Bob Dylan

William Jewell College! You Know What Time It Is? It's 4:30p.m.!

Introduction
Bob Dylan
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan 
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Another Side Of Bob Dylan
Live 1964
Bringing It All Back Home
Highway 61 Revisited
Blonde On Blonde
Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert
John Wesley Harding
Nashville Skyline
Self Portrait
Dylan
New Morning
Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid
Planet Waves
Before The Flood
Blood On The Tracks
Live 1975
Hard Rain
Street Legal
Live At Budokan
Slow Train Coming
Saved
Shot Of Love
Infidels
Real Live
Empire Burlesque
Biograph
Knocked Out Loaded
Down In The Groove
Dylan And The Dead
Oh Mercy
Under The Red Sky
Good As I Been To You
World Gone Wrong
MTV Unplugged
Time Out Of Mind
Live and Theft

That used to be, according to my good ol' high school friend Toby Bargar, an announcement made daily out of a dorm window at the small Kansas City-area Methodist liberal arts college just prior to a loud public performance of 'Rainy Day Women #12 and 35' accompanied by some...um...herbal aromatherapy. Yeah, that's it. And the song...by this guy. Perhaps you've heard of him. Perhaps you've heard that he was big in the 60's and every once in awhile comes all-awrinkled up on TV to accept an award and say something stupid in that voice of his that creaks worse than an old floorboard. Maybe you've even caught one of his recent videos or television appearances, where this old creep scratches at a guitar and garbles out some dry syllables to some decidedly elderly sounding backing music. Or you've seen a new album of his on the racks whilst rifling through for the newest Rage Against The Machine album. Perhaps you've been wondering what the big deal is.

Thing is, this is precisely what Bob Dylan has been doing since at least the late 60's. He does his music year in and year out, makes precious little sense in public appearance and even less than that in many of his career decisions, and almost always does only what Robert Zimmerman wants to do at any particular moment. He used to never tour. Then twenty years later he toured so much people got sick of him. He did fun folk. Then un-fun folk. Then did fun rock. Then important rock. Then folk. Then country. Then roots rock. Then Vegas. Then gospel. Then totally out-of-character slick 80's rock. Then some more totally out-of-character slick 80's rock. Then folk again. And now some sort of rootsy stew that seems to tie it all together again. This can lead to some truly strange twists and turns, no doubt tossing off a few more of the fickler fans at each junction. And while he also hasn't been batting with consistent quality since the late 1960's, he also has precious little that can be dismissed entirely...and he's got like 40 albums. Why do people care? I mean, I remember when I was a kid and this guy was a wadded up embarrassment, with my friends' parents groaning and shaking their head as he mumbled his way through a Grammy performance in 1990. Why keep digging this old fossil out and have the industry kiss his pile-covered ass 35 years too late  after all his original fans have started dying out? Why put him up there on MTV or whatever just to hear those two polyp-infested vocal cords strain themselves to get up out of the rocking chair like a centurinarian diabetic going to get another insulin shot in his fibrous ass muscles? Why care at all?

Because the guy could, and can, write popular song lyrics better than anyone who has ever lived. And not only that, he introduced the idea that lyrics could be important, open to interpretation, contain references, and above all act as poetry. He took the populist American folksinger tradition and opened it up to the modern world. But more than that was his brilliance in execution: while most people expected such a talented 'folksinger' to fill us up with protest songs and message songs...something to march to, to organize to...Bob Dylan began writing songs that were a little more slippery than all that. He wrote about love, about relationships, about psychedelia, schizophrenia, heartache, and all the stuff that was supposed to be below someone like Bob Dylan. And if that wasn't enough, he was singing along to rock 'n' roll music, like some greasy teenager in a hot rod taking his date to the prom would listen to.

But you know what? He made rock 'n' roll music that was more intelligent, more serious, and more meaningful than anyone had ever dreamed of, and made it okay for other people to try to bring the same things into their own music. After Dylan, everything was different. While his folk recordings often sound like museum pieces nowadays, his more personal and humorous work remains as vital today as ever before. This is why people hold on like they do, and why at points in the late 60's and early 70's, people followed Dylan's words and actions like he was the Messiah. Who hasn't felt at some point like they'd lost their direction home? I know I have. Who wouldn't like to kiss off an ex-girlfriend with something like 'Positively 4th Street'? Or look at their hometown and think of 'Desolation Road'? Or feel a few mystical hairs stand up on the back of the neck when hearing 'All Along The Watchtower'?

