The Singles from “Lost On The River” Keep Coming
This week, a funky, gritty single dropped — remember singles? It has the feeling of a classic 45, to be played by your local radio station until the disc scratches. From Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes, it’s sung by Elvis Costello, written by Bob Dylan (a 26-year-old Bob Dylan), and entitled “Married to My Hack.”
More about Lost On The River as a whole, and The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, to come, as the official November release dates for both the new and original Basement Tapes near. We’ve already had a Jim James track from Lost On The River, “Nothing To It,” that borrows its title (though not its sound) from Doc Watson. Fair enough to have more than one single — we think of them now as previews to which we’re entitled — from a multi-disc album. James, backed by Calexico, sang a Dylan Basement Tapes song memorably for Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There in 2007 — a sky-reaching “Goin’ To Acapulco.” “Nothing To It” is not so lofty, but its dah-dah-dah beginning, shrieking concluding guitar, and snappy little rhymes rattle against the down-and-out themes in a provocative way.
Elvis raps out his short new-old Dylan tune with clear joy. That crisply-enunciating unmistakable voice of his, and Rhiannon Giddens’s moans and meows, give plenty of spice to a guy’s decision — despite many temptations — to stay married to his wife….well, his hack. Interesting choice: a hack makes you think of computers today, but not when Dylan was writing down the song. A hack cuts you to pieces, sure, in its most common historic meaning. But it’s also an 18th-century term for a prostitute, ending up applied by the mid-1700s to writers hiring out their talents on Grub Street. TJ Young of Minneapolis suggests Dylan may also be referring to the jailhouse acronym for a prison guard. Dylan knows his English language, archaic and newly-minted, cold, from Shakespearean phrases to James Joyce’s linguistic romping, and it really shows, and stings, in this song.
Watching the lines in the videos for both songs appear in Dylan’s handwriting is pretty cool. To see his changes taking place as scribble-outs and revisions happen (some of the changes the singer makes, and some not) is to watch a work in progress — which, deliciously, Lost On The River most certainly is. The highly modernist, indeed High Modernist, project of taking the old and making it new is magical in the hands of these musicians.
Lost On The River is brought to you by T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James, Taylor Goldsmith, Marcus Mumford, “in collaboration with a 26-year-old Bob Dylan.” The record will be released — no, I can’t resist it — Lost On The River shall be released November 4, 2014.
*lyric sheet image thanks to newbasementtapes