Singer/Songwriter Jerry Leger Discusses Bob Dylan

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Mike Sauve:    One similarity I see between your best songs and some of my favourite Dylan tunes is they’re often centered, for me anyway, around one nearly perfect verse.  In “Idiot Wind” it’s the opening “They say I shot a man named Gray” story.  In “Highlands” it’s the waitress scene, although that’s like 15 verses long.  In your “East Coast Queen” it’s the culmination of the narrator’s search for the girl:

The boys on the island
The men at the docks
Say, “give her my pleas
If she comes back to me
She’ll get anything she wants

If I miss that part I might as well just lift the needle and start the song over.  But then, like those Dylan songs, a couple smaller planets orbit that one beautiful verse–like asking the doctor “I want to live healthy, is there something that I can use?” When writing a song, are you conscious of having one or two great verses that you then work around, or what?

Jerry Leger:  Well, with that song, it started with the first line, “On the East Coast, she’s living like a Queen by a throne…” then everything was written relating to that character in that environment. A lot of them start off that way, with the first line and that allows me to build a story or idea from that.

MS:  Dylan is the ultimate appropriation artist, so I have limited qualms grabbing his lyrics for my own use.  My fiction is littered with phrases that most would never realize are Dylan lyrics like, “I called out for another plate of food” or “The rising sun returned.” More cryptic tribute than self-benefitting theft, is my argument.  In a recent Exclaim! concert review I mentioned how your song “Isabella” contains the line, “I was young when I left home”, which is the title of an early Dylan track.  This is one overt way you’ve borrowed something from Dylan, can you discuss some less obvious examples?

JL:   Ya, I think that’s the big difference, tribute verses theft, or I guess you could also call it building off an idea instead of tribute. I don’t like when artists just steal a whole idea and don’t leave any imprint of themselves. Ya, I thought it was great you picked up on that line! I just always loved the sound of it and I think Dylan even grabbed it from an earlier tune. I just felt it was a fitting way to begin that particular verse and then the rest of it has nothing to do with that song, it doesn’t lift anything else from it. I did something similar in another tune “John Lewis”. A couple lines are very similar to an old Luke the Drifter (Hank Williams) number called “Make up Your Mind”. Tribute is a fitting word for that. I threw it in the middle of an 8 minute tune for the Hank fans to pick up on! Now I’m giving away all my secrets.

MS:  You’ve been listening to Another Self Portrait.  I think the album’s tone is best exemplified on one of the “Little Sadie”s, when Bob says “Let’s just take this one.” You get the feeling you’re hanging in the studio with Bob.  I love “Spanish is the Loving Tongue”, “Only a Hobo”, “Pretty Saro”, “Wallflower”, and about 14 other treasures. Describe some of your favourite songs on the album?  Why is it interesting to hear them unearthed in 2013?

JL:  I’ve been loving it. It does have this feeling of freedom, of trying any tune that popped in his head and seeing if it worked well enough. “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” is beautiful, there’s something sad and relatable about it. I love the version of “Time Passes Slowly”, “Pretty Saro” has haunting vocals and I really dig the version of “Copper Kettle”.

For me, It’s interesting to hear because there’s no tricks, no bells, a lot of these tunes are sparsely arranged, if arranged at all. It’s a very honest way of putting something down on tape. You feel like you’re in the studio with him because there’s no strange wall between you. I mean, he’s almost always been like that, that’s been a big influence on the way I make records.

MS:  The original Self-Portrait was my dad’s favourite Bob Dylan album. During a 1999 trip to Toronto, he was thrilled to order it from Sam the Record Man back when that was the only way for a Sault Ste. Marie man to locate an unpopular album. I remember listening to it and asking, “This is Bob Dylan?” I hadn’t listened to Nashville Skyline at that point, so the whole crooning thing threw me for a loop.  But I never thought it was a bad album.  At one stage of my life I played the cover of Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain” about 500 times in a five month period.  The original Self-Portrait had its warts, was thoroughly shat upon, but what did you think of it?

