Musician and painter Bob Neuwirth is most known to the world at large from his association with the legendary Bob Dylan. Appearing as Dylan's tour manager and crony in D.A. Pennebaker's 1966 tour documentary Don't Look Back, Neuwirth displayed a penchant for performing cruel humor at the expense of awestruck Dylan fans and imitators such as Donovan Leitch.
Neuwirth first came to prominence while studying art at the Boston Museum School. There he befriended blues legends like the Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt and met folk musicians such as Maria Muldaur and Joan Baez who performed at the same Cambridge clubs and coffeehouses as the harmonica clad Neuwirth. Through his association with Baez, he eventually met Dylan and the two found that their penchant for cruel humor and psychological manipulation of others were akin. The young artist became Dylan's tour manager and constant companion throughout the turbulent period of the mid to late '60s, eventually assembling and acting as MC for Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue. He also mentored the then-unknown Patti Smith.
In time Neuwirth stepped out on his own, releasing several critically praised, acoustic drenched albums on Gold Castle Records, such as 1989's Back to the Front; his recordings in the '90s include 1991's 99 Monkeys and 1996's Look Up. Neuwirth also collaborated on an album with Velvet Underground alum John Cale, additionally devoting his time to his first pursuit, painting. For 2000's Havana Midnight, he travelled to Cuba to collaborate with composer/arranger José Maria Vitier.
Until the release of his debut album, Bob Neuwirth was best known as a professional sidekick to Bob Dylan (see the movie Don't Look Back) and the co-author of Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz." As the album's guest list (which includes Rita Coolidge, Cass Elliot, Don Everly, Richie Furay, Chris Hillman, Booker T. Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Ian Matthews, and Dusty Springfield among many others) indicates, Neuwirth had a lot of friends in the music business. Taken together, though, they just about drown him out. Bob Neuwirth is a country-rock collection in which Neuwirth's wispy voice, sounding a little like Willie Nelson's, is sometimes hard to discern amid the band the backup singers, the horns, and the strings. By the end, Neuwirth revamps the lyrics to "Mercedes Benz" in the one verse he bothers to sing, altering its "no help from my friends" line to acknowledge his army of buddies. (AMG)
More a legend (or is it footnote?) in the music business than a real presence, Bob Neuwirth came back to record-making with this easy-going effort, during which he sang, in a country twang sometimes reminiscent of Willie Nelson, over a bed of acoustic stringed instruments – guitar, mandocello, dobro, banjo, violin, bass – mostly played by an informally reunited lineup of The Alpha Band (T-Bone Burnett, producer J. Steven Soles, and David Mansfield). Neuwirth's reportedly improvised songs are sometimes delicately romantic, sometimes slyly humorous, and there's even a Western-flavored gambling ballad. While the album fails to justify the legend (what could?) or even Burnett's sleeve note about Neuwirth being "the best pure songwriter of any of us," it nevertheless presents a good singer/songwriter who might give Townes Van Zandt or Guy Clark competition if he ever approached music as a full-time occupation. (AMG)
Originally released in 1991, 99 Monkeys a collection of wry, laid-back songs recorded with friends like Steve Young, Katy Moffat and Peter Case. Tracks like "Great Spirits," "Biding Her Time" and "Life Is for the Living" are folky rambles, acoustically based and embellished with sax and mandolin. Two bonus tracks, "Cloudy Day" and "Busted Bottle," are included in the 1999 re-release.
Look Up (1996)
320 Kbps MP3 / 78 Mb zip-file / covers included
Bob Neuwirth's fourth solo album in 22 years is also his third of the 1990s, not counting his duet album with John Cale. Such a commitment to productivity has been good for him, and Look Up is one of his more professionally performed and identifiable releases. Having spent most of his career as a musical footnote, Neuwirth also has tended to sound like a sideman on his own records. Here, the usually large typically prominent supporting cast is on hand (for the record, it includes Patti Smith, Peter Case, Bernie Leadon, Butch Hancock, Elliott Murphy and Victoria Williams), but the spare, largely acoustic arrangements leave a lot of room for Neuwirth to make a vocal impression, and he does, even holding his own against Rosie Flores on the rocking "What's Our Love Comin' To." The music is very much in the folk/country singer-songwriter realm of Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, and Neuwirth proves himself worthy of the company with some clever originals and a wonderful cover of Nan O'Byrne's male hen-eyed classic "Sweet and Shiny Eyes."
Havana Midnight (2000)
320 Kbps MP3 / 68 Mb and 43 Mb zip-files / covers included
Recorded in 1999 in Cuba, Havana Midnight beautifully documents the collaboration between Neuwirth and composer/arranger/pianist José Maria Vitier. The album's spare, atmospheric sound immediately draws the listener's attention on the title cut. Reminiscent of Terry Allen at his most mellow, an evocative combination of bongos, piano, and tabla lays down the ideal base for Neuwirth's relaxed vocals. Both "The First Time" and "Dead Man's Clothes" follow the opening cut in a calm, peaceful procession that quietly introduces themes of desire, lost dreams, and regret. As a whole, Havana Midnight unfolds like a soul's journey in a strange land, both dark and beautiful. Lyrically, "Don Quixote" and "The Call" run deeper than the typical singer/songwriter fare, as if painted on a timeless canvas. The overall approach, musically, vocally, and lyrically, is low-key, as though a poet were whispering a desperate story to himself or herself late at night. The arrangements are an epitome of taste, and include such subtle touches as rain in the background at the beginning of "Havana Farewell." Pianist Vitier and guitarist Rey Guerra add lovely fills to a number of cuts, deftly enhancing these proceedings. If fortune shines on the dark world of Bob Neuwirth, this recording will spread his good name and inspire listeners to seek out his older material.