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Emma Swift • Blonde on the Tracks [LP, CD]

Bob Dylan’s one of those songwriters who is much better writing songs than he is recording and performing them. That’s, at least, what many of us feel at this point in time – early in the 21st century when the man’s voice is not only no longer what it used to be but even harder to take now than it was in the ’60s when he first came on the scene. Between then and now he’s been many things, including a Nobel Prize winner, and he’s had his songs covered by more artists than probably anyone besides The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. EMMA SWIFT’s new album, Blonde on the Tracks, is packed with five per side (or a flat out ten on compact disc) and how you’ll feel about her album may largely be determined by what you think of Dylan’s writing.

That being said, Emma Swift has assembled a batch of Bob’s tunes that aren’t gonna ring a bell with your typical, mainstream music fan who is just familiar with the hits or best-known of the man’s canon. I certainly don’t consider myself one of those, yet I was only familiar with a few of these songs prior to hearing them here. I like what Emma & Co. have done with them and that’s partially because I like her singing and partially because of the fact that this selection’s not already worn out in my mind. And that might be the clincher. Even newer songs like “I Contain Multitudes” – which came out only a few months ago as a download (and is on Dylan’s brand new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways) – sound like classic Bob among the older ones here, such as “Queen Jane Approximately” or “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (from 1966’s Blonde on Blonde) thanks to them all being part of one current collection. The arrangements are somewhere between The Byrds’ jingle-jangle mornin’s and today’s indie sound, by way of players like Pat Sansone (who also produced) of Wilco and Emma’s beau, Robyn Hitchcock, who lend a solid backing to the proceedings. I must say that said proceedings are definitely on the medium tempo, low key side of town, which is not my usual choice of neighborhood. But for one of those times when you’re not up to rockin’ out and would rather just chill, you may hope to bypass Bob’s own versions and find this Blonde on the Tracks instead. – Marsh Gooch

3/5 (Tiny Ghost TG-03, 2020) available via emmaswift.bandcamp.com

The Rutles • The Rutles (40th Anniversary) [LP+7″]

Ouch! THE RUTLES’ landmark anthology, The Rutles, turned 40 this year and nobody noticed. Was it because of another band’s bigger anniversary? Was it because of bad management? I’ll tell you what I think: I think it was the trousers.

For those wondering just who in the world The Rutles were, well, they were a legend. A living legend. A legend that will live long after other living legends have died. Okay, they were actually a parody of The Beatles. The idea was cooked up by Eric Idle (of Monty Python) and Neil Innes (of The Bonzo Dog Band), who wrote a mock rockumentary (a mockumentary, if you will) that was produced for an NBC-TV special by Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels. That show, All You Need Is Cash, played on television in March 1978 and this record was written and recorded for it by Innes. Like the show itself, the songs parodied the history of The Fab Four by tackling the different types of tunes The Beatles wrote. So, for instance, there’s a song that recalls “I Am the Walrus” entitled “Piggy in the Middle,” or an Indian flavored, sitar clad tune called “Nevertheless” that recalls George Harrison’s forays into middle Eastern territory. It’s all quite clever. Neil Innes’ lyrics are funny and yet still an homage to John, Paul, George and even Ringo’s songwriting. And the arrangements are so spot-on, you would almost think you stumbled upon some unearthed outtakes. These Pre-Fab Four tunes are played by Innes and a handful of musicians who knew the foundational Beatles records well enough to craft twenty songs that bring a smile to the face and to the ears of any fan.

This time the record is presented by, of all labels, Parlophone (The Beatles’ original UK label)! The Rutles was originally released by Warner Bros. in both the US and England, but here in 2018 Warners and Parlophone are both part of Universal, so we get the album cover and labels sporting the latter’s logos and look. Sonically, the album itself is presented as the original was (14 songs), though the mastering job is much clearer than the 1978 issue and even better than the 1990 CD. That CD gave us twenty Rutles tunes – the fourteen from the album and another six that were featured in the TV special but not on the record. To remedy that, included here is a 7″ EP with the other six songs that made the CD but not the original album, in a picture sleeve that’s a parody of a mid ’60s Japanese Beatles record. Also included is the original color booklet, which is a fun read, and an extra special insert of a mock press release. Strangely, the typography on the inside gatefold and in the booklet is different from the originals, but the artwork is otherwise presented fairly crisply so a change in typefaces shouldn’t be a big deal. (If you’re a normal person, which I am clearly not.)

If you’ve never watched All You Need Is Cash, which predates This Is Spinal Tap by six or seven years, it’s good for many laughs and you can get or rent it on DVD and Blu-ray. If you want to enjoy The Rutles’ music, the Rhino CD can be found online or you can treat yourself to this fab 12″+7″ set. For Beatles fans with a sense of humor, it’s not to be missed.

4/5 (Parlophone PCS 7018, 1978/2018)

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