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Daniel Lanois also mixed/engineered Raffi's classic (and platinum) 1980 children's album, "Baby Beluga."

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Aug 11, 2023Liked by Graley Herren

Wonderful unpacking. I thoroughly enjoyed this read. When I think of this era, I can't help but think of Emmylou Harris and the swampy Wrecking Ball.

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Thank you for this beautiful read and thank you for telling the story of this extraordinary (and extraordinarily connected) burst of creativity! I was also only familiar with two out of three from this trilogy, but I look forward to checking out Acadie.

I’m always struck at Dylan’s willingness to submit to Lanois’ vision for Oh Mercy. It really seems like he understood that his previous records had lacked in artistic execution. Now he had a batch of songs that he wanted to do justice and it’s clear he trusted DL to bring them to life. That included foregoing his usual approach of creating a moment with a band and to capture the interplay among the musicians. I really think this was a big thing for Dylan, and it had a huge impact on his singing, which isn’t usually this intimate, low, and dare I say, hushed? It’s because he’s not projecting to stand out over drums and amplified instruments. As a huge fan of the Oh Mercy vocals, I think the production was a success from that standpoint alone!

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Thanks, Laura! I wasn't familiar with Acadie when I started this project either, but it became my jam for a couple of weeks. Lanois is not just a great producer. He makes an utterly captivating record for himself that's definitely worth immersing yourself in.

I agree with your comments about Dylan's vocals on Oh Mercy, and that intimate, "staring-eyes" approach in the Soniat kitchen was key to capturing that sound. Of course, when Lanois tried a similar tactic for TOOM at the Teatro, Dylan quickly balked. He wasn't going to repeat himself, so they pulled up stakes and moved to much more cluttered and chaotic conditions in Miami. But they found a way to make that approach work, too.

You also remind me of one of the most interesting passages from the Oh Mercy chapter of Chronicles. Midway through the embattled sessions, Dylan thinks he understands the source of the problem: "Next day I woke up, felt like I had figured something out, why I wasn't feeling right about the recording sessions. Here's the thing--I wasn't looking to express myself in any kind of new way. All my ways were intact and had been for years. There wasn't much chance in changing now. I didn't need to climb the next mountain. If anything, what I wanted to do was to secure the place where I was at. I wasn't sure Lanois understood that. I guess I never made it plain, couldn't put it in so many words" (202).

The funny thing--but also the brilliant thing--about this passage is that I think Dylan the Chronicler disagrees with Dylan the Character here and sides instead with Lanois. Since when has Dylan been content with just settling into a comfortable routine and sticking with a successful formula? Lanois shakes Dylan out of his brief slumber of contentment and challenges him to be risky, innovative, and bold by trying something new. In retrospect, while writing this chapter, Dylan the Chronicler sees that, even if Dylan the Character resisted it at the time.

As Dylan puts it in No Direction Home, “An artist has really got to be careful never to arrive at a place where he thinks he’s at somewhere. You always have to realize that you’re constantly in the state of becoming. As long as you can stay in that realm, you’ll sort of be alright." He seems to have briefly forgotten this artistic creed in the mid-80s, but Lanois plays an integral role in reminding him to get busy being born (again).

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Mar 24, 2023Liked by Graley Herren

I would comment here but I had to go listen to Aaron Neville sing With God on Our Side and now my hands are on fire.

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Great piece Graley! I recently read Mark Howard's memoir and was interesting to read about the Yellow Moon sessions there and discover just connected that album was to Oh Mercy. Never heard the third record in this Trilogy, will have to check it out.

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