Sunday, October 18, 2009

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Theme Time Hour With Your Host Bob Dylan - Series 2 (Ace)

Here’s the distillation of the songs played on the theme-based radio show’s traipse through the jukebox of Bob Dylan’s imagination, and among the themes for the second series were…well, the nominal subjects hardly matter really without the comic between-song exposition of Dylan’s arch mock-cornball drawl, so suffice it to say that members of his nugget-picking team (Eddie Gorodetsky, Dylan's manager Jeff Rosen and Ace records’ Roger Armstrong) have trawled through some great, good and at times fairly obscure choices to produce another exuberant celebration of all the roots music tributaries that flow into the raging river of American popular music (and beyond).

Rhythm and blues is the hub around which the collection revolves, liberally spiced with rockabilly, soul, gospel, reggae and blues (with chanson and yé-yé a Francophone supplement to Cajun). Country and jazz are particularly strongly represented genres this time round, sharing around a third of the fifty tracks, and there’s something of a novelty – or humorous - element running through the selection too.

Witness Hal Swain and His Band and their knockabout 1930 hit Hunting Tigers out in India (“well, I see nothing to hinder ya”) or Red Ingle’s drunken corruption of The Sons of the Pioneers’ Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild, Wild Women. Humour also abounds in Little Esther’s smoky Aged and Mellow Blues (“I like my men like I like my whiskey…”) and Loretta Lynn’s combative Fist City, while Ricky Harper takes a rare lead on Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra’s light-hearted Louis Jordanesque romp A Pretty Girl (A Cadillac and Some Money).

All that and there’s serious stuff from lesser known names, and some biggies too, including Louis A and Billie H as well as James Brown, Mose Allison and Edith Piaf. With an evocative introduction from one Billy Bragg (romantically riffing on the conceit that Dylan might have chanced on these tracks in his dial-twirling Duluth youth) and a who’s-who of roots experts and fans providing the track notes, Theme Time Hour Volume Two is a fine compendium of an absorbing radio series.

This review first appeared in fRoots magazine

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