JL:  Our old bass player, Corey, his Dad used to play it all the time! That’s wild it was your Dad’s favourite. I always liked it. I always felt it was a fun record to listen to and full of surprises. I don’t know, I grew up with a lot of country records, some from the 40’s/50’s period and the rest being from the 60’s and early 70’s when strings and female background singers were key. I thought covers like “I forgot more than you’ll ever know” sounded great and suited Dylan’s voice of that period. I love his version of “Early Morning Rain”. I always heard it as a playful record and a scattered one in a good way.

MS:  You saw Dylan at the Molson Ampitheatre in July, and seemed pretty positive about it.  Maybe you’re just generally more positive than I am, but I’m wondering if doubt or disillusionment crept in at any point?  A few years ago I based my whole vacation life around seeing Dylan.  It’s getting harder for me though.  Maybe I listen to too many bootlegs.

JL:  Well, I know his voice continues to weaken but it’s how he uses it. I felt that particular show he was working with the limitations better than the last couple times I’d seen him. There were some great moments where he was very expressive in the same way he is on record. “Soon After Midnight” knocked me out and “Love Sick” was perfect.

MS:  You participated in a Bob Dylan tribute show on Bob Dylan’s birthday at the El Mo Cambo.  What’s it like playing in front of an audience who might not know much about you, but showed for a night of live Bob Dylan music?  Is it a different kind of pressure or perhaps pleasure vs. performing your own songs?

JL:  Ya, it was fun. I wouldn’t normally do something like that but a good friend was putting it on and knew I was a big Dylan fan, so he asked if I would be part of it. There was no pressure because I wanted to just approach the songs the way I would approach my own, just to not over think it. I didn’t really wanna listen to the album versions to make sure we were getting it note for note. I wanted to just go out and play them.

MS:  In an Exclaim! interview with Rachel Sanders you mentioned looking forward to the day when you make a bad album similar to a bad Bob Dylan album.  That seemed kind of strange to me.  Were you being facetious in that if you have the cache to make a bad album you’ve made it?  Or what exactly?

JL:  Well, sometimes it’s nice to do something that nobody understands but you. Any one of us can go in an opposite direction and there’s something rewarding about that. So, I was sort of half joking about it. One day I could decide to make an album of throat singing and you might not understand it but it wouldn’t be artistically dishonest of me if that’s where my mind’s at.

MS:  What do you think the worst Bob Dylan album is?  For me it’s Down in the Groove because there’s almost nothing to redeem that one.

JL:    Ya, I would say that one and Knocked Out Loaded. There’s a couple great things on it, obviously “Brownsville Girl” but it’s a pretty weak album. I think those are the only two that I never really listen to.

MS:  What was the first Bob Dylan song that really blew you away, and when was that?

JL:  Strangely, it was the version of “Oh, Sister” off the live album, Hard Rain. That was also the first Dylan album I heard. My dad used to play it at home and in the car when I was growing up and for some reason that was the tune that always stood out. I still prefer it to the album version. It just seemed real, gritty, full of life, good and bad.

MS:  That doesn’t seem so strange.  Top Five Dylan recordings the casual fan isn’t aware of?

JL:  I don’t know, it’s hard to tell these days what casual listeners would and wouldn’t know but… “Sign on the Window”, “True Love Tends to Forget”, “Red River Shore”, “Going Going Gone”, “Most of the Time”.  That’s a good start. I love “Heart of Mine” off of Shot of Love as well, a real hidden gem.

MS:  Favourite Dylan album?

JL:  Another Side of Bob Dylan, because it was the record that changed the way I thought about songwriting, about how I wanted to write. I remember taping the LP when I was 15 and listening to it on my walkman in the high school library. I would skip classes and go there to sit and study it.

Get Jerry Leger’s latest album here.  Still not convinced?  Check out this review.


