Discovering Donovan

Lori’s discovered the terrifically funny — all kinds of profane but terrifically funny — Catastrophe on Amazon, and the soundtrack has turned up more winners than one might expect. Most recently in our watching, Donovan’s Catch the Wind closes an episode. He nips the tune from Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom (and its Springsteen cover), but the song brings its own power. More on Donovan and Dylan.

‘They gave me the code for everything that’s fair game’

Bob Dylan’s speech last week is a fantastic read — fantastic for how he roots his songs, how he sees his work, how he takes aim at critics and seemingly random others, the reasons go on. The L.A. Times deserves a big thank-you for transcribing a recording of the speech. My favorite part is when Dylan talks about folk music and its repetition — truly learning musical antecedents — led him to new words and new songs.

I learned lyrics and how to write them from listening to folk songs. And I played them, and I met other people that played them back when nobody was doing it. Sang nothing but these folk songs, and they gave me the code for everything that’s fair game, that everything belongs to everyone.

For three or four years all I listened to were folk standards. I went to sleep singing folk songs. I sang them everywhere, clubs, parties, bars, coffeehouses, fields, festivals. And I met other singers along the way who did the same thing and we just learned songs from each other. I could learn one song and sing it next in an hour if I’d heard it just once.

If you sang “John Henry” as many times as me — “John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain’t nothin’ but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I’ll die with that hammer in my hand.”

If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you’d have written “How many roads must a man walk down?” too.

Folk hearts full of soul

My daily life has been almost all digital recently, which has been fun and worthwhile but also overwhelming and too far away from spirits of the holidays and cabin trips of just a few weeks back. So, moments that have reminded me of that kind of freedom of landscape  have been welcome. In the past week, two musical moments in particular have done the trick.

First, the preview of Marah’s coming Mountain Minstrelsy album. I’ve been excited for this album for a while — bringing old lumber-camp songs back to life — and preordered it right away. Cool, weird, sweet, likely great.

Second, AJ Lee’s cover of Dylan’s Tomorrow Is  a Long Time, via Cover Lay Down’s recent compilation of “New Artists, Old Songs.” Beautiful.

If today was not a crooked highway
If tonight was not a crooked trail
If tomorrow wasn’t such a long time
Then lonesome would mean nothing to you at all

Pouring chords over the stress

Years back, what I needed to fall asleep some nights was finding the right song. Until I found that song, I was wired. But when the song turned up, my body and mind would start to relax, and that was the end of the day.

Friday night, at the end of a productive but overloaded week, I needed to find such a song and went hunting. The result? Three songs, all loud, but adding up to peacefulness. The first two came from a great New Yorker list of lost concert films now turning up on YouTube. The third was in the No Depression email. I slept deeply and woke up not thinking of my worries.

Dylan playing a rock-speed Shelter from the Storm.

The Ronettes singing Be My Baby and owning the room.

Black Joe Lewis, Come to My Party, via public radio, via No Depression.