Bob Dylan

If you are going to have a bad month this year, make it February. It is the shortest month, often Austin’s coldest month and — for certain lonely singles — the saddest month. Whether you are celebrating love or sulking in isolation this Valentine’s Day, these artists have songs that touch on any emotion you
might experience. 

HAIM

This sister-turned-rock trio is right where they need to be. Despite having only one album under their belt, the Los Angeles natives had a year that would make any successful musician proud. HAIM spent 2013 and 2014 headlining musical festivals, such as Coachella, Austin City Limits and Glastonbury, and traveling for their Days are Gone tour. 

2015 looks even brighter for Este, Danielle and Alana Haim. For starters, the band was nominated for its first Grammy in the Best New Artist category, though they ultimately lost to Sam Smith. 

HAIM's latest fan? Taylor Swift. Swift recently announced via Instagram that HAIM will open for her on the 1989 tour.  

The trio’s album is loaded with ’80s pop-rock breakup songs perfect for a Valentine’s Day spent alone and perfect for contemplation generally.

Artists you might like — MS MR, Stevie Nicks, alt-J

Listen to Haim perform "The Wire": 

 

Sufjan Stevens

Not many musicians can pull off releasing psychedelic Christmas remixes or performing an hour-long set while donning fairy wings. The Detroit-born Sufjan Stevens did both and did them well. Next month, Stevens releases his seventh studio album, Carrie & Lowell, under his stepfather’s record label Asthmatic Kitty Records. 

It’s been five years since Stevens’ last non-Christmas album was released and fans are ravenous for his return. The 39-year-old has a strong following in Austin and tickets for his Bass Concert Hall show on May 12 sold out in minutes. At his best, Stevens’ songs are heavily instrumental and take a poetic and original look at topics of love and faith. 

Artists you might like — St. Vincent, Iron & Wine, Grizzly Bear

Watch the official album trailer for "Carrie & Lowell" now:

 

Bob Dylan

Tuesday marked the release of Bob Dylan’s thirty-sixth studio album, Shadows in the Night. Now available with an AARP discount on Amazon, Dylan’s album compiles ballads considerably slower than the songs that made him famous,  such as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Hurricane.” Some have argued that the slower, quieter pace of this album emphasizes Dylan’s weak vocals, but I’d argue the opposite. His voice is sweet like a grandfather’s who sings lullabies to his grandchildren (although at his worst, Dylan sounds like a tired Frank Sinatra or a Leonard Cohen cover artist). 

Luckily, the enigmatic crooner still has music in him, and, in an industry marked with record company debacles, Dylan still makes music with the label that put out his first album — Columbia Records.  

Artists you might like — Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell

Listen to Bob Dylan perform "Stay With Me," from his newest album:

 

Chaz Bundick

Chaz Bundick simply doesn’t stop. The 28-year-old formed his first indie band in high school and has since performed consistently under the stage names Toro y Moi and Les Sins. After releasing a number of albums as Toro y Moi, he took a break and spent the second half of 2014 touring and promoting Les Sins’ first album, Michael. The side project allowed him to explore electronic dance music without alienating his Toro y Moi fans. 

Last month, the South Carolina native announced his fourth studio album as Toro Y Moi. The album, What For?, featuring groovy, British ’60s-style pop song “Empty Nesters,” drops April 7. Bundick has hinted at eventually returning to his job as a graphic designer. For now, we should take all we can get from the indie-pop-chillwave-funk wunderkind. 

Artists you might like — Metronomy, Washed Out, Blood Orange 

“Empty Nesters” — Toro Y Moi

Listen to Toro Y Moi's "Empty Nesters": 

 

(Photo courtesy of Columbia)

“Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’/Blowin’ like it’s gonna sweep my world away”

Opening with the innocuous, melodious chimes of “Duquesne Whistle,” Bob Dylan’s 35th studio album, “Tempest,” is a passenger train that blasts off from 1940s small-town Midwestern America (appropriate, given the singer’s place of origin) and barrels through a 68-minute odyssey that includes stops at the War of 1812, “Scarlet Town,” Ancient Rome and the middle of the Atlantic Ocean before disembarking at its final destination of melancholic 1980 New York City.

The album, released a full 50 years after Dylan’s eponymous 1962 debut, picks up right where 2009’s “Together Through Life” left off, finding the mercurial 71-year-old troubadour in his latter-day roadhouse bluesman mode. He is augmented by his impeccable touring band (featuring Austin guitar prodigy Charlie Sexton), along with Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo on guitar, accordion and violin.