Toronto Singer/Songwriter Jack Marks discusses Bob Dylan

Mike Sauve:   Your act usually contains several Bob Dylan songs.  At your most engaged you deliver lyrics with a hostile immediacy that may seem familiar to some Dylan fans.  You have a song called Good As I’ve Been To You which is also the title of a 1992 Dylan album of traditional songs.  You have another original song that sounds a lot like Leopard-Skin-Pillbox Hat.  It seems like Dylan is, if not front-and-centre, then at least prominent in what you’re putting across, discuss:

Jack Marks:   Let me start by saying certainly I am a Dylan fan but by no means would I consider myself a Dylan scholar. I remember hearing Masters of War when I was like 15 and thinking how great it was someone could get that much feeling across with just a guitar and some singing – which was all I really had at the time. It also struck me that the character of ones voice could be as or more important than the quality. Not that I consider Dylan’s voice to be of poor quality but there are those who do and who did. What struck me with Dylan was that his poetry was at the forefront of the song where as in many other forms of popular music the rhythm and the melody were at the forefront. As a kid who was interested in writing and that didn’t think too much of his own voice, Dylan seemed like a perfect place to start.

I wouldn’t say that my act contains a bunch of Dylan songs for any particular reason other than that I enjoy playing them and I can remember the words. Any band that is starting out needs material and so when I first was forming a band I would just play the songs I knew the words to. Often songs I had learned for the purpose of busking or otherwise – because I liked the chord structure or the melody or the words. If I play a Dylan song or a Roger Miller song or a John Prine song or a Leonard Cohen song it is usually just because it is one that stuck with me along the way. In saying that, it makes sense to assume that many of the covers I do have influenced my own writing in some way. I’m sure there are many things that I have borrowed that I may not even be conscious of having done so just because all the songs I’ve ever heard are swimming around in my subconscious somewhere. I became aware of that a long time ago.

One of the roadblocks all artist’s face I guess is the feeling that what they are producing isn’t original enough. One of the things that really got me about Dylan particularly was the fact that he was taking a lot of existing chord structures and melodies and re-working them to create new songs. In the same way that Dylan borrowed melodies from an old slave ballad like No More Auction Block for Blowin’ in the Wind and a traditional song like Lord Randall for A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall I began to consider borrowing from Dylan, or anyone else for that matter, as simply carrying on a tradition that they had already started.

One of the first Dylan songs I learned was Song to Woody. I loved the song immediately for the way it celebrated being a travelling musician and how it, in essence, was Dylan’s way of thanking Woody for inspiring him to carry on the tradition Woody had already started. When I soon after discovered that Dylan had borrowed the line “come with the dust and are gone with the wind” from Guthrie – for the song he had written for him – and that he’d borrowed the melody from Guthrie’s own 1913 Massacre I was blown away. It changed the way I thought about songwriting entirely. I became less focused on the idea of creating something that was unequivocally original and began to see song writing as a craft that like any other skill had rules and structures to learn. Rules are often broken in the pursuit of art but it is always helpful to know what the rules are before you set about tearing them down.

Dylan, of course did a lot of groundbreaking in terms of what a song could be, how long a song could be and the content of the lyrics etc. but he also wrote in standard structures. I usually think of this structure – verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / verse / chorus – as the most common structure in popular music (I’m sure others may argue differently, but that is at least my perception). As a form, it isn’t a bad place to start if you have an idea for a song and just want to see if it will go somewhere. Say that doesn’t work, though. Maybe it just doesn’t feel right – it feels stale and used up. You could try a structure that doesn’t have a conventional chorus or verse or bridge at all. Dylan uses forms like this all the time. Instead of having a chorus these songs often have a tag line attached to the end of the verse that creates the poetic refrain eliminating the need for a chorus at all. See Shelter from the Storm and Tangled up in Blue. I always loved Ballad of a Thin Man because it is essentially a song written in this structure and then out of nowhere comes a bridge to keep you hooked for the back half of the song. Visions of Johanna is beautiful in the way the tag line is modified each time revealing the visions’ varied effects. When you hear songs structured like that nowadays I imagine most people associate it with Dylan because he was such a master at it. Of course it was a structure that he’d learned from traditional songs – but try writing a song like that and see if people won’t compare you to Dylan these days.