Bob Dylan's drawbacks are obvious and irrelevant in their obviousness. You know his voice is unpretty. You know his music is always pretty basic and ho-hum, and while it's sometimes brilliant, you're not getting amazing hooks most of the time here. You know he often comes across like an old fart. He never cared much for making something 'radio friendly', and never really had much chart success anyway, even at his very peak. His guitar skills are rudimentary, and his harmonica is totally basic level. Since 1968 he's made a handful of excellent albums and a massive mountain of hit-and-miss toss offs. But you know this stuff, and the guy never makes any attempt to cover any of that up. He has never once deemed it necessary to explain himself or apologize (unlike John Lennon, who was similar in his wild left turns, and who never got tired of dismissing what he was doing last week as trash). Dylan never throws anything away. His live shows can feature any of the hundreds of songs he's released in his lifetime, and he's not afraid of his past whatsoever. You know, I really respect this guy much more now that I'm older...I used to worship guys like Jimmy Page who were suck 'rock 'n' roll' guys, but you know Bob Dylan is someone I've really grown into more and more over the course of my life. Fuck it. I'm getting too into it here...listen here, I'ma tell you something:

*Pssst....over here: It's the words, man.*

Dan Zozula
Any Short Comments?: I didn't want to review this album.... i wanted to review your introduction. An 18 year old Dylan fanatic, I find it hard to describe why I love the man so much. My friends constantly complain about his voice, about him, etc, without ever giving him a chance. But from now on when someone asks me "how can you listened to that old shit
from that old bastard" i'm going to print out a copy of your intro and hand it to them. Right on. And yea, it IS in the words, man.

Jim H.S. jim887arc@yahoo.com
Any Short Comments?: I don't want to review any album, but like Dan, comment on Dylan and your intro. The early 60's: me, Brit, puberty, sick of all the crap in 'pop'. Oh, the blues was there, for some relief, but what about all those vanilla-syrup no-balls folk songs?  But it began to change (times do, don't they?)  Someone in the next grade or two up played me this album he'd got.  I heard "Talkin' New York", "Song To Woody".  I woke up. Oh, sure, I don't like every single thing he's done, but damn if the guy doesn't keep on keeping on, and doing it better every time.  Even now, 2004, over 40 years on, we've reached the same point; the same cheap pop, the same vanilla pseudofolk.  I'm glad of the same antidote: Bob Dylan.


Jeff jschneek@yahoo.com

Any Short Comments?: Just a few Dylan general comments: I agree with your "Times" review - too strident, sub-Phil Ochs idealistic bullshit. Ranks down there with "Saved" in terms of cringeworthy moments. "JWH"/Basement Tapes-era is my favorite period - some of his deepest, most mysterious songs ("St. Augustine") and also some of his dumbest ("I took my potatoes down to be mashed...") But it all works. Look for "(Be Careful Of The) Stones You Throw" on bootlegs or Soulseek. Finally, here's some proof that you hit the nail on the head with the "he was just fucking up" analysis of the mid-80's period from his "Chronicles" book: "There were many reasons for the whiskey to have gone out of the bottle. Always prolific but never exact, too many distractions had turned my musical path into a jungle of vines. I'd been following established customs and they weren't working. The windows had been boarded up for years and covered with with cobwebs, and it's not like I didn't know it."
Basically, that's Dylanese for "I was fucking up"

 

