Sunday, June 16, 2013

Album Review: Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck-"The White House Sessions, 1962"

Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck, "The White House Sessions, 1962"

Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett in 2009.
Who would think that nearly fifty-one years after it was recorded, a concert pairing Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett would surface? But thankfully it has, and earlier this month, Columbia issued the live album “The White House Sessions, 1962,” a rare live collaboration between Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck. The concert was held in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1962, as a celebration for college students who had come to work in D.C. for the summer. 

The set captures both artists at a peak of their popularity. The Dave Brubeck Quartet issued their most popular album, the million-selling “Time Out,” in 1959 and they were selling out concerts all around the world. Tony Bennett had just recorded his most well-known song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and would record many of his signature songs in the next few years, like “I Wanna Be Around,” “The Good Life,” “Who Can I Turn To?” and “If I Ruled the World.” That being said, despite continuing changes in the musical tastes of the record-buying public, both Bennett and Brubeck would continue to perform at a peak level for many, many years to come. 

It’s surprising that Columbia didn’t encourage Bennett and Brubeck to record a full album together in 1962. Both artists were on Columbia Records, and with Bennett’s affinity for jazz and Brubeck’s sympathetic accompaniment of vocalists, it would have been a great album. It also would have sold a lot of records, considering how popular both artists were in the early 1960’s. Although Bennett never recorded an album with Brubeck, he did record two classic duet albums with another legendary jazz pianist, Bill Evans, in the mid-1970’s.

I’ve wanted to hear “The White House Sessions” for 10 years, since one song from the concert “That Old Black Magic” was issued on “The Essential Dave Brubeck” in 2003. I had no idea that Bennett and Brubeck recorded together, and I wanted to hear any other tracks they had recorded. I didn’t know where “That Old Black Magic” came from, and why it was the only track that surfaced. Now finally we can hear Brubeck and Bennett’s full sets, and all four songs that they played together. My only complaint with “The White House Sessions” is that the glimpse of Bennett and Brubeck together is too short, too tantalizingly brief. There are but four songs, lasting not even 12 minutes. Well, we just have to be thankful that it happened and that it was recorded. 

Bennett and Brubeck were exquisitely matched as personalities; they were both wonderfully humble and nice men who shared an optimistic outlook on life. They are wonderfully happy, extroverted personalities on record. This doesn’t mean that they couldn’t handle a ballad, because they both could squeeze all the tenderness out of a song. But when Bennett and Brubeck swing, there is an infectious joy in their performances. 

The Dave Brubeck Quartet opens their set with their signature song, “Take Five.” Written by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, this version of “Take Five” features a lilting solo by Desmond, and oddly enough, features a piano solo from Brubeck, and no drum solo from Joe Morello. On the studio recording of “Take Five” there is no piano solo, as Brubeck keeps repeating the same vamp throughout the song. But sometimes during concerts Brubeck wanted to stretch out more on the song and would take a solo. His solo here is rhythmic and driving. It’s more unusual that Morello doesn’t get a drum solo, as his solo on “Take Five” was part of what made the song so famous. And of course, as always, Eugene Wright keeps a solid bass groove. This performance is typical of the Brubeck Quartet during this period. Absolutely great, swinging, each musician doing what he did best but also blending together so well. Paul Desmond was as smooth as silk, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard an awkward phrase from him. Desmond and Brubeck had a deep musical connection, and they have an easy rapport.

“Nomad” is a real swinger, with a great Desmond solo. Brubeck just keeps firing off great ideas during his solo. As usual during a swinging Brubeck solo, he keeps building the tension and intensity until he passes it off to Morello. Brubeck trades some phrases with Morello during his solo, which is fun to hear. Brubeck loved Morello’s drumming and he knew as soon as he heard him that Morello was the drummer who would be able to play the complex rhythms that Brubeck wanted to incorporate into the Quartet’s music. Desmond, on the other hand, preferred a softer touch on the drum skins. On his solo albums Desmond usually used drummers who were more reserved than Morello, although over time he learned to enjoy Morello’s playing as well. 