When I picked up Dylan’s album of traditional arrangements, Good as I Been to You I was staying up north for a few weeks writing a lot of songs. I immediately noticed that the album title was taken from a line in, and not a title of, one of the songs. I thought that the line sounded like a great title for a country song and so I wrote one. The song set up perfectly to be a duet and so I had my friend Stacey Burke come in the studio and perform the female part. It’s because of her that the song is still one of my favorites on my first record.

Mike Sauve:  You do lot of up-tempo Dylan material like Pledging My Time, From a Buick 6 (I’m a big fan of your delivery on “need a steamshovel mama to keep away the dead”) or You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, but as a songwriter who’s written some melancholy numbers like Two of Everything and What Good are Dreams, do you ever think of performing something weepy like Restless Farewell or Girl from the North Country? Or even something from the hospice-toned Time Out of Mind?

Jack Marks:   I never really think about doing many slow Dylan tunes. We are often playing venues where having a few extra upbeat tunes to keep people dancing at the end of the night is handy. There are hundreds of Dylan songs I like and wouldn’t mind covering but these days I am much more concerned with my own words.

Mike Sauve:   Talk of your history.  I’ve seen YouTube clips of you performing in other countries (Germany), so can we get a ruck-sacking, self-mythologizing troubadour story here, or were you on an international accounting scholarship or something?

Jack Marks:   Ha. Actually, it was a German promoter’s idea. He had become a fan of my music after a friend who’d been passing through the year before had given him a copy of my album. He proposed a way for me to come over and play and I jumped at the opportunity. There was also some interest for me to play in Holland after my first album charted briefly on the Euro americana chart so it soon turned into a tour. I met a lot of great folks over there – played some interesting venues – saw a lot of fantastic architecture. I would love to get back there soon and bring a band next time.

Mike Sauve:   Dave Van Ronk’s mentorship of Bob Dylan is something I find quite touching, did any Toronto musicians mentor you in this fashion?

Jack Marks:   I wouldn’t say that anyone mentored me like Van Ronk mentored Dylan, necessarily. When I got to Toronto on a permanent basis I was already in my mid-twenties so I was already somewhat formed in my opinions about music and had already crafted a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do if given the chance. I was lucky enough to meet a great guy and fellow songwriter named David Baxter who saw some potential in me and eventually offered me the opportunity to make an album. Bax was a mentor and a colleague all at the same time. His experience was invaluable in teaching me something about the business and how records got made and people got paid – but at the same time we were both working on our first solo efforts and plotting to have them heard. It was an important time for both of us I think.

Mike Sauve:   Give me a few words on a Toronto mainstay like John Borra?

Jack Marks:   John was one of the first guys I met after starting to play around the Toronto scene. He is a great guy – a hell of a songwriter – a guy who makes his living through music. I always tell him he does the best Hank Williams in the city.

MS:     Upstart Devin Cuddy?

JM:     Devin is the master of ceremonies. I think he sees himself in some sort of Duke Ellington role down the line now that his hockey career is on the shelf. He plays a mean blues piano and knows more about music than just about anyone I know. I think everyone is looking forward to his first record.

MS:     Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands-type Whitney Rose?

JM:     Whitney is a premium blue chip entertainer. Not only does she have a powerful voice and stage presence but she writes great songs too. On top of that I believe she may have a different dress for each day of the year. Again, everyone is looking forward to her first record.

MS:     Back to Dylan: What’s your favourite Dylan album and why?

JM:     That is a tough one. It is hard to pick a favorite. Right now when I reach for Dylan I guess I usually grab Planet Waves or New Morning. I’m not sure why. Nobody likes folks that play favourites, anyway.

MS:     Most underrated Dylan tune?  (or three or four most underrated if you prefer)

JM:     That is kind of an easy question because he didn’t have many hits so I guess most of them are underrated. How about Love is Just a Four-Letter Word. That was one of the ones where I was thinking, “he didn’t write that, did he?” Plus I don’t think he ever recorded it. Baez must have overcooked it for him. That should qualify as underrated.

