounded by Time

Tom Jones is back, and yes, I’m writing about him. I was listening to Outlaw Country on Sirius XM awhile back when I heard a song that sounded very familiar. It was the song “Talking Reality Show Blues.” But, it was way more funky and included sound effects than the Americana version I was familiar with. I had first heard this song from the songwriter’s original version. That songwriter, of course, is the great and cosmic Todd Snider.

However, this new version of the song grabbed me. I had to double check via Google that I had heard correctly and that the song had been done by Tom Jones. It certainly sounded like him, but this was different than anything I’d heard from Tom “What’s New Pussycat” Jones! I had to find out more.

I sought out the cut on YouTube, and that led me to the 2021 album Surrounded by Time. The Ethan Johns produced album was recorded just before the pandemic was officially confirmed to be upon us in early 2020, but the release was held until 2021. It’s an action packed album full of great songs. John’s product and Jones’s performance are fantastic and produce something unique that makes one stop and want to know more.

Album Highlights

The aforementioned “Talking Reality Show Blues” was the first single and is really the standout tune. Snider was album to percolate down where we are in society and how we got to the point of the former president of the United States. Other standout tunes are the Bob Dylan Desire cover of “One More Cup of Coffee,” Tony Joe White‘s “Ol’ Mother Earth,” and the Cat Stevens’s penned “Pop Star.” All that being said, the whole album merits a listen. I bought a physical copy because that just me, but if you stream, go seek out this album and these cuts. You won’t be disappointed.

He’s Still Got It

At 80 years young, Tom Jones still has it, and I can distinctly say that Tom Jones is back, and I’m writing about him. He’s a unique cat that can combine singing, performance, and artistic license to create true art. I never thought I’d be writing a blog about him, but I’m better for having heard this album. It also made me want to go re-listen to his earlier work. He’s still performing and still delivering. Thanks, Tom!

Kris Kristofferson and friends perform on the Outlaw Country Cruise 5 2020

Previously, I’ve blogged about what live music means to me, but with this blog, I will outline specifically What Chris is Missing about Live Music. Of course, Chris is me, but it could be you, as well. Are you missing live music as much as I am? Do you promise yourself you won’t take it for granted again? I know that I do. What will the post-pandemic music scene look like? Will shows be as prevalent as they were before? Will small venues re-open? There are lots of things to consider. But, below is what I’m most looking forward to…providing everyone gets their vaccines, and we stamp this virus out.

The Never Ending Tour

I’ve seen Bob Dylan over the years more than 30 times. It usually involved at least one show a year. At the most, it would be between a year or a year and a half between shows. Bob changes the setlist and the arrangements of his work so often that each show is different, so it is crazy good. I always feel like I’m seeing an old friend whether the show is at the Beacon Theater in New York City or a casino show. I’m hoping Bob is still charged up about getting back out on the road and looking forward to seeing him some time soon.

The Horse Rides Again

Here’s hoping that Neil Young and Crazy Horse are back on the road again, as well. I recently wrote about their 1990 live album Way Down in the Rust Bucket and listening to that album made me want to see them again even more. Poncho has retired to Hawaii, but early and frequent Neil collaborator and E Street band member Nils Lofgren has stepped in and the Horse will be stronger than ever.

Singer-Songweriter Shows

Oklahoma City is well known for a great venue called the Blue Door that is super intimate and limited seating. There are several other similar (but in my opinion not nearly as good) venues all over the USA. Listening to a singer-songwriter bear their soul and getting to see them in a great venue like this is well worth your time. The last show I saw at the Blue Door was Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Find one of these close to you and check it out.

Festivals

There are festivals for just about every type of music out there. They can be overwhelming and too big for some people’s tastes. However, if you find the right festival that is in the genre that you enjoy, they can be a ton of fun. I’m looking forward to hitting some bluegrass festivals (maybe DelFest this year or next) and possibly some other music festivals/events like Willie Nelson’s 4th of July picnic. I’m excited for the Outlaw Country Cruise to return in February of 2022. It’s the 6th voyage and a festival at sea.

