The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 25, 2014

Jeremiah Tucker: Winter good for exploring artists' entire works

JOPLIN, Mo. — "What have you been listening to lately?"

I always enjoy hearing answers to that question. I like hearing what other people are digging or hating.

One of my favorite features of Spotify is, if you're using the desktop version, how you can see what your friends are playing in real time -- unless they've turned on "private session."

You can deploy that feature when you're about to indulge in something truly shameful, such as revisiting your favorite mid-'90s ska revival bands.

This time of year, I've found, is perfect for leisurely, aimless listening. There aren't many notable new releases demanding attention, and the cold weather narrows your activities to indoors.

So revisiting old favorites and exploring an artist's back catalog becomes the perfect winter pastime.

Spotify, or its new competitor, the Beats music-streaming service, is perfect for this. Think of it as the listening version of binge TV-watching.

I spent a week in January listening only to Bob Dylan's bootleg series, which collects unreleased, live and alternate recordings from Dylan's long and prolific career. Beginning in 1991 with the three-disc career-spanning "Volumes 1Ð3 (Rare & Unreleased)," the most recent release is the series' 10th volume, "Another Self-Portrait." Released last year, it covers the period from 1969 to 1971 when Dylan recorded "Self Portrait," which many revile as his worst album.

I'm no Dylanologist by any stretch, but spending time among these castoffs, experiments and alternate histories reveals the astonishing breadth of his vision. "Pretty Saro," for instance, is among the most beautiful songs he ever recorded, and here it is tucked into a compilation collecting ephemera from what is supposedly his worst period.

I like to skip around the bootleg series, all of them multiple-disc releases, getting a flavor of the different guises Dylan has waltzed through in his career. They're all on Spotify, although the latest, "Another Self Portrait," is only available in truncated form. I don't get too diligent about finishing one before moving onto another. I don't want it to feel like homework.

I might check a few songs from volume five, collecting live recordings from Dylan's rollicking "The Rolling Thunder Revue" period in 1975, and then dip into volume eight, a collection of gems from his impressively rich late period covering 1989 to 2006. Other times I'll listen start to finish, such as the soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese documentary "No Direction Home," volume seven in the series, which contains so many high points it feels much shorter.

Similarly, volume four, "The Royal Albert Hall" concert, is unskippable -- particularly the electric second disc. I spend less time with the volumes that feature mostly Dylan's protest songs and his early years, which I find less interesting.

Next, I'm considering picking a band and listening to every album it ever released. Or maybe I'll listen to every release in the archival record label Numero Group's "Eccentric Soul" series, a collection of intensely researched compilations of the best recordings from defunct, and usually long-forgotten, regional soul labels. The latest Numero release, "Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound," rounds up the best tracks from the small but fecund R&B and funk scene that produced Prince.

Prince, actually, wouldn't be a bad candidate for my next methodical discography discovery.

It's winter. A deep dive -- a burrow, if you will -- can keep you warm.

Jeremiah Tucker is a music columnist for the Globe. Contact him at jeremiah

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