MS:     I didn’t get seriously into Dylan until my early 20s.  As a kid I had the Greatest Hits V. 1 and 2 and for youthful stupidity didn’t look beyond that.  It was actually Time Out of Mind that first inspired me to dig deeper.  How did it go for you?

JM:     I guess the first thing I heard – or listened to – was Like a Rolling Stone when I was 14 or 15. My Dad used to play Dylan sometimes in the car when we were on road trips when I was young. He wasn’t a big Dylan fan by any stretch and I think he thought of Dylan as somewhat of a novelty but at the same time he was always into exposing us to different things. From there I took a fairly chronological approach starting from his early folk records on up. I wasn’t really into the later Dylan stuff at all when I was young. I was hooked on the Woody Guthrie / Jimmy Rodgers mythos back then and liked the idea of just a folk guitar and singing – something I could do without a band. I used to dress in pretty raggedy clothes and just tote my acoustic around everywhere. I guess I thought there was something noble in it – standing in front of a bank or a liquor store and hitchhiking around and playing songs. By the time I was 16 I was starting to write some songs tailored after Dylan songs – they weren’t any good – but I was trying. A gal I was seeing around then used to play Desire and Nashville Skyline like they were the only two records that ever existed. I didn’t mind one bit. It was like something that we knew about that nobody else had figured out yet.

MS:     I sometimes hear an early-Dylanesque drawl in your singing voice, particularly on the repeated “hards” in your song So Hard, how intentional is this?

JM:     It is completely intentional but at the same time comes somewhat naturally if that makes any sense. I like to think that I come from the school of songwriting that allows for a certain flexibility of character. When you hear Mick Jagger sing Far Away Eyes, do you ask if he is faking a southern accent? No – you just accept that it is in keeping with the character of the song. When you see early Tom Waits stuff you know that he is putting on a character – but yes – that is the point. That is the school of songwriting I like to think that I come from. If I write a funny country song like Greasy Maggie there is a sort of natural drawl that comes out because that is how I envision the character in the song. If I am singing a song from the point of a down and out drunk who fancies himself a poet that misses his woman like in So Hard my voice takes on something different maybe – something more like a blues or jazz singer. At the same time I try not to ever affect my voice so much that you don’t know it’s me. They are all just kind of versions of me. I have lived lots of different places too in my life and they all serve to add something to the way I talk and write. It comes down to being a fiction writer and an entertainer. My songs are written from experience to a certain extant but are not what I would call confessional. Each one is kind of like a monologue with its own character. Some characters are more closely related to me than others.

Nashville Skyline is an interesting example of your question in relation to Dylan – and this is just an opinion – but on Nashville Skyline it almost seems like his voice is probably closest to his “real singing voice” than the voice he uses on most of his records. Some people would disagree but I think it was just such a departure that people described it as affected. In reality it was the “folk voice” that he had developed early on that was the affected voice. By the time he got around to using his real voice people wouldn’t buy it anymore.

MS:     Some Dylan songs you play live might not even be recognized by younger audience members…another good one might be Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar.  It has a lot of funny lines I could hear you talking out like, “Don’t know what I could say about Claudette/that wouldn’t come back to haunt me/guess I began to give her up/about the time she began to want me.”  Take that Claudette.  Kind of sounds like something from your acerbic Song for Me.

JM:     Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar is a great song. I was first introduced to it off the Biography collection. I remember sitting in my buddy’s Chevy Nova in the parking lot of our high school smoking a joint listening to it and we just kept rewinding the tape and playing it over an over again. We were mostly blown away by how many words he was fitting into a line. I’ve never heard anyone cover it. It would be a pretty bold undertaking.

[At 25 seconds, it sounds like Bob says, “Facebook”]

MS:     You’ve been in the studio recording a third album called Blues Like These, how will it differ from the first two?

JM:     For one thing, I am using a new band and a new producer (Aaron Comeau) this time. It has been two years since the last time I made a record so a lot has changed and evolved in that time. The first two albums represented a certain amount of purging of a backlog of material I had written that had never been recorded where as the new album will be comprised mostly of songs written in the past few years. Also, I tried to make the recording process this time around a bit more organic going with more of a live off the floor approach. I think it is going to translate the songs really well.