The first obstacle one has to overcome when listening to Dylan albums of the last few decades is his impossibly gruff croak of a vocal delivery. It will immediately turn off a majority of younger listeners. Most music fans do not have the patience to withstand Dylan’s bleary vocal grate. However, for the music fan of more esoteric taste, there is no artist dead or alive that can paint a sonic picture quite like Dylan.

Although his musical skills have diminished considerably — he no longer possesses the energy that once made him capable of flooring audiences either with a full band or just an acoustic guitar — he still has the incomparable ability to turn a simple phrase into something that can make you laugh out loud, break your heart or both, as when he belts out the couplet, “You’re the only thing alive that keeps me going / You’re like a time-bomb in my heart.”

Rich lyrical imagery pervades the album’s 10 tracks, with the British burning down the White House in “Narrow Way,” the singer “Paying in Blood” that’s not his own two tracks later, then leading the listener through a harrowing description of the “ivy leaf and silver thorn” of “Scarlet Town” (“If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime / all things are beautiful in their time”).

Three of the album’s most vivid lyrical portraits are reserved for the very end, starting with the Muddy Waters-style blues stomp “Early Roman Kings.” Dylan provides his usual smorgasbord of imagery, all connected by the central simile of the title. It’s hard to imagine anyone else making music like this, aside from perhaps Tom Waits.

The same can be said for the title track, a 14-minute, 45-verse Irish dirge in three-quarter time about the sinking of the Titanic that actually references “Leo drawing sketches” along with the dreaming night-watchman and the ill-fated third-class passengers trapped in the decks below. The melody gets a little tiresome by around the 12-minute mark, but the verisimilitude of the story is never broken.

The album closes with a heartfelt tribute to fellow rock icon John Lennon. Filled with references to Lennon’s life and lyrics, the song tells the story of an artist “cooped up on that island far too long” (England? Manhattan? Earth??) while revolving around the poignant refrain, “Shine a light / Movin’ on / You burned so bright / Roll on, John.”

Ultimately, Bob Dylan’s music is not for everyone. For most listeners, the innumerable singing, dancing, major-label puppets currently populating our collective cultural sphere of consciousness will suffice. However, “Tempest” presents a more challenging listen, one that actively engages the listener’s attention.

It is a rare find in this day and age, one that is well worth the long ride.

Walker Evans, Floyd Burroughs, Hale County Alabama, 1936. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

There are not many musicians who have stayed as culturally relevant for as long as Elvis, The Beatles or perhaps Bob Dylan. These musicians are known for significantly influencing the voice of American youth culture in their time. But before all these men made their way to the stage, Woody Guthrie was there, singing simple tunes with challenging messages.

So why does it seem like young people today think of Guthrie, who would have turned 100 this year, as nothing more than an old folk singer and not as one of the most important musicians who criticized the elite and empowered the working class?

“Woody Guthrie’s influence on American popular music and culture cannot be overstated,” Coleman Hutchison, associate professor of English, said. “He helped to make protest music a vibrant part of American life.” Hutchison said the song “This Land is Your Land” — written by Guthrie — remains an almost “alternative national anthem” to this day. Hutchison also mentioned that while students may ask “Woody who?,” his subtle presence in today’s culture is not to be missed.

Hutchison’s point is this: the influence of Guthrie extends far beyond the songs he wrote that became popular, and Stephen Slawek, professor of ethnomusicology and division head of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the Butler School of Music, agreed with him, saying Guthrie’s music is “quintessential Americana.”

“I should state that I hardly ever use the word quintessential,” Slawek said. “There is something about the way Guthrie’s simplicity of musical style connects with his manner of back porch storytelling that produces a sense of everyday America. Of course, his aesthetic is rural and down-home, and he was concerned with the inequities faced by what we now call blue-collar workers.”

Hutchison described Guthrie as “such an ingrained part of American life — just like, say, George Gershwin or Hank Williams Sr. — that one needn’t know his work in order to appreciate his influence.”

Slawek agreed that Guthrie might have sneaked onto young people’s musical radar through the songs of Bob Dylan.

“[Guthrie’s] influence in music is seen both directly in the continuing interest in urban folk and old-timey music, and indirectly mediated by his number one fan, Bob Dylan,” Slawek said. “It was Dylan who brought a conscience to American popular music, but it was by channeling Woody Guthrie.”

Austin is home to many artists creating music with the same simplicity and approachability as Guthrie’s. Singer-songwriter Shakey Graves said he found an honesty he didn’t know he was looking for within Guthrie’s music.

“As the sub-woofers thump and the guitars wail, I believe that humans, young and old, will feel drawn towards his archetype,” Graves said. “[They will be drawn] towards the man with the guitar. His body of work reminds me that there was a time not so long ago when musicians were the jukebox, the news anchor, the political pundit, the hero and the villain.”

