The Best of the Original Mono Recordings
Last year Sony released an over-the-top nine-CD collection of Bob Dylan songs called The Original Mono Recordings. It made for a great living room presentation, but it definitely wasn’t a saddlebag-friendly package. Perhaps realizing the realities of the economy, Sony wisely decided to release The Best of the Original Mono Recordings, a single-disc, 15-song sampler culled from the box set. Much better for us bikers.
You know you’re getting old when you wonder why no one seems to play Bob Dylan on the radio anymoreat least not here in L.A. which has millions of people and not one really good terrestrial radio station that plays more than the usual, tired top 100 classic rock tracks (nothing wrong with Bachman Turner Overdrive, but how many times does one really need to listen to Takin’ Care of Business?). But I digress
Fortunately the national treasure that is Bob Dylan is still out there, putting out albums and doing live shows. But it becomes mind boggling when you listen to these songs in the context of today’s music and realize Bob writes circles around most songwriters. Sure, much of it is personal retrospective and socio-political commentary, but there’s a certain innocence and passion about these early songs, born of a different time. And now, since the likelihood of Jay-Z discovering a great Dylan song to sample seems remote, all we Baby Boomers are left to rediscover Bob courtesy of continued reissues like this.
When Bob debuted in the early ’60s, stereo records had been out for a few years but mono still reigned supreme. Most artists did both stereo and mono mixes anyway, and there’s a good argument for both. Listening to these versions is more like it was way back when they were first released. Despite all the various Dylan hits collections, this gets my vote for the best-constructed set. And let’s not forget that many music critics feel Dylan’s famous mysterious motorcycle accident marked a turning point in his life and his music. Good stuff to ponder when you take these songs along for a ride.
Low Country Blues
The Allman Brothers burst forth from the south like a category five hurricane propelled by a perfect storm of Duane’s guitar and Gregg’s organ work. The band tore it up throughout the country in the early ’70s gathering friends and fans in their wake. While there have been plenty of bands to originate south of the Mason-Dixon line, few have come as close as the Allman Brothers Band in achieving lasting critical and commercial success. It could even be argued that the Allmans paved the way for groups like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Lynyrd Skynrd. Forty years later, even their very first album ranks up there as one of the best debuts ever. Motorcycles played a tragic role in the band’s history when both Duane and Berry Oakley perished in separate accidents within a mile of each other, albeit at different times. The music left behind though is as perfect an accompaniment to touring as the sound from true duals.
It’s been 14 years since Gregg’s last album, the slick Just Before the Bullets Fly. Low Country Blues, produced by the prolific T Bone Burnett, marks a welcome return to Gregg’s Allman Brothers blues roots, and he’s in fine form. This time out, Gregg borrows from a well-chosen songbook of artists such as Muddy Waters, Sleepy John Estes, Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King, Junior Wells and more (personally, I keep wishing for Gregg to cover Loan Me A Dime from Boz Scaggs’ first solo album that also featured Duane on guitar). Still, the songs chosen here are like starting a custom build project with the best parts money can buy. Mac Rebbenack, a.k.a. Dr. John, lends his patented frolicking keyboard work that establishes a Crescent City vibe throughout and the rhythm section of bassist Dennis Crouch and drummer Jay Bellerose add enough spice to keep things cooking. Gregg’s organ could be kicked up a few notches, but overall, the band simmers and at times boils things up into a tasty bluesy gumbo.
Gregg’s familiar smoky vocals have even more of that familiar gruffness; call it perfect agingand they greet the listener like a pair of well-worn boots. Ultimately that’s what’s so pleasing about this album. It’s like meeting up with a long-lost buddy, another refuge from the road, and sharing a few stories; a perfect excuse for a bike trip.