Medium and Smaller Theater/Venue Shows

I love these types of venues as well, and we are blessed in Oklahoma City and Tulsa to have a lot of these great venues. Cains Ballroom, VZDs, the Tower Theater, and the Tulsa Theater are just a few of these. Some times, I have been surprised by a show being added to one of these venues at almost the last minute. It gives music fans the chance to catch a great band or artist in your own town. The Bottle Rockets added a show a couple of years ago, and it was great to be able to catch them.

The Bottom Line

We are hopefully soon going to be through the worst of the pandemic. Hopefully, everyone gets vaccinated, and live music makes a big comeback. Once these things happen, let’s get out and support artists and venues. What Chris is Missing about Live Music the most is the music.

Way Down in the Rust Bucket Cover Art

I’ve written before about how much I love Neil Young’s music and how much I love his work with the band Crazy Horse. In particular, live shows with Crazy Horse are some of Neil’s best work. With the recent release of their live album Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Way Down in the Rust Bucket, my love for Neil with the Horse has grown even more solid. The band’s 1990 iteration during this album featured Billy Talbot on bass, Ralph Molina on drums, and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on guitar.

Warm-up for the Arena Tour

This album was recorded during a warm-up show for the live tour and road work following the album “Ragged Glory.” It was recorded in the fall of 1990 at Catalyst, a northern California 800-seat club. To see a Hall of Fame musician with a band of this stature, in such a personal and intimate venue is very rare. I once saw Bob Dylan play a tiny club in Little Rock, Arkansas, when ticket sales were so light at a larger venue. But, this show at Catalyst was class Neil and Horse in that it was unpredictable and feels like it could go off the rails at any time. Yet, it’s clear that the band was happy to be be back together and that the overall mood was loose and light.

Album Highlights

Highlights to me include some obscure tunes like “Homegrown” and “Let’s Roll Another Number for the Road.” Classics like “Cinnamon Girl,” “Like a Hurricane,” and “Cortez the Killer” do not disappoint, either. However, there is new material at the time, which is clearly being road-tested to see what stands up. These new songs include “Ragged Glory” cuts “Fuckin’ Up” and “Mansion on the Hill.” This new material fits well into the show and the Horse seems to be, as usual, feeding off Neil energy and enthusiasm for the material.

The setlist seems to be designed for dedicated fans of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, not the typical tour crowd that comes out expecting to hear the hits. This is great for Neil-philes like myself, as it gives other material a chance to breathe and be heard. One obscurity that is particularly awesome on this show is “Danger Bird” from the album Zuma.

Recommendation

Even those that may be new to Neil Young and Crazy Horse will find this album enjoyable. I highly recommend that you give it a listen. Take a chance to sit back and listen to musicians actually enjoying themselves. It’s a reflection of what concerts used to be. It also reminds me how much I love live music and how much I miss it. Check out Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Way Down in the Rust Bucket. You won’t be disappointed.

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind
The Lightfoot Documentary Poster

I finally caught the Gordon Lightfoot – “If You Could Read My Mind” on a Sunday morning the end of January 2021. I’ve been meaning to watch it for at least a year or more and haven’t had the time to do so, but it was well worth it once I was able to catch it. It brought back many memories and gave me the advice from years ago, “Sundown, you better take care.”

Gordon Lightfoot’s music has been in and around my life and musical sphere for as long as I can remember. I don’t really trace it back to one certain instance, but I probably recollect “If You Could Read My Mind” being the first song there.

George IV

Having had the chance to know and tour with super-underrated Country Legend George Hamilton IV, I got to know a ton more of the deep catalog of Lightfoot. The Fourth had major country chart success with albums full of Lightfoot songs, in particular the awesome, and monumentally influential on me, “Early Mornin’ Rain,” a gale force of a song that is covered in the documentary. The Fourth was such a huge fan, and I had many a car trip with him where we talked about Lightfoot and Bob Dylan’s influence on both of us.

The Songs

The movie traces Gordon’s humble beginnings to his rise on the folk scene in Toronto to legendary status. I’ve already mentioned Early Morning, but “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” are just a few of the timeless classics featured here.

The Influences

There are appearances by Steve Earle, Ian & Sylvia, Bob Dylan, and many others talking about the influence that Lightfoot had and continues to have on them and the music scene.