Marcia Soprou soprou2@aol.com
Any Short Comments?: To the writer of the intro at the top of the page:  Bob Dylan started touring again because I turned him into the DEA because he is a heroin addict, and Phil Morris of the Malibu Police Department, a DEA officer, then called me back on the telephone to tell me that the DEA had sent helicopters to surveill all of Bob Dylan's property in Malibu, CA, so Bob had to immediately split his scene!  This happened because Bob Dylan had been making and distributing porn films of me without my knowledge, and then the feds and the Malibu police department told me about it, among others, including Mick and Keith of the Rolling Stones, who have tried to help me dump the horrid, horrid, porn and heroin problems that Bob Dylan still insists on, ever since!  This is the truth, and I also started an FBI investigation of Bob Dylan over this, and was instructed, after meeting with the FBI about this in Los Angeles, to send all information about it directly to the Director of! the FBI, which I did!  Do you want to hear more?  Do you still think you like Bob Dylan?  As I understand it, he is harrassing the boys in your colleges these days because, of course, really he is a homosexual and always has been.  Just to let you know.  I am 54 years old, and listened to Bob Dylan from 1965 on, all my life, and myself I never could have imagined all of this if I myself had not been caught up into it by the hypocrite Bob Dylan, who I have been told is really a member of the Mafia!
(Capn's Response: Porn films of a 54 year old? He MUST be a sick motherfucker. Oh, and write some more. This is the funniest paragraph on this site by far.)


 


Bob Dylan - Columbia 1962

Ima bout to commit the greatest crime the Western world has ever known and elect this very record, that's right, Dylan's debut, as My Favorite Ever Dylan Album.

Jesus! Why'd you throw the mouse like that? Don't froth so! I can have my opinions too, y 'know...

It's almost inexplicable, but I know this bunch of folk covers and hillbilly silliness is supposed to be disregarded from any consideration for any grade above about a B+ at most. It's badly and repetitively produced, Bob's voice sounds like a 14 year old hayseed, the guitar playing is rudimentary, the instrumentation is totally bare-ass, and the songs are bunch of the same old noises over and over about losing a love or riding down the line or burying ones bones when one bites the big bastard donut that awaits us all at the end of this here barn dance. You're supposed to listen once, go 'hey, so that's where he came from before he was writing folk standards', and file the album away far in the back of your record collection.

But I'm always, 100%, to-the-core entertained after this record. I listen to it at least as much as all his other 60's records, and probably far more often than anything other than Bringing and Highway. I jiggle along with 'You're No Good', smile knowingly along with 'Talkin' New York', and chilled frost-hard by 'In My Time Of Dying'...and that's just the first three of these American Beauties. Each one is super charming, and unless you're a die hard folk fanatic (in that case you already own and have worn out a few copies of this, no doubt), you'll probably not have heard more than a few of the songs on here. But the ones you have may be quite familiar, albeit from some strange sources. You've heard the Animals' 'House Of The Rising Sun', yeah? Sure nuff...and it's common knowledge that they were covering the version off of this album and not the ancient original that Bob took from. But what about Led Zeppelin? 'In My Time Of Dying', hey! So THAT's where that one came from. Of course there's a few less highly distorted 5 minute blooze-metal guitar workouts on this version, but I suppose you'd have thought of that. The Dead and Simon and Garfunkel used to do 'Pretty Peggy O' all the time, but their versions have less humor than this one's got in the first five notes. Woohoo, indeed...Bob sounds like he's riding a bull with a wild hair up its boo-tay in this performance. Let it not be said that young Zimmerman did not have a blast recording this album, far more fun than any album he's done since.

Gosh, what else? He plays acoustic guitar just like me, meaning sloppy as all get out, but rocking when need be ('Highway 51 Blues'), pretty when called for ('Song To Woody'), and just plain goofy spirited the rest of the time. But then, I learned to play along with this album and Bob learned from Memphis Minnie and Leadbelly and all those old dead folks. The voice? Well let's just say that never again did Dylan use his voice to play act they way he does here...just check out all the inflections on 'Gospel Plow', or the tension buildup of 'Rising Sun'. NEVER, not once, when listening to this song, have I failed to totally break out in all over-body chills when Bob howls out 'tell my baby sister...not to DOOOO WHAT AYYYYYEE HAVE DUUUUUU-HUUUUUN!!!!' I have all respect for Eric Burdon and his band's pop version of this song. It's no small feat what they did to convert this into a rock mini-epic in 1964, and cut out just enough to leave the feel of the song intact (the version here has 3 or 4 more verses not on the Animal's cover). But Bob Dylan packs more impact with two hands and one throat than the whole band is able to do...and isn't afraid to keep the protagonist female, either. Turns the song from a usual 'poor boy blues' to something a bit more meaningful and terrifying. Oh, and I'm sure I've heard 'Baby Let Me Follow You Down' done by some country guy or another, but my memory has been permanently damaged by a toxic combination of Robitussin Maximum Strength, Red Man chewing tobacco, and un-treated Russian automotive exhaust fumes.

