Woodstock Skyline by Steve Matteo - When music fans think about Woodstock, images of the 1969 music festival come to mind. The musical history of the upstate New York community where the festival took place dates back to before the three-day concert that August. Although the concert actually took place in nearby Bethel, New York, it is inextricably linked with the Woodstock community in pop culture references. Some of the artists who were partially responsible for inspiring the choice of the Woodstock area for the concert and for continuing the musical spirit of the place and times are eloquently captured in a recently published book.
Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock (DaCapo), by Barney Hoskyns, focuses in on how Woodstock was a sleepy arts community in the Catskill Mountains area that slowly transformed into ground zero for the East Coast music scene to retreat to, make music at and be inspired by the natural beauty and collective bonhomie of the rural hamlet. Hoskyns focuses on how music manager Albert Grossman became the center of the scene that began in earnest in the early 60's and went on for decades. The key musical relationship that was at the white-hot center of the zenith of the scene in the mid- to later 60's was Bob Dylan and the Band. Hoskyns also discusses many other artists in detail, including Van Morrison.
The following books, recordings and films take a look at these artists, all of whom either had new works in 2016 or they or their works were the basis of major reissues, some marking important anniversaries.
Testimony (Crown Archetype), Robbie Robertson's autobiography, covers many of the same key years as Hoskyns’s book when focusing on the musical relationship of Bob Dylan and the Band and how Woodstock was the incubator for some of their best music. Robertson is an excellent writer and he either kept diaries or has clear recall when describing his early life, his time with the Hawks and his time with Dylan and The Band, culminating with The Last Waltz.
Seeing the Real You at Last: Life and Love on the Road with Bob Dylan (Jawbone Press), by Britta Le Shain, is an intimate look into the life and music of Bob Dylan during the 1980's. Written by a friend who joined Dylan on tours, the book provides an up-close and personal glimpse into the man behind the myth that gives a real feel for Dylan's persona.
The 1966 Live Recordings (Sony Legacy), from Bob Dylan, provides the most exhaustive audio documentary of the 1966 Dylan and The Band tours. This 36-CD set covers shows from the U.S., U.K., Europe and Australia. Levon Helm does not play drums on any of these recordings, as he dropped out due to the poor reception Dylan's new electric sound was met with prior to these shows. While the Manchester, England concert was previously available, as well as several other recordings, most of this box set has never been released on official or bootleg releases. The sources for these discs include CBS archives, mobile recordings and even audience tapes. 1966 was easily one of the most controversial years in Dylan's career and this period is fertile ground for diving deep into Dylan's first extended foray into electric music.
Fallen Angels (Columbia) from Bob Dylan is his second recording of interpretations of the great American songbook. Just like on the previous album, Dylan proves more than adept at tackling these pre-rock chestnuts. The sparse, country-tinged instrumentation and Dylan's intimate vocal style make this a welcome follow-up.
No Direction Home (Capitol), directed by Martin Scorsese, is a 10th-anniversary, two-Blu-ray edition of the definitive, authorized documentary of Bob Dylan's musical career in the 1960's. This reissue contains two hours of bonus material, including extended footage from the 1966 tour, an interview with Martin Scorsese, and much more.
The Last Waltz, also directed by Martin Scorsese, is now available as a 40th-anniversary deluxe edition on four CD's and one Blu-ray from Rhino. Regarded as perhaps the best film made about rock music, the 1976 concert filmed at Bill Graham’s Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving night still holds up all these years later. The farewell concert of The Band was also very much the end of a musical era whose axis equally balanced the music of the East Coast music scene of the early to mid-60's and the West Coast sound of the late 1960's and early 1970's. The lineup for the concert also includes Brit rock god Eric Clapton, blues giant Muddy Waters and The Band's leader when they were in the Hawks, Ronnie Hawkins.
Two artists who performed at The Last Waltz issued albums in 2016. Eric Clapton released the double-live CD, Live in San Diego with J.J. Cale (Reprise), featuring performances from his San Diego show in March of 2007. The concert also features Derek Trucks, with additional guest Robert Cray, on a set that is heavy on Clapton’s Derek & the Dominos period. Neil Young released two albums in 2016, also on Reprise. Peace Trail is a mostly acoustic album featuring Jim Keltner and Paul Bushnell and recorded at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio. Earth is a double-live album featuring Young’s band Promise of the Real that includes Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. Although a live album, the recording is augmented with overdubs and “wildlife” sounds.
It's Too Late to Stop Now Volumes II, III IV and DVD from Legacy features concerts from California and London in 1973 from Van Morrison. This reissue features Morrison at the height of his live performing powers with backing from his Caledonia Soul Orchestra.
Keep Me Singing (Caroline) is the 36th solo album from Van Morrison, who began his solo career in 1967 after fronting Them. It’s yet another album that proves that Morrison’s singular vocal gift and command of effortlessly mixing jazz, soul, blues and other styles are evidence that he still has dazzling new original music ahead. (Steve Matteo)