Even more than the songs, this documentary puts Gordon Lightfoot the man front and center. He’s honest about his personal failings and humble in a way that most superstars are not. In the early part of film he speaks about how much he admires hip bop artist and Toronto native Drake. Lightfoot lays bare the instances when addiction and infidelity wreaked havoc on him and his family. He’s not afraid to address and admit the way that he hurt people. I admire him for the responsibility that he takes.

The film wraps with a scene of Lightfoot playing at Toronto’s venerable Massey Hall prior to it closing for renovations. You can tell the way that he admires his audience and his audience admires him. It’s a connection that any performing artist can relate to. The give and take is the relationship that and the high that keeps performing fun.

Here’s to Gordon’s Future

Gordon Lightfoot keeps on keeping on and his songs continue to resonant today. He made me want to pick up my 12-string and work on the chords for “Sundown” immediately. May he continue to be a guiding force for us all. I highly recommend you stream the Gordon Lightfoot Documentary – If You Could Read My Mind as soon as you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Chris Davis and Billy Joe Shaver - Singer Songwriters In Memoriam 2020
Chris Davis and Billy Joe Shaver 2008

Rest in Peace – In Memoriam 2020. May each of these special souls rest in peace. This is a blog that I hate to write, but I wanted to remember some of the icons we lost this year. 

I know I will leave someone out, but these are the ones that hit me the hardest. – In Memoriam 2020.  

Billy Joe Shaver – He will “Live Forever” just like his song says. Music and songwriting legend that always took time for his fans. I wanted to write a blog when he passed, but I couldn’t write the words. Billy Joe meant a lot to mean and was a constant encourager to me in songwriting and keeping the creativity going. I can remember a lot of sweaty hugs after his shows where he told me loved me and to keep going. He never knew how much he meant to so many.

John Prine – Another void that will never be filled was created when Mr. Prine left us. Songs like “Sam Stone,” “Lake Marie,” and “Paradise” all coming from one writer? Are you kidding me? This guy will be remembered like Cole Porter or Shakespeare long after we are all gone. His Midwestern joy showed through in every thing he did. He was another hero that encouraged me to keep writing and keep going. Every album he did got better, and he was truly like a fine wine getting better with age. 

Charley Pride – He was a trailblazer in country music that was known for chart topping songs and a country styling that was bar none. “Is Anybody Goin to San Antone?” and “Snakes Crawl at Night” were two of my favorites. Who can forget to “Kiss an Angel Good Morning?” He will be remembered for breaking down barriers and taking music by storm. 

Jerry Jeff Walker – Writing “Mr. Bojangles” alone would make JJW immortal, but there were so many other songs like “Taking it as it Comes,” “LA Freeway” and on and on. Add to that the “gonzo” lifestyle, and Jerry Jeff proved what it meant to be an artist. 

Little Richard – No one influenced Rock and Roll more than Little Richard. Elvis and Bob Dylan all copied him. He continues to influence generations. We all know “Tutti Fruiti” by heart. One of my big regrets was not going to see him in Vegas one time when I was there.  I should’ve skipped that business meeting. He will be wailing away on a piano in the great beyond now. 

Johnny Bush – Texas dancehall stalwart, wrote “Whiskey River.” He was a very underrated talent all around. 

Justin Townes Earle – He left us much too soon. His body of work is outstanding for the short time we had him here. We’ll never forget. 

Joe Diffie – Nice guy and native Oklahoma, I can remember him before he had the hits. And, he had plenty of hits. Still was a nice guy, through and through. The last time I saw him was in the Las Vegas airport and was his usual friendly self. 

Paul English – If Willie Nelson writes a song about you, you know you are something special. Long-time drummer and moneyman for Willie, Mr. English had a rough exterior but was friendly, too. ‘They said we look suspicious, but I believe they like to pick on me and Paul.”

W.S. “Fluke” Holland –- Original drummer for Johnny Cash in the Tennessee Three. This guy saw a ton of music history. He will be missed. 

May God bless the families of all these special folks. May their spirits know how much them meant to each of us – In Memoriam 2020.