“Thank You (Dziekuje)” is inspired by the music and people of Poland. Brubeck and his Quartet had visited Poland on their 1958 tour, which was sponsored by the United States State Department. This trip led to Brubeck discovering many of the “unusual” time signatures that would become the trademark of the group in the next few years. One of Brubeck’s most famous songs, “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” was inspired by Turkish musicians he heard on that trip playing in the time signature of 9/8. “Thank You (Dziekuje)” features some lovely soloing by Desmond and a slightly more restrained solo from Brubeck that has some classical flourishes, inspired by Chopin. Despite being trained in some classical music and majoring in music, Brubeck never learned to read music. However, this didn’t deter him from becoming an excellent composer.

Both “Nomad” and “Thank You (Dziekuje)” are from the Quartet’s excellent 1958 album “Jazz Impressions of Eurasia.” “Castilian Blues” is in 5/4 time, the same signature as “Take Five.” “Castilian Blues” was from the Quartet’s most recent LP at the time, “Countdown: Time in Outer Space,” the follow up to “Time Out” and 1961’s “Time Further Out.” “Castilian Blues” features an aggressive short solo from Brubeck, and a long drum solo from Morello. Morello was a drummer who could keep the audience’s attention during a long solo, and he shows the audience just how skilled he was behind the drums. 

Bennett opens his set with the swinging “Just in Time,” one of his more well-known songs. Bennett is backed by his longtime pianist Ralph Sharon, Hal Gaylor on bass, and Billy Exiner on drums. Tony then sings the tender ballad “Small World,” from the musical “Gypsy.” Bennett’s exuberant voice is perfectly suited for the next song, “Make Someone Happy,” which could be his theme song. Bennett hits some big notes, and it’s clear how powerful his voice is. “Rags to Riches,” one of Bennett’s biggest hits, is given a brief outing, featured some short jazzy phrasing from Tony. “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” is done very up-tempo, in an almost breezy style, the opposite of the way Frank Sinatra sang this torch song. Tony then closes his set with the then newly-recorded “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” It’s interesting to hear him sing his most famous song at a time when it was still very new. The song still has the same impact performed with only a trio, and we can listen even closer to Bennett’s gorgeous phrasing. 

After Bennett’s set, Brubeck, Eugene Wright, and Joe Morello come back to the stage to perform with him. Tony says “We haven’t rehearsed this, so lotsa luck folks.” But whether they rehearsed or not doesn’t matter, this is music for the ages. 

The first song is “Lullaby of Broadway,” with a nice intro by Brubeck, and great drumming by Morello. “Come on along and listen to the lullaby of Dave Brubeck!” shouts Tony as an intro to Brubeck’s solo. Brubeck was a good accompanist of vocalists; he doesn’t try to overshadow Bennett. Bennett’s vocal is easy and jazzy on this song.

“Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” is less successful to my ears, as Bennett is more cautious with his phrasing. Brubeck has a good solo, but the song just doesn’t catch fire.

“That Old Black Magic” is the highlight of the Bennett/Brubeck collaboration for me. Brubeck and Morello work in some nice Latin-sounding phrases, and Bennett is more adventurous, almost shouting “That old black magic called LOVE!” before Dave’s solo. Brubeck’s solo is fierce, as he pounds out the chords, and then Tony comes back in. It’s marvelous.

“There Will Never Be Another You” starts out slow. Then Bennett double times it, and Brubeck and Morello are off to the races for Dave’s solo. This is true jazz collaboration, musicians listening and responding to each other in real time, in the moment. Brubeck’s solo is a gas, and Morello adds fuel to the fire. Bennett then comes back in, singing at the faster tempo, and then, all too quickly, it’s over. Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck did perform together other times, but to my knowledge this is their only recorded pairing. Dave Brubeck continued recording and performing until just before his death last December at the age of 91. Tony Bennett is still going strong at age 86, still touring and recording and introducing new fans of all ages to jazz and the Great American Songbook. “The White House Sessions” is an essential purchase for fans of either performer.

Album Review: Rod Stewart, "Time"

Rod Stewart, "Time"

Rod Stewart, 2013.
Rod Stewart’s latest album, “Time,” just came out in May. “Time” marks the return of Rod Stewart the songwriter. Of the 12 songs on the album, 11 are written by Rod. It’s the first time he’s written more than just a couple of songs on an album since 1991’s “Vagabond Heart,” which he wrote 6 songs for. Since the beginning of his career, Stewart has been a terrific interpreter of other people’s songs. In the past decade, as Rod’s songwriting muse deserted him, he has re-invented himself as an interpreter of classic songs from the Great American Songbook. Unlikely as it might have sounded at first, Stewart’s voice fit those songs very well, and his albums of those songs have sold millions of copies around the world, helping to revive his career.

