Scarlet Town showdown

September 14, 2012

As I am sure everyone is aware, Bob Dylan’s new record, Tempest, was released this week. I’ve listened to it a few times, and I’m still thinking about it. For me, the late career revival that he has been riding peaked with Time Out of Mind, which set a standard that the other records have to greater and lesser degrees failed to match — which is not to say that they haven’t been good records. Tempest doesn’t disturb that general view of things, but I’m still trying to decide just how good it is.

The music is roughly the same stew of blues, folk, and rock that has been served up on his last few records, with the blues predominant. The blues is a formulaic and repetitive genre, and this might account for my hesitation; at first blush much of the music does sound formulaic and repetitive, and I need time to really dig into the songs to find out what is going on. I can point out that the initial reviews have been generally positive (and have included a five-star review in Rolling Stone).

One of the immediately appealing songs on the record is called “Scarlet Town”, and I thought it would be fun to put it up alongside Gillian Welch’s recent song with the same title. I know, I know, these are pretty superficial grounds on which to select two songs for comparision, but, when you get right down to it, who needs more than superficial grounds to listen to two good songs?

Dylan first:

(Note that his copyright lawyers have eagle eyes, and it is possible that this video will disappear shortly.)

Gillian second:

If you’re so inclined, you can leave a note below saying which you prefer. I’m keeping my own opinion secret for now.

21 Responses to “Scarlet Town showdown”

  1. Janet Says:

    Well, I knew before I listened that I would like GW’s better, because I really, really love that song, but I thought I should at least give it a try, and I was right. I like Dylan’s all right, but not anywhere near as much.


  2. cburrell Says:

    I notice that when the songs are played back to back Gillian’s song, which is actually quite a dark song, sounds almost light-weight by comparison. I still like it an awful lot, of course.

  3. My opinion is the same as Janet’s. I admit I had very little expectation that Dylan’s would be as good or better. I like the Dylan song, but to me it’s just not in the same class.GW’s “Scarlet Town” is only better musically, but lyrically as well.

    Regarding Dylan and the blues: I agree that Time Out of Mind is the best of Dylan’s late career. I haven’t heard it for a long time, so I might be mistaken, but I remember thinking that almost everything on it was basically in the blues structure.

  4. cburrell Says:

    Yes, he’s been singing the blues through most of the last handful of records, though I think it is less dominant on Time Out Of Mind and Love and Theft.

    GW’s song is definitely hard to beat. There’s obviously a great deal of craftsmanship behind everything in the song, from the lyrics right down to the ornamentation. Still, I like the rough-hewn clutter of Dylan’s song too.

  5. Grimy Says:

    Dylans song is like a dirge by cmparison

  6. Grimy Says:

    I like tempest but it’s not as good as many cds I got recently eg far Williams, angus stone, rumer

  7. cburrell Says:

    I haven’t heard any of those, Grimy, but I’m going to check them out. (I assume you meant Dar Williams.) Personally I’m stewing in anticipation of Mumford & Sons in a couple of weeks (and, naturally, Taylor Swift a few weeks after that).

    It seems that the Scarlet Town showdown is being won pretty decisively by GW and DR.

  8. Grumpy Says:

    I can’t wait for the Mumford and Sons. I thought I bought the Dar Williams on yr (& Maclin’s) recommendation?

  9. Grumpy Says:

    I just got a smart phone. I find typing on it quite difficult – grimy, and far …

  10. cburrell Says:

    Yes, the Dar Williams recommendation was me (& Maclin). What I meant was I’d not heard of Far Williams. (I’m not using a smartphone, and I still can’t manage to say what I mean.)

    You jumped the iPhone gun? My wife is trying to convince me to get one of the beastly things, but I’m putting up a good fight.

  11. Janet Says:

    Grumpy, Typing on a Kindle Fire is pure torture and I will never get used to it.

    GW’s Scarlet Town really is a dirge, although a really zippy one.


  12. Doug Says:

    Craig, I somehow recall that vaguely we saw Dar Williams at Edmonton Folk, ’96? I know for sure that you and I met Victoria Williams at that fest. Anyway, as for Dylan’s latest, I think it is alright. It takes me a while to get into a new Dylan record. I still haven’t processed Together Through Life.

  13. cburrell Says:

    You are right, Doug, it was ’96 (or perhaps ’95?). It was a long time ago, anyway, though I remember it well. Yes, it was great to meet Victoria Williams there. I wonder how she is doing now? She hasn’t had a record in quite a while, I think.

    I haven’t processed Together Through Life yet either. My general feeling is that there isn’t much to process.

  14. Hi Craig,

    What I find interesting is how much Dylan sounds like Leonard Cohen in this song!

  15. cburrell Says:

    Yes, Dylan’s voice becomes a little more sepultural with every passing year! The difference is that he also sounds like he has tuberculosis.

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