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Erase and Rewind

So the past year and this one has seen a spew of releases from age-old artists whose back catalogue still rides stronger than any of their recent work, from U2 to Metallica, JJ Cale to Neil Young, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) to Bruce Springsteen, with the most recent being Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life. Listening […]

Milind Deora Jun 21, 2009
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So the past year and this one has seen a spew of releases from age-old artists whose back catalogue still rides stronger than any of their recent work, from U2 to Metallica, JJ Cale to Neil Young, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) to Bruce Springsteen, with the most recent being Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life. Listening to Dylan’s latest piece of work, a notion I have been harbouring for some time now was only reasserted. It seemed Dylan didn’t write this one for the masses or for any validation from the critics – he is writing for himself now. The cynic in him is breathing his last and little does he care about changing the world or enlightening us with his opinion on world affairs. Sonically, too, he reverts to old school blues. I could sense a bit of the Chess Records, a flash of Buddy Guy and of course his all-time hero Woody Guthrie. He blatantly reverts to his true heroes from the Fifties and Sixties with little regard for today’s trends in music. As much as some might reason this as being a creative roadblock or his coming full circle or these old musicians just being lost and unable to latch on to the current trends, in my understanding these records have a much greater role to play which might get shrouded by the whole rant of evolution and originality on sound.

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For artists of such great stature who have proven themselves over and over again in every which way – an Eric Clapton to a Dylan have scored high on all counts from versatility to originality to evolution to being open to experimentation, but at the same time these artists have not forgotten to acknowledge their inspirations, the men who essentially introduced them to music, their true teachers. Me and Mr Johnson, a tribute album to Robert Johnson by Clapton was one such album, and we all know with Clapton, these tributes come easy for him. In doing so these artists are playing their role as musicians to the fullest. Being original is one thing but sharing good music is another thing. These greats have introduced me to artists, who if not for them, would have never been known to me. Clapton of course took me on the blues trail dating back to the Thirties, Dylan beat the drum for Guthrie and the Stones championed Chuck Berry. At the fag end of his career an artist like Elvis who was contemporary and invented rock & roll in his heyday, reverted to gospel and balladry akin to Hank Williams. Even artists like Guns N’ Roses whose 1993 album “The Spaghetti Incident?” was rife with punk covers introduced me to punk – it was my love for the band that made me dig deeper and understand their inspirations. U2 which was essentially a punk act in their earlier days teamed up with Green Day to do their rendition of ‘The Saints Are Coming’ which is actually by the Skids.

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I also feel that sometimes as a musician, although you want to play new music, sometimes you really need to go back and play the stuff that inspires you the most no matter how old it might be. It just wipes the canvas clean and clears the clutter; it’s like pressing a refresh button. These guys are unwittingly introducing the new generation to emblematic music they might never know of otherwise. After all they achieve and the long journey that lands them in a completely different destination form where they began, it’s time to retrospect. It’s time for the artist to revisit his inspirations and beginnings and reassess his whole journey from the start.

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