Full disclosure: I really like Rod Stewart. I think he’s an amazing singer. He has a very unusual voice, but he can make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. (Exhibit A: “Reason to Believe.” Exhibit B: “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.”) I also think Rod’s much underrated as a songwriter. He has a gift in his best songs for picking out the little details that make the songs ring true. Regards of whether or not Rod actually experienced all of the events in his songs, it sure feels like he did. The songs feel true to life, and that’s no small accomplishment. Stewart’s brilliant early albums will always outshine what he’s done in the decades since the 1970’s, but he wrote some terrific songs during that decade.

The songs on “Time” might not reach the same heights as Rod’s 1970’s work, but they’re still very good songs, and it’s great that Stewart is finally writing again. The songs run the full range of the emotional spectrum, from songs like “She Makes Me Happy,” which speak of domestic bliss, to “It’s Over,” a portrait of a marriage that has fallen apart. 

“Can’t Stop Me Now” is a slice of autobiography, as Stewart sings of auditioning for record executives:

“We can’t sign you son ‘cause you don’t fit in the mold
With you hair and your nose and your clothes”

But of course, Rod takes it on the chin and keeps going, eventually finding success:

“I will climb this mountain with this God-given gift
If it’s the last thing that I do”

It’s wonderful to hear Rod Stewart singing great material again. I think there’s a real joy to the songs on “Time,” and it’s infectious.  “Beautiful Morning” and “Finest Woman” are two more upbeat songs about how wonderful life is. It wouldn’t be a Rod Stewart album without at least one song about the joys of sex, and “Sexual Religion” fits the bill nicely. Here’s how Rod describes his female partner:

“One night with you has messed up my head
The well-rehearsed tease and the things you said
The erotic suggestions and mixed metaphors
Made me want you more”

I love the line about mixed metaphors, that’s the kind of little detail that I really like in Stewart’s songwriting. The album closes with the lovely ballad “Pure Love,” an outpouring of love and affection from a father to a child. Stewart’s voice still sounds great, it still has that trademark grainy sound, but he really doesn’t sound that much different than he did on albums like “Gasoline Alley” and “Every Picture Tells a Story.” I think “Time” is a real return to form for Stewart, and hopefully he’ll continue writing. “Time” shows that his gifts are still there.

Below is a list of some of my favorite songs that Rod Stewart wrote from 1969-1983. There’s a lot of variety here, from knowingly trashy songs about one-night stands like “Stay With Me,” “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” “Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)” to beautiful and emotional love songs like “Mandolin Wind,” “You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim)” and “Still Love You.” “I Was Only Joking” is one of my favorite Rod Stewart songs, as Rod writes about his past and his present, all with humor and humility. The chorus of the song is:

“I was only joking, my dear
Looking for a way to hide my fear
What kind of fool was I?
I could never win”

Rod Stewart is a great songwriter, and here’s some of his best work.

The Best of Rod Stewart, Songwriter: 1969-1983
Cindy’s Lament
Gasoline Alley
Every Picture Tells a Story
Maggie May
Mandolin Wind
Stay With Me
True Blue
Lost Paraguayos
Italian Girls
You Wear it Well
Three Time Loser
Still Love You
Tonight’s the Night (Gonna be Alright)
The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)
Hot Legs
You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)
I Was Only Joking
Oh God, I Wish I Was Home Tonight
Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me)
Young Turks
Baby Jane
What Am I Gonna Do (I’m So In Love With You)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Book Review: "Goodbye, Columbus," by Philip Roth (1959)

"Goodbye, Columbus", by Philip Roth, 1959.

Philip Roth, 1960's.
I recently read Philip Roth’s first book, “Goodbye, Columbus,” which includes the novella-length title piece and five short stories. First published in 1959, “Goodbye, Columbus” won the National Book Award the following year. The book’s critical reception placed Roth at the top of a list of young literary talent.  

“Goodbye, Columbus” details the summer romance between Neil Klugman and Brenda Patimkin. Neil is a recent college graduate working at a library, and Brenda is a college student at Radcliffe. Neil and Brenda are both Jewish, but her family is much more financially successful than his is. The difference between their families is pronounced, but the Patimkins are friendly to Neil, and even let him stay in their house for a week towards the end of the summer. 