Now could be just the time, politically, for Guthrie to make a comeback among young people.

Many have been drawing the parallels between Great Depression America and America today. “The issues he sang about are still here, as millions of Americans continue to struggle in their lives and the income of lower and middle-class Americans has stagnated for the past decade,” Slawek said. “Not to mention the right-wing attacks on unions and the reduction of social services as a result of shrinking state budgets. Conditions might indeed be ripe for the emergence of another troubadour willing to tell it like it is.”

The hope of Slawek’s next Woody Guthrie is compelling. People today crave the authenticity and simplicity that Guthrie represented in his music. It will be up to the individual to rediscover the old Guthrie or encourage the newer musicians who note Guthrie as an influence. Either way, his simple, sticky melodies will likely never be far from mind.

Printed on Thursday, September 6th, 2012 as: Guthrie's impact remains intact

Inspired by dream, Sue Zola pioneered glitter art in Austin and her influences can be seen in cities where her art is shown.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

In 1999, artist Sue Zola decided she had had enough of the East Coast’s cold winters. The Connecticut native was ready to escape her fast-paced life, so she packed up her car with all of her belongings and ended up in Austin. The live music capital proved to be the perfect setting for a woman with plans to sing jazz music, but her plans did not work out the way she expected them to.

While looking around a local Goodwill store, Zola stumbled upon an interesting picture frame. The frame sparked a memory of a dream Zola had one night, and she immediately purchased the frame and created a piece of artwork to go inside it.

What separates the artwork Zola does from a typical artist is that her medium is glitter.

Zola’s glitter art can currently be seen at Halcyon. Because of the positive reception her work has been receiving, Halycon extended her show into the summer months.

“I definitely call myself the pioneer of glitter art,” Zola said. “It seems every time I show my work somewhere, another glitter artist pops up in that area.”

Zola’s husband David Tyson calls his wife “exciting, boisterous and creative” and feels those same qualities shine through in her art.

“I think that her artwork is some of the most original I’ve ever seen,” Tyson said.

From vintage cowgirls to Frankenstein to Bob Dylan, Zola has found that she can make glitter art of just about anything.

A recent nostalgia kick led to the creation of pieces featuring old-school food box characters, such as Tony the Tiger and the Kool-Aid Man.

Zola’s quirky style has also caught the eye of quite a few Hollywood stars. Quentin Tarantino commissioned a portrait of Bruce Lee. Nick Offerman, otherwise known as “Parks and Recreation’s” breakout character Ron Swanson was given a portrait of Tim Curry, a la “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” by his wife, “Will and Grace’s” Megan Mullally.

Southwestern University studio art senior Kirby Crone took notice of Zola’s work when it was shown at Magnolia Cafe last year.

“Her work is pop art meets that really campy style,” Crone said. “It’s just everything you love from childhood with glitter. How can you not like that?”

Zola has certainly paid her dues. When she first began her glitter art, Zola sold her pieces at festivals for a mere $15 or $20. She found it hard to compete with the jewelry vendors who were getting more attention from customers.

“It was horrible,” Zola said. “As an artist in Austin, you really have to hustle. You have to make sure you have shows booked every month.”

Now, she sells her pieces for $600-1,000, allows customers to pay off the pieces in installments, and takes commissions.

The process of creating glitter art is a tedious one. Each piece must be done horizontally because otherwise the glitter will not adhere to the canvas. Each color of glitter is applied separately and must fully dry before another color can be applied. Because it takes so long to complete each piece, Zola works on multiple pieces at a time.

Zola has made mistakes while working on pieces, but she finds that her mistakes are usually great ways to pick up interesting new techniques. She believes that sometimes the artist must not confine themselves to one idea, and instead see where the art takes them.

Though a job that is not confined to an organized 9 to 5 routine can be stressful at times, Zola constantly reminds herself of how lucky she is to be doing what she loves in a city she adores. She raves about her newlywed status (Zola and Tyson tied the knot last September) and her four cats, which she refers to as her “fur babies.”

“If you find something that makes you happy, turn it into a job,” Zola said. “It’s made me such a happier person.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 as: Glitz & Glam

For such an accomplished musician, Ray Benson, the frontman for western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, is hardly pretentious. In fact, he concerns himself with the worries of the common man. During the interview he was keeping an eye on the election results, ruing another four years of Gov. Rick Perry. Perhaps this every-man attitude has led to his extended success as a musician, keeping him clean of the tabloid drama that ruins so many musicians’ careers. This Friday he will be celebrating his success with the current members of Asleep at the Wheel, alumni of the band and Willie Nelson as they play a 40th anniversary concert for the band.

