Old Crow Medicine Show
After turning a fragment from an unfinished Bob Dylan demo into their smash hit “Wagon Wheel,” the Old Crow Medicine Show got a note from Dylan.
He was pleased.
Later, the band got another note from Dylan. This time, the note came with a 28-second audio clip of another unfinished Dylan song from the Pat Garrett sessions called “Sweet Amarillo.”
The band finished the song and sent it back to Dylan.
This time, Dylan had a problem. He suggested they replace the harmonica parts with a fiddle, says band co-leader Ketch Secor.
They did, and that song — with its Dylan co-writing credit — appears on the band’s new album.
(Dylan didn’t actually send any of the notes. He has people for that. No one in Old Crow has met Dylan or even talked to him.)
Turning fragments into gold may be what Old Crow is best at on this album.
The swinging “Tennessee Bound” expands on an old banjo riff from Lily Mae Ledford, who played with the Coon Creek Girls in the 1930s. And the old-timey “Sweet Home” gets a slight update from the Skillet Lickers original.
With founding member Critter Fuqua back in the fold, the band has plenty of its own ripping originals. “Firewater” is a waltzing cautionary tale and among the many highlights here.
“Looking in windows and seeing a stranger/ Going through hell like a fallen angel,” Secor sings.
Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey is a fabrication, a product created by failed indie-rocker Lizzy Grant.
So what? Like Lady Gaga and Madonna are more authentic.
Del Rey has also been slagged for her unspectacular voice. But, like a lot of great singers, including Madonna, Del Rey compensates for her not-so-great voice by singing in an interesting way. She’s also a dependably interesting collaborator and a sophisticated songwriter.
On her new album, her third, Del Rey thoroughly indulges her dark side with a film noir soundtrack filled with tragic women accepting all kinds of abuse from their misunderstood men.
The songs are mostly lush, vivid ballads, with jazzy drum shuffles, ethereal choruses and the kind of loopy, hip-hop jives that seem to follow producer Dan Auerbach wherever he turns up.
Del Rey’s power is in her ambiguity. Even though you know she’s putting it on, she’s so good at it, you don’t care. Long live whoever she is.
The Brothers and Sisters
Light in the Attic Records
Way back in 1969, people were already hearing the gospel in Bob Dylan’s songs. And, that was long before Dylan was even “born again.”
Legendary L.A. record producer Lou Adler, (who, like Dylan, is Jewish), assembled a choir of underappreciated backup singers to cover famous Dylan folk songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “My Back Pages.”
As spectacular as the project was, the album dropped into immediate obscurity and is only now, finally, being re-issued.
The project worked mostly because among the backup singers was Merry Clayton (she’s the one singing “it’s just a shot away” on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter).
Clayton’s take on “The Mighty Quinn” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” are so stirring, it’s a wonder Dylan didn’t convert the second he heard them.
And overtly secular songs like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and “Lay Lady Lay” have never swung like this.
Besides that, what’s more fun that hearing a bunch of Baptist church ladies harmonizing on lines like “She makes love just like a woman/ yes she does”?