You can check out Jack’s website here.

The Songs Bob Dylan DID Play in China.

I’d say 90% of self-identifying Bob Dylan fans are more a fan of the idea of Bob Dylan, or the ghost of Greatest Hits Bob Dylan, or the Bob Dylan they perceive as a piece of hipster capital rather than the substantial, continually-evolving musician he is.

By this same token I feel probably 98% of Bob Dylan journalism is woefully trite, mal-informative and insignificant.  Was he wearing a hat?  What did he say to the audience?  Well, as someone who actually listens to Bob Dylan as much as possible, I can already tell you:  “He introduces his damn band!”  It’s what he does.  He does not make a comment about the local restaurant or the current political climate.  The reason people continue to write about this has something to do with  the intellectual laziness of the press.  But also, as the old saying goes, “We get the press we deserve.”  People, writ large, are happy with simple definitions of things, and Bob Dylan is but one fixture in the same tapestry as Lady Gaga, Bieber, et al, so there’s no time for understanding the complexity that is Bob Dylan in 2011.  That’s the reason behind all the Bob Dylan hat journalism.

Let’s not go into the Dowd fiasco concerning BD’s supposed concession of not playing The Times They are a Changin’ or Blowin’ in the Wind, or the Dowd-fiasco-response (that he did play Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’,) both of which have been done to death.  Let’s talk about the music Bob Dylan did play in China.

I’m going to start with April 3 in Taipei, even though it is technically Taiwan, or Chinese Taipei, or…well I’m not that geo-politically astute…but mainly because this was one of the most interesting concerts of this jaunt.  It began with one of my favourite hard-rockin’ openers Gotta Serve Somebody rendered to gravelly perfection, and noted with much enthusiasm in Bob Dylan circles far and wide.

Serviceable versions of It Ain’t Me Babe and Things Have Changed followed, and generally these are a welcome addition to any BD set-list.

Then things got real interesting with a heart-achingly beautiful Sugar Baby, a rarely played slow-burn of a ballad that reminds us Bob still has something of immense significance to offer.  (As a non-musician music writer, like most of my ilk, I tend to rely heavy on the adjective.)

This was followed by a fairly by-the-numbers Cold Irons Bound, a song that like Highway 61 and Ballad of a Thin Man I often skip because otherwise I would hear them 1000+ times a year.

Simple Twist of Fate offered some classic Blood on the Tracks Bob.  His melancholy delivery of this always reminds me just how much the great man has been through in his life, and of Jacob Dylan’s quote that Blood is his dad’s lone album he can’t bring himself to listen to because it invokes memories of his parents’ divorce.  Gorgeously done.   This also appeared in every set-list of the China leg. I challenge any Bob detractor to tell me this isn’t a pretty performance of a fine song.  Even with the growling, Bob Dylan offers two things at this stage in his career:  pure emotion and fine, nearly peerless phrasing, and both are on full display here.

Then came a slightly revamped version of Honest with Me. a tune that usually gets kind of bogged down in the general swamp-bluesy, would-be-ZZ Top sound of Bob’s uptempo songs.  A quick-paced little riff at the beginning creates a new imperative for this number and reveals Bob is forever tinkering, if not producing new arrangements every night as many publications erroneously report.

Then a particularly growly Desolation Row I felt fairly neutral about.  I prefer when the melody gets warped a little more, but hey, I don’t complain when Bob dishes out the desolation, in fact if I don’t have time to listen to a whole set I always make sure I listen to Desolation in the early going.

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum is another song I’ve heard just way too much of.  But it always gets the older folks dancing.

Forgetful Heart:  as with Time Out of Mind, some of the better numbers from Together Through Life, particularly this one, are improving with age on the road.  Bob really poured his heart into this performance, perhaps trying to convince people TTL wasn’t such a dud after all.

I often skip the last third of shows, and will do so here.

