With „Rough and Rowdy Ways“ Bob Dylan has released his first album with new original songs since 2012.
The German magazine „Spiegel“ writes that the CD is a
work (that) is distinguished by the richness of poetry and clever references, which „will give much joy to all who are addicted to interpretation.
It adds, that the musician and Nobel Prize winner for literature is active with the record as
organizer of a docile scavenger hunt and shrewd musical archaeologist“
These quotations reminded us of the last album of Steve Gibbons with original songs, the already in 2008 released „Chasing Tales“, which we (finally) present on this occasion.
Steve Gibbons and books
Steve Gibbons loves books. And it’s safe to assume that in his next life he would like to try out being a writer instead of a musician. This impression comes to mind when you take his albums in your hands and indulge in the now dying art of studying record covers. (It’s also fitting that when he has a few minutes to spare on tour, he’ll be browsing the latest catalogue of Bibliophile-Britain’s Best Postal Book Bargains )
Album title and opened books on the covers of earlier LPs
The first reference to books can be found in the title of his solo LP from 1971, which is entitled „Short Stories“.
Later, books even appeared directly on the packaging of the Steve Gibbons Band’s recordings.
Anyone who is not too distracted by the five-man gang of hard men on the front of their first LP „Any Road Up“ will come across the open pages of a book on the back – framed by a cigarette smouldering in front of them, a hat, a revolver, a private detective’s notepad and the small model of a Spit Fire.
On the two visable pages of this book you can read an excerpt from a short story (again!). It doesn’t make sense on its own, but at the same time it makes you want to read the before and after of this story (which probably doesn’t exist at all).
On the following LP Steve Gibbons alone determines the cover picture. But it remains the same that on the back of the cover of this LP you can find the picture of an open book.
This time it is surrounded by a hat, and a cigarette smouldering in front of it. (One looks in vain for notes and Spitfire. So here is room for interpretation attempts by Gibbons-ologists 🙂 Again one would like to read the „before“ and „after“ of the text. Again, one is left to one’s own imagination.
With the vinyl version of „Saints & Sinners“ you have to search longer for the open book. But it is there. It is printed on the inner cover, which contains the record.
This time the two visible pages do not contain excerpts from a story without beginning and end, but the lyrics of the songs on the record, which are set like a prose text.
„Chasing Tales“: Not only the title refers to short stories and books
Is it any wonder then that on „Chasing Tales“, the album from 2008, not only – as on the first solo LP – the title refers to short stories, but also in the booklet and on the CD itself stack of books is printed.
Hemingway`s iceberg shows the way.
As far as the narrative style is concerned, the Hemingway book „Men without Women“, which is illustrated on the CD, points the way. This is an example of the so-called „iceberg model„, a narrative technique used by Hemingway, in which the story is told in laconic short sentences.
Often the essential is left out. And yet – or perhaps precisely because of this – complete stories are created in this way in the minds of the readers or listeners. A prime example of this on Chasing Tales is „The Chase“, which is just as much part of the film noir milieu as „Bad Day in the Office“. Here, in audible black-and-white, profound plots from the world of Philip Marlowe and his colleagues are told and the instruments set the appropriate accents.
This is how Raymond Chandler sounds in music!
Audible literature about people on the margins of society
Most of these „Chasing Tales“, including the two songs dedicated to women, „Velda“ and „Jazz“, tell of people from the margins of society. Worn-out men and fascinating women dominate the picture (in an interview with Pete Feenstra Steve Gibbon’s revealed that „Good Guys, Bad Guys And Tricky Women“ was also discussed as a possible title for the album).
Other songs describe scenarios and milieus such as a fairground („Stuck in A Groove“) or a nightclub („Hot Club in Dreamland“), which seems to be a branch of the magic theatre („Admission only for crazy people“), where Steppenwolf Harry Hallers in a drug frenzy searches for his female alter ego Hermine. Here too there are „only images, no reality“. Mozart is not to be found here, but Django Reinhart plays and John Lennon works behind the bar.
Even intelligently done love songs beyond the trivial she-loves-me-love-me-love-me scheme can be found („Darwin And All That“, „Still In The Dark“).