I guess what I like most of all here is the juxtaposition (thanks, 11th Grade English Teacher!) of moods here. You got the heavy weather voodoo 'death trilogy' ('In My Time', 'Fixing To Die', 'See That My Grave Is Kept Clean'), the almost exploding with jollitude ('Freight Train Blues', 'Gospel Plow', 'Pretty Peggy-O') and a few pensive reflections (Dylan's own 'Song To Woody', which sort of sucks unless you're feeling really sentimental about Woody Guthrie). I laugh, I cry, I fear for my daughter, I look over my shoulder expecting to find a hellhound on my trail, and dread 'that coughin' sound'.  Bob Dylan introduces himself by playing a great bunch of songs written by other folks and only two by himself (the other is the funny and apropos autobiography 'Talkin' New York'), in such a spectacular way I fell in love with the guy and wanted to hear all his other records. What a strange precedent...to start with the debut record. I suggest you do the same.

Capn's Final Word: Oh my God...there must be some store of this kind of stuff deep in the fibre of my bones. Just like Pepsi runs in my veins and I can make biscuits and gravy with my eyes shut, hillbilly blues covers are in there somewhere from way back in my ancestry.

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Mike     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: No crimes were committed. I think this is one of his all-time best albums too. Just listen to his voice - it's so raw it's practically elemental. And those covers of "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Fixin' To Die," and "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" - brilliant. "Talkin' New York Blues" is pretty funny, though not as funny as later genius-spazmo classics like "Motorpsycho Nitemare" and "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" (which is pretty much exactly the same as "Motorpsycho Nitemare" with different lyrics and amplifiers). Fantastic album.
 


The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan - Columbia 1962

Funny. Bob Dylan releases an album nearly as much fun as his debut, except this time he writes all the songs himself. If you were to blindfold two Cambodian boat people who've never once heard Bob Dylan before, and play them Bob Dylan and Freewheelin' back to back, and then asked them what they thought, the first thing you'd hear is a request for some food. Then after smacking them around a bit, they'd probably tell you that the songs on Freewheelin' sound stronger, more fleshed out, more fat on the bone, more juicy, higher calories. Then they'd demand some food, and if you didn't give it to 'em they'd probably kill you with their bare hands and go and knock over a Denny's. Frigging Cambodians. Illegally kick some Commie ass up in there 30 years ago and what do you get? Genocide and a neverending stream of hungry refugees that won't ever buy a Bob Dylan record.

Anyway, like the slope said, I hear that Bob Dylan writes better, funnier, catchier folk songs than the real guys used to do. Want meaningful, humanist, tunes that shake the world by the lapels and as Why? 'Blowin' In The Wind' may do it for ya. If you need something with a few more sharp teeth, try the Biblical-scoped 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall', a tune that describes the coming Apocalypse better than that crazy motherfucker out on the corner with the sandwich board, anyway. Want love songs? You get the nostalgic 'Girl From The North Country' or if you're in a less charitable mood, the marvelous countryfolk kiss off 'Don't Think Twice It's Alright'. Topical humor? 'Talkin' World War III Blues' is hilarious in a political way, and 'I Shall Be Free' is just plain hilarious in a Bob Dylan way, along with his 'Blues'. This guy's got a monster sense of humor, in case you hadn't been privy to all the new shit, and when John Kennedy calls him up and asks what the country needs to grow, Bob answers 'Bridgette Bardot, Anita Eckberg, Sofia Lauren' (sic?) it got a fucking good laugh that got outta me, lemme tell you what.