April 6 Beijing:  Bob starts with another of my fave openers Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.  This once-forgotten little gem from Slow Train Coming is a real showcase for both the excellent guitar-slinging of Charlie Sexton and Bob’s current delivery.  It was the focus of many anti-Dowd retorts due to the line “So much oppression, can’t keep track of it no more,” which Bob howls with a particular vehemence here.  Eat it Dowdy.  Me, I prefer the line, always delivered excellently, “We’re living by the golden rule, whoever got the gold…rules.”

It’s All Over Now Baby Blue:  Vocals weren’t great.  But hey, that’s the mystery of a Bob Dylan show, greatness next to the generic, or an amazing performance of a song most fans consider insubstantial like My Wife’s Home Town but then a ho-hum effort on one of the best tunes the man has ever written.

Case in point, the next song, Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, with some horns, was a knock-em-out-leave-em-dead highlight, perhaps because it benefits from Bob’s current voice whereas with a song like Baby Blue one can’t help recalling the relatively dulcet tones it was originally sung in.

Tangled Up in Blue is another tune I often skip, although there are often little moments of genius in it, it’s one that Dylan often slips into a sing-song with which can be really hit-or-miss.

Another great performance of Honest With Me, another serviceable Desolation Row, another vaguely annoying (to my ears) Tweedle Dee/Dum, but then an excellent little suite of Love Sick (a song I never get sick of hearing and really works well for contemporary Bob,) Rollin and Tumblin (which I always think of as a superior Tweedle Dee-type number) and the always welcome Hard Rain.

Spirit on the Water is always nice to listen to and was no exception here.  Ballad of a Thin Man was particularly resonant on this occasion because of incendiary lyrics like “Something is happening here, and you don’t what it is.”  And this was one of the more engaging performances of it I’ve heard in some time.

April 8th Shanghai began with another effective Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’.  Then there was an absolutely gorgeous Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright that contradicts everything I said about the previous night’s Baby Blue.  How to describe the difference?  Well, in a hackneyed way:  feeling.  Also there are some nice tonal things going on, something soft and tender.  This is what keeps a guy downloading bootleg after bootleg.

More excellent Fate Twisting, Things Changing and Rows of Desolation, but then there were two surprise gems Blind Willie McTell and The Levee’s Gonna Break, both relatively rare and both performed about as well as a Dylan aficionado could ask for.

There was a strong close to this show with a better-than-average Like a Rolling Stone and a simply glorious (read:  as good as 1997-2003 Bob) Forever Young that I can’t imagine complaining about a lack of Wind Blowin’ or Times Changin’ afterwards.

April 12 Kowloon Hong Kong:  In my massive Bob Dylan storage folders I sometimes make little notes, here I have, “Excellent sound.”  The sound of this bootleg is about a zillion times better than the 8th in Shanghai, which wasn’t even that bad.

Gonna Change for example was a real eye-opener when heard with this  sound quality, and it had me duck-walking around the apartment in the fashion my girlfriend has grown to loathe.

Senor: a personal favourite of mine.  Some great harp from the Bob-man as always, and a good one for Bob to snarl out Tom Waits-style.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues is always a crowd favourite from the outset of its recognizable intro.  Bob fought through it with a noted lack of melodic vocals.

More tangled, honest, fate-twistin’ that was all very good and wouldn’t be skipped over here were it not for concerns of repetition.  And again, if you only DL one of these boots, this or April 13th are the best because of superior sound.

Two more songs off TTL, My Wife’s Home Town and Jolene, were both more engaging than I’ve heard them in the past.  This creates a real hope for me that 2011 is going to be closer to one of my favourite Bob Dylan touring years, 2009, and less like 2010, which I found kind of drab.

This set really closed with a flourish, I’ve listened to it in its entirety several times and it’s my favourite show from his Chinese stint.

April 13 Kowloon Hong Kong also has damn fine sound, and I think these two will be packaged together as gold-star bootlegs for years to come.  On that note I think years from now all the Dowd crap will be an interesting footnote to a really great collection of Bob Dylan performances.

Gonna Change opened yet again and Lo and Behold, I haven’t gotten sick of it  yet.  Open with it every night BD, it’s good with me.