Neil and Brenda quickly become lovers, and Neil gets way too hung up on persuading Brenda to get a diaphragm. She eventually acquiesces to his wishes, even though she doesn’t really want to get a diaphragm. For her part, Brenda is too hung up on having Neil be whatever she wants to him to be, not what he actually is. This is partly Neil’s fault, as he doesn’t stand up for himself as much as he should. When he vacations at the Patimkin house, Brenda makes him get up and run every morning because she wants him to, not because he seems to have any desire to. Like a lot of young romances, they are both trying too hard to shape the other person into their ideal rather than accepting the other person for who they are. 

One exchange that reveals this occurs as Neil and Brenda stretch in preparation for running. She says to him:

“’You know,’ Brenda said, ‘you look like me. Except bigger.’
We were dressed similarly, sneakers, sweat socks, khaki Bermudas, and sweat shirts, but I had the feeling that Brenda was not talking about the accidents of our dress-if they were accidents. She meant, I was sure, that I was somehow beginning to look the way she wanted me to. Like herself.” (P. 50)

Not surprisingly, Neil and Brenda’s relationship does not last much longer than the summer, as after Brenda goes back to college, her mother finds Brenda’s diaphragm hidden in her dresser. Needless to say, the Patimkins are shocked at what’s been happening right under their noses. When Brenda tells Neil about this, he exacerbates the situation by accusing Brenda of deliberately leaving the diaphragm in her drawer so her mother would find it. Much like a Woody Allen character, Neil just keeps stubbornly pushing at exactly the wrong point, and their relationship is over.

Personally, I found the title novella to be more interesting than the short stories. Roth creates vivid characters in “Goodbye, Columbus” that stick with you long after you’ve finished reading. The short stories are not as memorable, and the characters are not as finely drawn. The novella still feels fresh today, but most of the short stories are set in the past, and because of this “Goodbye, Columbus” sometimes feels like a much older book, like it was published in 1949 instead of 1959. “Defender of the Faith,” takes place in 1945, the main action of “You Can’t Tell a Man By the Song He Sings” takes place in 1942, and “Eli, the Fanatic” takes place in 1948. 

Interestingly enough, the five short stories in “Goodbye, Columbus” are some of the only short stories Roth has ever published, except for serialized parts of his novels. After this book, he seldom returned to the short story form. Obviously Roth must have found that his talents were better suited to longer works.

“The Conversion of the Jews” is a rather trifling story, as it details a young boy’s petulant desire to have others bow to his whims. He climbs onto the roof of his synagogue, and threatens to jump off unless the rabbi and his mother say that they believe in the Immaculate Conception, a key teaching of Catholicism. This placates the boy, and he comes down. I guess the point is that people will say anything so a boy won’t jump off of a roof, but that doesn’t seem to be a very interesting point to make. 

“Defender of the Faith” is a much more intriguing story, and my favorite of the short stories in this book. When the story was originally published in The New Yorker, it caused a large uproar among Jewish readers. The story is narrated by Sergeant Nathan Marx, a combat veteran who is posted back to the United States as the European campaign wraps up in the spring of 1945. Marx, who is Jewish, encounters a pushy private named Sheldon Grossbart, who is also Jewish. Grossbart asks for a lot of special favors, and Marx, against his better judgment, usually gives in to Grossbart’s wishes. 

Grossbart plays off of Marx’s desire to aid Jewish solidarity, asking to be excused from cleaning the barracks on Friday night so he and the other Jewish soldiers can attend religious services. Grossbart says that the Jews need to stick together.

“’That’s what happened in Germany,’ Grossbart was saying, loud enough for me to hear. ‘They didn’t stick together. They let themselves get pushed around.’” (P. 125) 

 Grossbart then wants to be given a weekend pass so he can go visit his aunt and celebrate Passover. It’s a month after Passover, and no one is supposed to get passes during basic training, but Marx gives in, writing a pass for Grossbart and two other Jewish privates. Marx is already greatly annoyed by Grossbart, but he convinces himself that he has done Grossbart a generous favor. The final straw comes when Grossbart returns from his aunt’s house with an egg roll for Marx, rather than the gefilte fish that Marx asked for. This strikes Marx as odd, and Grossbart admits that he just reread the letter and his aunt actually invited him home next week. Marx explodes in anger, and warns Grossbart to stay away from him. 