It's not like every song on here is a clear winner, and it seems like the thing goes on just a tad long, 13 songs and almost 50 minutes...and just to think a concurrent Beach Boys album was like 6 songs and 25 minutes, and most of those songs sounded like 'Surfin' USA'. Okay, all of the songs on here sound like, well, one of the Major Categories of Folk Songs (The Basic Strum Tune (like 'Blowin') The Rusty Country Blues, The Minor Key Lament (aka Dirge, maybe)). You couldn't dance to this stuff even if you tried real hard. And had extensive training in Dancing To Music Without Connection To Black People. 'Bob Dylan's Dream' passes through my synapses without leaving much of a residue, like 'Song For Woody' without the hamhanded nostalgia that almost makes me feel like crying when I'm not bored out of my brains. For political stuff, Dylan makes his point much clearer using humor than speaking earnestly in the manner of some bored bystander as he does on 'Oxford Town' (sample line not used: 'Oxford Town Oxford Town, cops made me take my weed plants down, maybe 'cos they're world renowned, no one getting high in Oxford Town'). And while 'Masters Of War' is as powerful as a turkey baster full of freebase, it's also so bald-faced venom-spitting, to those used to Bob Dylan's usual form of taking someone apart with snappy turns of phrase and such, this song seems way too blunt, like performing surgery with a chainsaw. But he never did get all that good at true protest singing, maybe because his heart wasn't really ever in it. He could write those sorts of metaphorical songs like 'Blowin'' all day long, but get too concrete and Bob loses his charm and just gets sorta irritating. See The Times They Are A-Changin' for further evidence.

That and the fact that besides a trap set and bass showing up on the sweet cover of 'Corrina Corrina', this is just Bob and his trusty twanger and hummer for an hour, this could add up to a bit of a bore for folks used to hooks and neat production and all those aural pacifiers all the time. But get into it, and listen to the words and the way he sings 'em and you'll never again wonder why I just don't give a pretzel for most artists' lyric sheets.

Capn's Final Word: Bob at the top of his 'folkie' game, maybe less of a raucous good time than Bob Dylan, but sheeeit, you used to sing some of these songs in grade school music class, man!

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Joe     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Love this album, it deserves nothing less than an A+.


The Times They Are A-Changin'- Columbia 1963

Bob plum forgets he's got a sense of humor and lays out a line of protest songs so lock-step and preachy and slow and dire that you'll wonder if you have the strength to make it through the whole thing. And I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, because this album flat out sucks. The big 'hit' here, meaning it's firmly filed in the American Lexicon right after 'Blowing In The Wind', is the title track, and it's okay for something that doesn't hold a candle to much of anything on the first two albums, and has a message that nowadays seems more than a little out of date. Ain't nothin' changed in those times or these, Bob, and that's where your legacy really lies. That's why we still care.

But not about such pieces of dry rot as 'With God On Our Side', 'Only A Pawn In Their Game', etc. etc. etc. It's all so obvious.  The words sound like listening to some crusty hillbilly's life story for 40 minutes, and if you can get some entertainment value out of sad but dull tales of human misery like 'North Country Blues' you must be an animal-torturing sadist who steals elderly women's underwear, because this stuff just bums me out. Sometimes I wish I'd been there when Hattie Carrol was dying so damned lonesomely and sped the motherfucker on his way with a baseball bat, get my meaning? 'When The Ship Comes In' is snappier, but its just a bald rewrite of 'Hard Rain'! Musically you can almost hear Bob Dylan trying to steel himself into sounding convincing, but he seems happy to fuck with the tempos like on 'Pawn'. See, Bob liked writing tunes like he did on Freewheelin', you know, goofy funny stuff mixed with heady emotion-drenched impressionism. Here it's like all his friends went, 'Hey Bob, what, you selling us out? Don't you know there's heartache and pain out there you should be telling people about? And you better keep it as clear and punitive as you can, or the 'little man' won't understand what you're talking about...forget all those metaphors and shit. Oh, and keep that voice of yours as sedate as possible so we don't start any riots!' This is folk music for aging liberal intellectuals who privately get off on tales of human misery while publicly shedding tears for every black man who gets offed by the cops.    It gives them a feeling of superiority covered up by their feeling of being champions of the unwashed populace. It's the kinds of folk music those people like, one where all the answers are plain to see, all of the fingers of blame are clearly pointed in the politically correct positions, and no one ever even has to get up off their fat arses and think for themselves at all. It just pushes some old bleeder party line, circa 1932, 's all. It's not all a big blimp of blahs, but it's darn close. I think the heartbreaking 'Boots Of Spanish Leather' is quite pretty (George Starostin says its a lesser rewrite of 'Girl From The North Country' and he's right, but I know I still like it, and small pleasures are harder to find here than a height-weight proportionate woman at a Golden Corral buffet), and 'One Too Many Mornings' is like a preview of later triumphs of loneliness in the big world like 'Desolation Road', but most of this stuff is aimless, rambling, and as likely to crack a smile as that frowning mug on the cover. Who stuck a cockroach in that man's coffee that morning?