The Daily Texan: What has made it possible for such longevity in the music business?

Ray Benson: More as a band than a songwriter. They’re two completely different things. Hell, when I started the band I was 19 years old when I started. And we figured 10 years maybe, that’d be really cool. When you’re 19, how old are you? 19. What do you think you’re going to be doing when you’re 30 years old? Gonna be dead you know, but it doesn’t happen that way. It’s pretty interesting, I never thought 40 years we’d be doing this. But now that I’m here it’s wonderful. I can’t see stopping at all. At 40 years things going to where it is, people really appreciate it now. It’s pretty cool.

DT: Do you feel, because you drew the distinction between a songwriter and a band, and since you’re the last remaining original member in the band …

RB: Yeah, and I was voted by myself and the other guys as the band leader. When we started the band, we realized that perhaps a democracy was not the best way to run a band. What we decided was that we would run it as a democracy until we couldn’t agree anymore. At that point I would make the arbitrary decisions as the band leader. And that worked pretty good, but you know, there were some really down times for me, you know. By 1980, the ten year time period I was talking about, it was kind of tough, things weren’t too great. We weren’t making a lot of money, didn’t have a record deal after ’81. And it was tough, and that’s when I totally took over. Took a lot of the guys back and said, I wanna go do our own thing or try something else, and I was left holding the bag and I said, “ok, I’ll continue forward.” That’s how it went.

DT: Since you are the last remaining member, do you feel like it’s more a 40th anniversary for yourself, or for the band and the ideology behind your swing band?

RB: Well certainly it is for me quite a milestone, but the band even more so because I’ve had so many wonderful people who’ve played into the success and that is a huge thing, at least, you know, there were so many people contributing to the success of the band by building on what they’ve done. So really it’s a tribute to all of the people who’ve contributed to Asleep at the Wheel. I was able to keep it going, but part of it is, yes I can write songs, yes I can play guitar, yes I can be the front man of the band but in the end, it’s about 30 years ago I had to take over all the business. That’s been the interesting thing for me. The business part is probably the hardest part. Playing the guitar, practicing, playing, singing and writing songs, that’s something I do naturally. The business is part is a little different, you have to compartmentalize in your brain and go, “ok, I’ve gotta take care of the business or the creative part won’t get a chance.” I always told everyone, “Well, we’re in show business. The show is really important but you also have to take care of the business.”

DT: With so many different members does the band, in your opinion, still have the same sound and feel, or has there been some evolution to the sound of Asleep at the Wheel?

RB: Yeah, definitely evolved over the years with all the contributions of all the different people. I started the band, I’ll be 60 in March. Dave Zanger, is my drummer, he’s been with me for 25 years, he’ll be 50 next year. Dave Miller, my bass player, is 40 and he’s been with me 18 years. Jason Roberts is 33 and has been in the band for 16 years, since he graduated high school. Elizabeth McQueen is 32 years old and has been in the band for six years. Dan Walton — he’s our new piano player — has been with us over two years now, and he’s 24 years old. So what I’m saying is we’ve had guys in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s in this band. So in terms of competency this is one of the best bands we’ve had, not just like any of the bands. We’ve had incredible musicians, understand, and these are top notch musicians. The alumni that are coming back for the show we have 25 of our alumni coming back for the show. People who have worked with Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, [David Allen] Coe over the years, and our fiddle player who’s been with every top 10 country record over the past 10 years, he’s a session player in Nashville. We had wonderful musicians throughout the years, and their all coming back for this reunion so it will be really cool.

DT: All of these former musicians have worked with renowned artists, and they’re great musicians in their own right, and you’ve worked with Willie Nelson and Jerry Wexler. How does it feel to have worked with all of these people, and can you look at that in light of you yourself being a Grammy-winning artist?

RB: I was a fan first, you know? And yeah it feels great. I’m not gonna pat myself on the back or anything. It’s why I got in the business, to work with people I feel are talented, legendary, and that I’m a big fan of. So that’s the plus of the whole deal.

DT: Back to Jerry Wexler. He was the man who coined the phrase “Rhythm and Blues” from “race records,” and was obviously influenced by black music in a time of musical segregation. Did he bring the influence of black music into your work with him?