It Ain’t Me Babe is always a good bet in the 2-hole, kind of the Derek Jeter of Bob’s setlists.  (I know Jeter leads off now).  He always manages to pour a little something extra of himself into this beauty.

Then the best Things Have Changed from China.  I like when Bob mucks with this one on the organ, which he does here to interesting effect. There seems to be a correlation between how much disturbance Bob inflicts on his so-called “instrument of torture” (so-called by his organ-detractors) and how interesting the vocals are.  This song that “doesn’t pussyfoot around human nature” is a great showcase for his dark, sardonic, wise, been-through-it-all…(I am just going to stop mid adjective-parade w/r/t to Bob’s voice.).

Several more repetitions I won’t mention, but Simple Twist of Fate most notably just seemed to get better each time out.  I’d almost rather here this one than the Blood version.  Almost, that Blood version kills me every time.

Then the only High Water of this leg, a bass-heavy tune I often skip.  But because of some nice finger-picking and a sharp delivery from Bob, this could definitely fit on a compilation of say, the 25 most interesting High Waters from 2006 to present, which I’m sure many hardcore fans would listen to out of pure sick Bob Dylan love.

Bob was sing-songing again on Hard Rain, and growling out comical “Yaaa’s”, the way I like.

Hot damn.  Bob Dylan in 2011 eh?  Should Bob Dylan retire you ask?  Bob selling out Dowdy writes?  Uh, something is happening here, Bob Dylan is performing world-class, innovative…(whoa, another adjective parade, I’ll just stop now.)

China tells us one thing:  Bob Dylan is still one hell of a performer, Forever Young even if he sounds old as hell relying entirely on phrasing now that his voice is so battered, but still producing a more interesting couple hours of music than McCartney, The Stones, and Tom Petty combined could ever hope to.

One final note:  I noticed Bob forgot a few more lyrics than usual over the course of these shows.  I’m too lazy to listen to them all again in pursuit of these screw-ups though, and besides, the guy has 600+ songs, so this should be forgiven.

All of these shows are available for free legal download at various file-sharing sites.  For a great catch-all I highly recommend the Expecting Rain message board.  Just sign up for free and be in Bob boot heaven.

Taipei, Taiwan, April 3

  1.  Gotta Serve Somebody
  2.  It Ain’t Me, Babe
  3.  Things Have Changed
  4.  Sugar Baby
  5.  Cold Irons Bound
  6.  Simple twise of – Fate
  7.  Honest With Me
  8.  Desolation Row
  9.  Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
  10.  Forgetful Heart
  11.  Highway 61 Revisited
  12.  Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
  13.  Jolene
  14.  Ballad Of A Thin Man
  15.  Like A Rolling Stone
  16.  Blowin’ In The Wind

Beijing, China, April 6

Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium

Shanghai, April 8th

Kowloon, Hong Kong, April 12

  1.   Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
  2.  Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
  3.  Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
  4.  Tangled Up In Blue
  5.  Honest With Me
  6.  Simple twise of – Fate
  7.  Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
  8.  Blind Willie McTell
  9.  Jolene
  10.  Desolation Row
  11.  Highway 61 Revisited
  12.  Spirit On The Water
  13.  My Wife’s Home Town
  14.  Thunder On The Mountain
  15.  Ballad Of A Thin Man
  16.  Like A Rolling Stone
  17.  Forever Young

Kowloon, Hong Kong – April 13

  1.  Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
  2.  It Ain’t Me, Babe
  3.  Things Have Changed
  4.  Tangled Up In Blue
  5.  Rollin’ And Tumblin’
  6.  Simple twise of – Fate
  7.  High Water (for Charlie Patton)
  8.  A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
  9.  The Levee’s Gonna Break
  10.  If You Ever Go To Houston
  11.  Highway 61 Revisited
  12.  Spirit On The Water
  13.  My Wife’s Home Town
  14.  Thunder On The Mountain
  15.  Ballad Of A Thin Man
  16.  Like A Rolling Stone
  17.  Forever Young