The soldiers are due to be sent to the West Coast and from there on to the Pacific, but Grossbart somehow pulls a string and is due to be sent east, to New Jersey, much closer to his home. When Marx learns of this, he pulls a string of his own and lies to the officer in charge of the roster, saying that Grossbart wants to be sent to the Pacific. Marx succeeds in getting Grossbart sent to the Pacific along with the other men.

It’s difficult to see today why the story caused such a furor. My best guess is that people were offended by the actions of the two main characters. Grossbart is a scheming jerk, and Marx abuses his power in order to punish Grossbart. Both characters do bad things that we might find morally wrong. Did readers get upset at Roth because he was showing that Jewish characters could be devious and immoral? 

Roth described the controversy about “Defender of the Faith” in the 2013 American Masters documentary, “Philip Roth Unmasked.” Roth says that after the story was published The New Yorker received many angry letters from readers:

“I was suddenly being assailed as an anti-Semite, this thing that I’d detested all my life. And a self-hating Jew. I didn’t even know what it meant.”

Roth goes on to talk about the subject matter of “Goodbye, Columbus”:

“There were those who were offended, and there were the rabbis who gave sermons denouncing me as an anti-Semite. I suppose what riled them about ‘Goodbye, Columbus’ was the story about a Jewish middle-aged man who is an adulterer, a Jewish girl having sex who bought a diaphragm. I maintained then, as I do now, that there were Jewish girls who bought diaphragms, and there were Jewish husbands who were adulterers. You know, Isaac Singer, when he was criticized by Jewish critics and Jewish readers for his stories, they would say rather ‘Mr. Singer, why must you write about Jewish whores and Jewish pimps?’ And Singer said ‘What should I write about? Portuguese whores? Portuguese pimps?’”

Roth was simply writing what he knew, and he refused to idealize his characters. Instead, he painted them as the complicated people human beings actually are.

“Epstein” is the above-mentioned story about a Jewish middle-aged married man who begins an affair with a neighbor. It’s not that compelling of a story. Perhaps Roth was trying to stretch and show that he could successfully channel an older man’s voice.

“You Can’t Tell a Man By the Song He Sings” is a rather dull story. It’s about a man who remembers an ex-con he went to high school with. It’s not very interesting or dramatic. But the end has a connection to one of Roth’s later works, as it’s revealed that a teacher they tormented was later fired during the Red Scare because he had been a Marxist in 1935. The subject of the Red Scare is one that Roth would return to much later in his 1998 novel, “I Married a Communist.” 

“Eli, the Fanatic” is the tale of a young Jewish lawyer who is hired by other young upwardly mobile Jews in his suburban community to put pressure on an Orthodox Jewish school to move away from their town. The suburban American Jews don’t want anything to do with the Orthodox Jews, who are displaced persons from Europe, scattered by World War II. It’s an interesting contrast between the two groups, who are in opposition, even though they are both Jewish. 

 “Goodbye, Columbus” is a very good first book, and it clearly showed that Roth had a lot of talent. The title novella is still a good read today, more than 50 years after it was first published, and it finds Roth dealing with many of the subjects that would inform much of his later writing-sex, class, family, and what it means to be a Jew in modern American society.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Album Review: David Bowie "The Next Day"

Promotional poster for "The Next Day," photo by Mark Taylor.

David Bowie, 2013.
When it was announced in January that David Bowie would be releasing a new album in March, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe it, David Bowie was finally returning to music almost ten years after releasing his last album. I was so excited for this album to come out. I really thought Bowie was retired for good, I really feared that I’d never hear any more new music from one of my idols. And then suddenly, on Bowie’s 66th birthday, the announcement was made: Bowie was back! It was so thrilling to have it happen that way, instead of suffering through months of rumors about purported sessions, having release dates pushed back, etc. It was great to read all the articles about Bowie in the press, and to see how excited people were about him again. 

