Music » Preview

Two Prophets + The Blasters

Bob, Chuck and some California rockabillies

The Byrds Play Dylan (Columbia/Legacy)

Chuck Prophet -- No Other Love (New West Records)

The Blasters -- Testament: The Complete Stash Recordings (Rhino/Slash)

On a winter evening in 1964, Bob Dylan walked into a Los Angeles recording studio and heard the future of his music. He was, quite literally, electrified. A group of five musicians soon to become The Byrds were covering the folk demi-God's austere acoustic songs in their soon-to-be signature sound: a jangling 12-string electric Rickenbacker, soaring harmonies and a pulsing rock & roll beat. Dylan loved it, and The Byrds already loved Dylan. It's speculation to guess who has gained more from their mutual admiration society, but it's a safe bet neither has regretted the alliance.

The Byrds' benefit was immediate, beginning with their first No. 1 hit, the Dylan-penned "Mr. Tambourine Man," in January 1965. Over the years and through their many incarnations, the Byrds released 13 other Dylan titles, which often charted higher than their own outstanding material. Those covers, as well as some live, outtake and reunion performances, are included in a new release from Columbia/Legacy, The Byrds Play Dylan.

As for Dylan, his career boost went far beyond songwriter residuals. Dylan alienated many folk diehards when he went electric in March of "65 with his album Bringing It All Back Home, but he gained a new army of young followers who'd been briefed beforehand, in large part, by the Byrds' covers.

The Byrds steered away from Dylan's most popular songs (Dylan hadn't even recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man" when they released it) and made anthems of some of his lesser known, but equally brilliant, works, including "You Ain't Going Nowhere," "Chimes of Freedom," "Spanish Harlem Incident," and, in perhaps the most memorable melding of the two styles, "My Back Pages."

Once, few were privy to the genius of those (now) household titles; Dylan can thank The Byrds and their unique rearrangements for bringing millions more into the fold. -- John Schacht

The former Green On Red guitaristChuck Prophet returns with another strong effort, tapping into the same funky wellspring he did on his last record, the delightfully adventurous The Hurting Business.

Opening with the Stax-flavored "What Can You Tell Me," Prophet adds his bruised-and-bitter love-letter lyrics over a thick line of funk provided by his own bass and the skins work of Michael Urbano (Cracker, Paul Westerberg). It's a formula he follows on several other cuts, and one that sets him apart from many of his roots music contemporaries; Prophet's not afraid to add an accent -- a sample, a Farfisa, vibes, horns -- to what is, in essence, pretty straightforward music.

But Prophet is capable of excruciatingly beautiful moments as well, and it's these that elevate his records to the next level. When he weaves minor-chord melodies with acerbic aphorisms, as on the co-dependent friendly, treble-heavy, "That's How Much I Need Your Love" -- "If there's any doubtin' the kind of fool I am/I'd swim across the ocean, write your name there in the sand" -- Prophet really hits his stride.

Finally, No Other Love is one of those records that reveals its secrets better on good equipment at a slightly louder-than-normal level. The credit there goes to Prophet and co-producers Jim Walters (Jon Spencer) and Mark Pistel (Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy). Of course, without decent songs to back it up, the audiophile aspects wouldn't matter to anyone. Luckily, Mr. Prophet delivers the goods from both sides of the studio glass. -- John Schacht

The Blasters burst onto the Los Angeles music scene with their fiery brand of juiced-up rockabilly just as the punk scene was blossoming in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Like their punk peers, they played with unbridled energy and were quickly embraced by bands such as X, with whom they often shared a bill. Their lineup included full-bodied vocalist/guitarist Phil Alvin, his brother, the group's primary songwriter and lead guitarist, Dave Alvin, bassist John Bazz, ivory-banger Gene Taylor and hard hitting drummer Bill Bateman. After releasing their debut, American Music to critical praise on Rollin' Rock in 1980 (now available on Hightone), The Blasters signed with Slash and recorded three albums proper, plus a live EP, which, in addition to some other loose ends, is all included on the double-CD, 52-track collection Testament. The first disc, which spans The Blasters' first two Slash albums is well-executed rockabilly incorporating elements of soul and R&B, but never establishing an identity of its own. Granted, it's great music for taking on a cross-country trip in a "55 Chevy, but nothing that leaves much of an impression once removed from the stereo.

On Disc 2, The Blasters' output evolved into a more Steve Earle/Bruce Springsteen roots-rock sound highlighted by Dave Alvin's growth as a songwriter. Songs such as "Just Another Sunday" and "Little Honey" display raw emotion and true lyrical power. The disc concludes with 11 live cuts from a wattage-intensive show in London (and one cut from New York) that blends originals with covers like Jerry Lee Lewis' "High School Confidential." The show took place in the early 1980s but could easily be mistaken for a lost tape from an obscure Eisenhower-era band. -- Wade Tatangelo

Add a comment