[2] Hiss Golden Messenger, ‘Biloxi’


My third daughter has a habit whenever I put on a record she doesn’t know. I’d say she tries to identify the artist, but really she just asks, “Is it Bob Dylan?”

I mean, this almost is. MC Taylor has that winning duck-quack whine and a fairly oblique way with a story, and ‘Biloxi’ rolls like a stone. My iPod reckons I’ve played it 40 times this year, so it just keeps on rolling too. It also takes me back to the days when I wore thrift shop 70s stoner clothes and got into The Black Crowes in a big way, 20-plus years ago, because they knew a groove as well, knew that rock wasn’t just about the headlong headbash, that it benefited from country and soul injections to be its best self. HGM start from a different point but end up in a similar louche, welcoming spot.

Junior 2’s impressed anyway. “Good voice! Have you had an interview with him?” I guess she hopes I’ve felt the full breadth of that voice. I once tried to interview someone with Junior 3 in the room. I think she asked more questions than I did.

“He’s got a funny voice,” reckons Junior, contrarily. She and 3 do impressions, not altogether kind ones either. Then she’s on the air guitar. Final thoughts?

Junior 2: “He sounds like a cowboy.”
Junior: “Yeah.”
Junior 3: “Yeah.”

[13] Laura Marling, ‘Where Can I Go?’


Junior laughs at the opening “I was a daddy’s girl…” She’s got theories about our family – Junior 2 is the daddy’s girl, Junior 3 is mummy’s all mummy’s, and she’s there for both of us. Or just ambivalent. She’s not impressed with how hushed Laura Marling is as this begins, but enjoys the song getting sturdier in increments as the first fruits of Marling’s fourth album show her getting more confident as they unfold, over just a few short minutes.

Marling refuseniks hear nothing more than a folk singer delicately plucking her acoustic over album after album – and possibly with a funny accent – but Once I Was An Eagle genuinely sounded different. I find her bluesier now, more soulful too, nearer to Van Morrison than Bob Dylan (although there’s plenty of Dylan in the latest album, occasionally knowing too). Actually, Marling could be the new Maria McKee, blending rock and soul with intriguing songwriting depth. And she’s still only 16.

Dion, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’


My mum introduced me to Dion. His music, I mean – she’s not a close personal friend. She might have had trouble with his drug years, if her attitude to my teenage smoking’s anything to go by. I’m not sure how this squares with her and my dad bringing back container-loads of duty free fags for my brother (13 years younger), but let’s save that one for another day.

So my mum introduced me to Dion a few years ago when she bought me 1975’s Phil Spector-produced Born To Be With You after reading a feature in the Telegraph. Great decision – it’s a truly stupendous record – although she was more into the rock’n’roll Dion and his Belmonts. This Dylan cover comes somewhere in between. It’s from Wonder Where I’m Bound, a cash-in collection of folk-rock efforts originally released in 1969 but reissued this year, and has that familiar, easy Dion swing. Something in his Bronx brogue is enormously warm and comforting and the arrangement sparkles, in a Byrdsian way perhaps.

This place should become a bit of a three-hander now. It’s Junior’s blog of course, but Junior 2 (three and a half to Junior’s six and a third) is increasingly the one who’s most interested in what I’m sticking on the stereo. Well, they’re different types of engagement, I suppose. Junior is now aware of the pop world around her and knows what she likes – and more and more it’s not what I’m choosing. That’s only right. But Junior 2 wants to know all about what I’m playing: she wants to see the sleeves, she wants to exchange croons of “baby blue”, she wants to compare with the Dylan original. Soon enough she’ll decide on her own stuff. That’s only right too.

In the meantime I’ll vainly carry on doing what I’m doing, possibly more frequently.

[13] Bob Dylan, ‘Lay Lady Lay’

Usually possessing the vocal warmth of a crow with a bandaged beak, Nashville Skyline found Dylan recovering from a shady motorcycle accident and experimenting with a new tone. He sounds like he’s gargling plums, but at least he’s trying to stick to the melody.

‘Lay Lady Lay’ is a sweaty plea for a bunk-up, but manages to be charming and delicate, with a slide guitar that sounds like the sun rising on lucky Bob and his worn-down conquest. The title line sounds like a yodel and is easily mimicked by Junior – she’s inhabiting the songs a little more these days rather than offering just the perfunctory shoe shuffle. She’ll be hissing ‘Positively 4th Street’ at her nursery mates before long.

[16] Fairport Convention, ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’

Aged 15 and in the throes of a short-lived U2 obsession – The Joshua Tree was the best album ever for a summer at the very least, the musical equivalent of a pair of black jeans, a flat-top haircut and a misguided strut down the high street – I bought the freshly minted Island Story compilation, a bit of self-congratulation for 25 years of quirky eclecticism from the label that always insisted white men could dance to reggae. The U2 contribution was ‘With Or Without You’, which I had anyway, so Lord knows what I thought I was getting. An intro to more impossibly earnest chest-beaters with ringing guitars and unforgivable headgear? Turned out to be an intro to Jim Capaldi, Pete Wingfield, Bob & Earl and Fairport Convention. And I was grateful.

Like any kid who grew up in the 70s and 80s, I nurture a natural suspicion of folk music. Where are the synths, the make-up, the safety pins and the snarls? Get these guitar-fumbling drips away from me! My stance has softened now, but Fairport Convention – at least from a distance – threw another problem into the mix: Q Magazine and their bewildering worship of Richard Thompson. I’m sure he’s brilliant and everything (this is 15-year-old me speaking, but it might as well be me, here and now) but I haven’t heard anything, and besides – he has a tidy beard and astonishing taste in shirts. If I drop my guard now, I’ll be championing Little Village and The Robert Cray Band within minutes.

Chaos and joy define Fairport Convention’s French Cajun and French language version of Bob Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’. Sandy Denny’s woeful accent (worse than Jane Birkin’s in the serendipitously adjacent entry) and her “Come on, children, join in!” schoolmarm-ish tone could be a turn-off, but I prefer to get involved. Anyway, you can only love a song that makes a tumbling stack of chairs meld seamlessly into the percussion. Junior swanned around the kitchen and didn’t get involved herself until the last few bars, but I think we can put that down to reticence – she’s obviously tired of grown-up rock mags prostrating themselves in front of Thompson too.

Hey, maybe he really is great. 

[6] The Charlatans, ‘North Country Boy’

Junior was laughing again with this one. Coincidentally, I was singing. She rocked from side to side, like a chubby metronome, and was at one with The Charlatans’ good-time bluster. It’s a joyous record, sung with a smile on its lips. Their run of great singles was coming to an end, but it had been a cracking few years.

With this single, their Dylan passion was made flesh. The title’s a riff on ‘Girl From The North Country’, the sleeve’s a pastiche of Nashville Skyline’s, even Tim Burgess’s phrasing is the culmination of years of botched impressions.

Burgess has always been one for a bit of hero worship, from the Stone Roses through Dylan to, in recent years, Curtis Mayfield. He’s not gone as far as breaking his spine, though. Charlatan.