I will freely admit that I can’t really be objective in writing about “The Next Day.” I think it’s fantastic, and I’m just so happy to have Bowie back. I can’t really compare “The Next Day” to any other Bowie album simply because its gestation and release are so different from any other Bowie album. “The Next Day” will always be different from other Bowie albums simply because it’s his “comeback” album, and because of the near-decade between “Reality” and “The Next Day.”  I will also admit that I’ve very selfishly been a little annoyed at David Bowie the last couple of years just because he’s been out of the game for so long. Because Bowie has been so prolific for so much of his career, and music seems to flow out of him so naturally, it was tough for me to accept that he might have simply packed it up and called it a day. I’ve tried to be excited about the few compilations that have come out since he stepped off the stage in 2004, like “VH1 Storytellers,” (which I reviewed here) and the belated live CD release from the wonderful “Reality” tour, but there’s nothing as exciting as a brand-new Bowie album. It will be very interesting to see what this next phase in his career brings about. Bowie has said he’s not going to tour, and he hasn’t given any interviews to promote the album. We’ll see if both those things continue in the future.  

There’s a lot of material to digest on “The Next Day,” 14 songs on the album proper, and 3 bonus tracks on the Deluxe Edition, with not a cover version in sight. There’s a lot of variety on the album, from rockers to slow ballads. Bowie’s writing muse is clearly back. 

While typical music criticism focuses a lot on the lyrics of a song, analyzing Bowie’s lyrics is always difficult, as he has for so long written in a “non-linear” fashion, making typical lyrical analysis a waste of time. It’s less about the actual meanings of the words and more about the feelings that the songs conjure up.

I do have to say, however, despite all of my praise for Bowie, that the album cover for “The Next Day” is one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen. The designers can talk all they want to about how meta it is, but to me it’s profoundly unoriginal, just a rip-off of the cover of one of Bowie’s greatest albums, “Heroes,” plus a white box, with “The Next Day” printed inside the box in a super boring font. For an artist who’s created some of the most iconic album covers ever, it’s a profound disappointment.

I’m not going to dissect every song on “The Next Day,” rather I’ll just mention some of the highlights of the album for me. The first song “The Next Day” is a really great song. It’s so fun to just hear Bowie’s terrific voice again. “The Next Day” sounds like it would fit in well on “Heathen” or “Reality.” The song is an aggressive rocker with lyrics about abusive religious figures. Bowie also uses the word “gormless” in the song, which means stupid or lacking intelligence. Who else would use “gormless” in a rock song? Probably only Elvis Costello or David Byrne.

 “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” is maybe my favorite song on the album. It plays off of the double meaning of stars, both as celestial bodies and as celebrity bodies. It harkens back to a lot of Bowie’s best work, which deals with celebrity and fame. It features a gorgeous and catchy melody. The narrator of the song has an ambivalent attitude towards the stars, singing:

“We will never be rid of these stars
But I hope they live forever”

 “Where Are We Now?” was the first song released from the album as a single in January. It’s a slow, melancholy song that references Bowie’s time spent living in Berlin in the late 1970’s. When I first heard it, I wasn’t that impressed, and I found the song too slow and rather dull. But now that I’ve heard it within the context of the full album, it’s grown on me and I like it more. 

“I’d Rather be High” is the tale of a teenage soldier who would rather be anywhere else than where he is-in combat. It shows that Bowie’s talent for writing a song as a character is still intact.

“(You Will) Set the World on Fire” is a driving rocker about a folk singing girl in Greenwich Village in the 1960’s. The lyrics reference many of the folk singers of the day, and Bowie even mentions my favorite 1960’s folk singer, Phil Ochs, as he sings,

 “Baez leaves the stage
Ochs takes notes
When the black girl and guitar
Burn together hot in rage.”

The last bonus track on the album, “I’ll Take You There,” is one of my favorite songs on the album, and one of the catchiest. It’s a fast rocker, and the lyrics feature the characters of Sophie and Lev, who wonder,

“What will be my name in the USA?
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
Who will I become in the USA?”

We don’t really know why Sophie and Lev are trying to get to the United States, or if they make it there or not. But that’s one of Bowie’s charms; he doesn’t always spell everything out for us. He leaves a lot for us to interpret however we want to. 

“The Next Day” is a great album, brimming full of ideas from a master rock musician. Bowie has long been a superlative singer, songwriter, and performer, and on “The Next Day” he shows that he’s ready to create great songs once again. No matter what other albums come out in 2013, “The Next Day” will be a major highlight for me, simply because it’s a very welcome return to music by one of my favorite musicians.