RB: Absolutely, that’s what western swing is. It took the extremes of black music and combined it with rural country fiddling and songs and everything and brought the blues and the jazz and the swing. Black music was very akin to western swing. That’s why Jerry Wexler loved it. Jerry produced Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, started Atlantic records, which was the greatest R&B label from the late ‘40s through the ‘50s, Rolling Stones, etc. And why Jerry loved Asleep at the Wheel so much was because he also loved western swing because western swing and Texas music was a conglomeration of what I was just talking about — fiddle music, country music, and blues, jazz and swing, which was the black music experience of the ‘20s and ‘30s. So it’s that combination that’s really why it’s really cool. That’s why I play what I play. Because I love that kind of music, I play that kind of music, but I also wear a cowboy hat and wanna play fiddle music. Instead of doing it with saxophones, trombones and trumpets, we do it with guitars, fiddles, and steel guitars.

DT: I also know Louis Jordan was an influence of yours, and obviously you just told me you love black music, but when you were first starting your career was there any pressure to stick to more classical, traditionally white country music?

RB: Oh absolutely. In 1975, we had a big country and western hit record. I had written the song with two friends of mine called “The Letter that Johnny Walker Read,” which is kind of a joke because it’s about the scotch called Johnny Walker Red. And we wrote it and sent it to Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner and it was straight, straight country music, and they didn’t do it but we did it and it was a top 10 record [laughs]. So here we are, at that point we’re incorporating all this black music into our music, and the people in Nashville are going, “Wait, wait, wait a minute, we just, we need to you to make honky records.” We thought, “Well yeah, we like that too, but we’re gonna do this.” So there was all that getting through great pressure to get to make those kind of records.

DT: I heard about the musical “A Ride with Bob.” How much input did Asleep at the Wheel have musically? Was it a work of Asleep at the Wheel along with a playwright and director, or is it mainly just the work of a playwright and director and the band makes up the cast?

RB: First of all, the band has great input because they play the music. Me and Anne Rapp — you know Anne taught at UT — she’s a screenwriter and a script supervisor and she grew up in West Texas. So she and I wrote the play, but as we developed it, it was important, the music was so important that it was that everybody contributed musically to the songs within the play, though it was pretty much what we just do on records for Asleep at the Wheel, we just put it into the context of a theater piece.

DT: One last official question: Can you still swing?

RB: [laughs] Oh, better than ever.

DT: “Better than ever.” I like that.

RB: Yeah, better than ever. You know, you gotta understand, I’m 50 … almost 60 years old and I still practice and play every day, just hoping to get better, you know?

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WHAT: Asleep at the Wheel 40th Anniversary Concert with Willie Nelson
WHERE: Long Center for the Performing Arts (First Street between Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road)
WHEN: Friday, 5-7:30 p.m.
How much: $30

Judy Collins sat at a table on the third floor of BookPeople Friday afternoon, casually sipping a cold Diet Coke. Known for singing alongside some of the great folk artists of the ’60s like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, Collins, 71, prepared herself before going on stage to sing some of her classic songs and talk about her new children’s book, “Over the Rainbow.”

The book continues the folk-music tradition of passing down stories from generation to generation.

“I have a lot of her records,” said Chris Thorton, an ACC graduate and music enthusiast who was there to see her sing. “But the fact that she’s still about continuing tradition — what she’s been doing for years and years and is continuing to do it as she’s getting older — is why I wanted to see her.”

Even though her iconic long flowing brown hair has gone white, Collins looked over the books she was signing before the interview with the same piercing blue eyes that she had 53 years ago on the cover of her album, Wildflowers.

Collins won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance in 1969 for her version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now,” but was originally trained in classical piano. She said she decided to do folk music after hearing “Barbara Allen” and “Gypsy Rover” on the radio.

“It’s just the story of lyrics,” Collins said. “‘The Moon [in] June’ lyrics of the ‘Great American Songbook’ don’t tell an independent story; they tell something and they’re wonderful songs, but they’re not really literary ballads — and that’s what got me. Stories are what drive all of us.”

In addition to her music, Collins is a social activist who represents UNICEF, campaigns for the removal of landmines and also advocates suicide prevention after her son committed suicide in 1992.

“Time doesn’t change,” Collins said. “The problems that we’ve always had are human problems. It’s always the same way it was when I was just starting. People were furious and marching about one thing or another. It was mostly the war, and people are crazed about a lot more things now, but we’re always crazed about something.”

In spite of being known for her social activism and long-standing music career, she was in Austin on Friday for a different reason — to promote and sign copies of “Over the Rainbow.” The crowd she drew was a mix of ages, from college students to older generations who had brought their children and grandchildren to listen to Collins.

“I don’t really have a message; I just sing songs that I love,” Collins said before she went on stage. “But at the same time I know what I do is a service. It serves a very internal purpose. You get transported. It lets [listeners] fly wherever they want to. As long as you’re transported into your own mind and memories then that’s wonderful.”

Collins then quickly finished her Diet Coke before warming up for a small vocal performance and gathering all the children on stage.