Paste Magazine's latest issue (#24 -- September '06) is out, with Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint on the cover. As the cover would suggest, it's heavily oriented toward the music and culture of New Orleans. Peter Guralnick writes a great article about Costello and Toussaint, and their recent unlikely musical collaboration. There's a wonderful feature on the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. New Orleans music critic John Swenson writes an incredible article called "The Storm Still Rages: A Ground-Zero Report on the Struggles and Triumphs of New Orleans Musicians One Year After Katrina." Even if you're not particularly a music fan, you should read it. It's riveting, and very, very sad. The accompanying CD features great tracks from, among others, Costello and Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, and Buckwheat Zydeco. God bless the Big Easy, where it ain't so easy these days.
I have an article on Birdmonster, my back-page feature on Columbus' own Ronald Koal and the Trillionaires, and three or four short album reviews.
Peter Guralnick, whose words appear in Paste for the first time, is surely a member of the pantheon of music critic gods. He's an amazing, insightful writer, and he's written the definitive biographies of Elvis Presley, Robert Johnson, and Sam Cooke. I'm thrilled that my words appear within a few dozen pages of his.
I've also been listening to Bob Dylan's latest album, Modern Times. I shake my head in wonder. It's not a great album by Dylan standards. It's not going to appear on anybody's Top 10 Albums of All Time list. But Bob Dylan is 65 years old. He has absolutely nothing to prove, and could easily coast through the rest of his life. And the fact that he has now dropped three near masterpieces in a row, at an advanced age, is nearly miraculous. This album is a compendium of all the great American musical traditions. There's folk, blues, rockabilly, country, a little jazz, a little R&B. Dylan borrows wholesale from Muddy Waters, Merle Haggard, Memphis Minnie. He steals guitar riffs, fragments of lyrics, and then jumbles them all together and put them through that patented Dylan lyrical filter to emerge with something utterly fresh. The music is earthy and salty, focused on sex, focused on heaven, focused on living fully in the present, focused on eternal judgment. He's amazing, and he's done it again.
Modern times suck. We have Presidents who ignore the law and disregard 200 years of history. So, as Peter Guralnick points out in his album review, Dylan returns to the past, not as an escape, but as a way of saying "This is where we come from. Before you throw it all away, be aware of your heritage." It's a staggeringly great heritage, and Bob Dylan makes it new all over again.