Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2014

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Wall Street Journal

Newspapers
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Supergroup the New Basement Tapes Plays Dylan Ditties, Talks Shop


Hannah Karp

An all-star band that released its debut album this week has already played its final show.

The New Basement Tapes – a group assembled to put music to a trove of recently discovered Bob Dylan lyrics – serenaded a couple dozen Sirius XM satellite radio subscribers at an intimate concert on Friday. During the session, held in a recording studio in Hollywood‘s circular Capitol Records building, the band members also answered questions about how they approached the daunting task.

The reclusive Mr. Dylan, 73 years old, blessed the project, and his music publisher sent the lyrics to producer T Bone Burnett. Nonetheless, some of the musicians said they were initially overwhelmed y the pressure of trying to write Bob Dylan-quality songs, and tried not to think about how Mr. Dylan would have sung them himself.

“We had to put it out of our heads, and we did what Bob Dylan would do: not think twice,” said Taylor Goldsmith, of the folk-rock band Dawes, explained during the performance.

Each of the ensemble members – which include Elvis Costello, Mumford & Sons singer Marcus Mumford, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens– studied the songs and prepared their own melodies before convening for a two-week writing and recording session at the Capitol tower earlier this year, though some did less prep work than others, as Mr. Mumford admits on a documentary film airing on Showtime this fall.

In the studio, they recorded multiple versions of each song, at times grappling with each other’s disparate songwriting styles, such as Mr. Costello’s tendency to use what seems like dozens of different chords in a single song, one collaborator gripes in the film. The group wrote more than 50 songs in total, Mr. Costello said, and 20 of those appear on the album, “Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes.”

The title is a reference to Mr. Dylan’s original “Basement Tapes,” an album he spontaneously recorded in 1967 in the basement of his Woodstock, N.Y., home with the musicians that went onto form the Band.

On Friday, the New Basement Tapes members also discussed when their own love affairs with Mr. Dylan’s music began. Mr. Costello said his Dylan obsession was sparked by one of his old girlfriends’ buddies, “one of those dramatic girls who liked to cry a lot and listen to Cat Stevens.” Probably just to look cool, he said, she used to tote around a copy of Mr. Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” record. “I don’t think she ever listened to it,” Mr. Costello said, but he was nonetheless intrigued.

So what does Bob himself think of the album?

The question drew an awkward silence from the temporary bandmates. “Bob who?” Mr. Mumford finally joked.

Larry Jenkins, a media consultant to Mr. Dylan who served as executive producer of the film and album, fielded the question after the fans dispersed.

“We’ve heard that he’s heard” the record, Mr. Jenkins said. “No news is good news.”

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Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2014


Hannah Karp reports on Elvis Costello & The New Basement Tapes recording for Sirius XM on Friday, November 14, 2014, Capitol Records, Los Angeles, CA.

Images

2014-11-14 Wall Street Journal photo 01.jpg
Recording artists Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith, Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and Jim James of the New Basement Tapes perform On SiriusXM at Capital Studios. Photo by Getty Images.

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