Capn's Final Word: Really, besides being disco, this is a nice laundry list of things Bob Dylan shouldn't be. Long, tuneless, overserious, realistic, depressing, preachy...and listening to others. Best thing Bob ever did was to stop considering what other people thought about his work.

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Daniel Zozula     Your Rating: C+
Any Short Comments?: I've agreed with all your Dylan assessments, especially your introduction. Yeah, this album blows, for the most part. But "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" does, in fact, not. A harrowing song. Listen to the verse where Dylan sings "and she NEVER done NOTHIN to William Zangziner.." . Truly a chilling moment

(Capn's Response: Yup, I'll bite.  That's a mighty strong moment, especially whenever I've heard it played live. But that doesn't quite make up for a long-ass album of greytone platitudes of boredom.)


Another Side Of Bob Dylan - Columbia 1964.

As an album I used to hate but have since reconstructed myself, I still hold this album up as some weird linear interpolation between Times and Bringing It All Back Home. Like, if you drew a line between the marvelous bright-eyed fresh rock music on Home and the colorless suckfest of Times, and found the precise middle of that line, that's where you'd find Another Side Of. Musically, this ain't changed none at all, its all tempo-retarded strumming and the occasional (but much rarer this time) harmonica punctuation, which probably explains my initial distaste in this one. It could also be considered to be Bob Dylan's version of In A Silent Way or Rod Stewart's Smiler, the last ever album by an artist still holding to fans' initial expectation, even if by the thinnest of threads, enough to cause uneasiness but not enough for a diehard fan to begin to panic wholesale. 'Cos Bob more or less makes an album loaded with pop songs disguised as folk, arranged for only Bob with guitar or Bob with piano. Listen to 'Black Crow Blues' raucous barroom piano and tell me that ain't rock 'n' roll, or that if played by a full band (and possibly by a different singer, you know how it is), 'Spanish Harlem Incident' wouldn't be prime for Top 40 radio. Of course he's not quite as far out as 'Mr. Tambourine Man' yet, of course (hey, it's 1964...LSD hasn't even gotten around!) but his lyrics have gotten much more personal and oblique...'To Ramona' sounds very much like Bob is writing for someone close (probably Joan Baez, who he used to Zimmerman, doncha know) and the journey-through-this-hard-life travel imagery of 'My Back Pages' definitely rank as some of Bob's best work as well as pointing to the future. This is the first time his words get twisted and 'psycho' (as opposed to the more down-to-earth goodness of Freewheelin'), and one can truly warp a brain trying to get every twist of phrase and reference Bob throws out, but I suggest you try. This is real lyricism, thanks.

Only the middle songs seem to revel in oldness. 'I Shall Be Free No. 10' may or may not be a flat out sequel to 'I Shall Be Free' but it sounds like one. It's funny, sure, but he already wrote that song. He hadn't written 'Motorpsycho Nightmare' yet, though, and wouldn't rewrite that one until 'Bob Dylan's 115th Dream' on Home. Both of 'em are funny as hell, though, especially if you dig 60's movies and politics (there's tons of shit about Fidel Castro on this album). And 'Chimes Of Freedom', though kicking the piss out of most anything on Times, fits in with that albums' Nebraska straightforwardness and Iowa corniness to a Texas Tea what with its' misty eyed dedications to protesters and refugees and other such human trash. Just kidding. Me, I love the Cambodians. And I think 'Ballad In Plain D' is a bit long and slow and limp to finish the album, but then again, it's the first in a line of similarly down-hearted album finishers. Maybe it's a new genre or something, the rambling Bob album closer. Of course this one's a narrative of a breakup rather than, you know, a description of the planet like 'Desolation Row' or whatever 'Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands' is, so maybe at certain times in one's life one could relate to this if one has ever had one's heart ripped from one's chest by one's life love. I have! By I blocked most of it out! I cherish my psychological defense mechanisms!