And with „Limbo No More“ he offers a Birmigham variation of the theme „I Ain`t Gonna Work On Maggie`s Farm No More“. Here, too, the protagonist has no desire to continue as before. Here, however, this is performed in a much more relaxed manner and with calypso influences than Bob Dylan’s farewell song to the workplace.
And also an „encouragement song“ is not missing. „Wonderful Life“ concludes the album and releases you as a happy end after the gripping acoustic reading with a positive feeling into the reality of everyday life.
Gibbons is often compared with Bob Dylan because of his voice and his cover versions. If one draws this comparison on the basis of this album, one can conclude that Gibbons has surpassed the US-American singer-songwriter with this album. Dylan has recently released a series of „age records“ on which he has musically re-oriented himself and interpreted songs from the Great American Songbook.
On „Chasing Stories“ the notes are also backward looking. But here the result sounds more casual and natural. Also because Gibbons‘ „old age voice“, unlike that of His Bobness, does not sound dumpy but mature. (The album was recorded in the studio by Bob Lamb, former drummer with the Steve Gibbons Band. The vocal parts were deliberately recorded early in the morning to make his voice sound as powerful as possible).
Therefore, it is fair to say that Gibbons has not only reached Dylan with this widely unnoticed album, but left him behind. (Addition: This article was written before Bob Dylan’s „Rough and Rowdy Days“ was released. We will revise this jdugement and will report soon on our findings).
Further information about the album
The album was recorded with the following line-up
- Steve Gibbons
- Phil Bond
- Howard Gregory
- Johnny Casell
- Howard Smith
Cover drawing by Steve Gibbons himself, inspired by Edward Hopper
Even before you hear the first note, you are already optically tuned in: The black and white drawing on the cover gives the impression that Edward Hopper has drawn a storyboard for the filming of a crime thriller. And indeed, the US-American painter was the godfather here with his painting „Night Shadows“ from 1921. There is a description of this painting on the Internet, which would also apply to many of the songs on „Chasing Tales“:
What I find interesting in this etching, and maybe in many more of Edward Hopper’s works, is the intersection of the following elements: a human figure is set in a man-made environment, but the general impression is typically not one of welcomeness, comfort or fulfillment. Since then the figure does not fit the place, or the place does not fit the figure. Something seems to be broken or dislocated and there’s a general sense of withdrawal or of absence. In „Night Shadows“ a feeling of anxiety or anguish emanates….
Traces lead to literary discoveries
On the illustration on the back of the booklet to the CD there are still hints that lead to further worthwhile musical and literary discoveries. Records and books are piled up on a rough wooden table with a whisley glass.
Among the printed matter, besides the „usual suspects“, such as the „Treasure Island“ by Robert Lous Stevenson and „The Secret Agent“ by Joseph Conrad, there is the book „Men Without Women“ by Hemingway and a work by Dennis Potter. Dennis Potter is probably best known abroad as the screenwriter of the Cold War thriller „Gorkipark“. In Great Britain, he is not only known as a screenwriter, but also as a novelist.
Among other things he also wrote the book „Ticket to Ride“ (no reference to the Beatles song). The book seems to be an interesting but not easy read. It is described as follows:
Ticket to Ride by Dennis Potter is the kind of book you probably need to re-read to fully appreciate, and I definitely plan on rereading this. Potter’s writing is seductively lyrical. I found myself re-reading sentences and paragraphs just so I could savour the imagery or mood he created. I’m usually a fairly quick reader, but I found myself purposefully taking my time with this book.
This quote also fits „Chasing Tales!“
Political activist and the voice of Balou the Bear!
There are also sound recordings on the table. Of course vinyls, no CDs!
Apart from a likewise „usual suspect“ (Frank Sinatra), traces of interesting new discoveries are laid again.
One of them is the US-American jazz singer and lyricist Oskar Braun Jr., who was also very active politically in the area of equal rights for African Americans.
The second trail worth following leads to Phil Harris, another dazzling figure: White American musician, bandleader, comedian, radio presenter and actor. Phil Harris has two stars on the Hollywood list (one in the music recording category and one in the radio category). Impressive! But what impressed us most was that he lent his voice to the singing bear „Balu“ in the original version of the cartoon „The Jungle Book“ (1967).
So, forget about your worries and your strife, and listen to „Chasing Tales“, because also music is one of the bare necessities of life!