Shite. 'Plain D' is not the last song on the album. It's actually another one of those durned Top 40 pop songs, 'It Ain't Me, Babe'. So forget all that. This song rules! It's not long or dull at all!

Capn's Final Word: So if you're a big lyric person this is the album for you. If you tire easily of strummed guitars and lots of words words words, you'll have much less fun with this album than the three immediately following. But didn't those narrow-minded folk fans get it? He's so a rock guy now!

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Live 1964 - Columbia 2004.

I'm not usually the kind of dude who likes to listen to a hick with a voice like Phillis Diller with a sinus infection slide through several dozen wordy, beatless excursions, accompanied by only a scritchy guitar mixed way low down and a swishy, random harmonica mixed way up high,  .but this is Bob Dylan, one of the best standup comedians of the second half of this decade.  And one of the best political singers.  And one of the best love-song writers.  And not a bad lay, if you ask Joan Baez (who makes an appearance here, right about the time I find some reason, any at all, to leave the room in which this album is playing). This third live issue from the Bootleg Series continues the inscrutable brilliance of the first two volumes, and though there's far less to these particular grooves than the band-as-orchestra 1975 issue or the chopped-and-blown Albert Hall volume of a year later, this is still required listening for a fan of early Dylan.  I understand there's folks out there for whom Dylan, and especially his 'folkie' period (I dunno, I may be cracked worse than Flava Flav on payday, but most of these sure don't sound like folksongs to me) don't exactly beat out a night watching Quincy reruns and trimming the cuticles on the ol' entertainment totem, but that ain't me, babe.  Listening to Live 1964 is like hearing a good jazz album...Dylan bobs and weaves through his lyrics like Cassius Clay, and punches in the gut when he's not buttering us up with songs so funny they make idiots like Ray Stevens look like they should go back to cleaning urinals.  It's made all the better when you consider that 1964 was the most fascinating year of Bob Dylan's career.  This was the year in which he began to 'blossom' from the rather strict didacticism of his Times protest-singer period to the pop poet iconoclasm that marked the next year's massive highs.  Dylan, unlike nearly anyone else, thrived during transition periods in the 60's. He'd already proved it a couple of years before as he moved from a hillbilly cover artist to a songwriting genius in the span of, like, 6 months, and would later prove it again as he stripped his approach down to herald in John Wesley Harding and the sweet, underrated Nashville Skyline.  If you scan the setlist of 1964, you'll see a motley mix of crusty old (more than a yer, anyway) glorious classics and iron-maiden protest warhammers, the fresh, quirky recent Another Side of material, and the as yet unreleased concoctions that would later comprise Bringing It All Back Home and damn near start rioting. Bob's shift towards pop stylings is hidden under a Martin-and-mouthharp smokescreen that keeps the puckered audience from catching on, though I seriously doubt this mass of over-polite early-60's bookworms would even have had a riot in 'em. They're so skittish they clap like a Japanese audience and titter like a girl's locker room whenever Dylan opens his yap.  Okay, so the man is funny in a sharp, obviously tweaked-up way, but the applause shuts off ridiculously like someone switches a lightswitch at a proscribed moment, as if Dylan would walk off the stage in a huff if they let out a 'woohoo!' or clapped longer than proper in modern society. They were damn good Communists back then in the Sixties, stood in line real stright and all that....then again they feel perfectly alright shouting out fucking requests like it's American Bandstand, so maybe they're just fucked. Compared with a live album from, say, three or four years later, the difference between audiences is a shock. 

1964 clinches it...Bob Dylan's a fantastic vocalist, or at least he was before he broke his neck and blew out his voice trying to out-shout a vodka-soaked Band in the early 70's.  .  I'd rather hear Bob stretch his phrasing like salt water taffee on 'Who Killed Davey Moore' or jack his tone to lofty pedestals on 'The Gates of Eden' than hear a zillion hours of Eric Clapton playing the same blues licks he derived from B.B. King in 1965, which is what I've been doing for the last week.  I'm already taken in by the lyrics to 'It's Alright Ma' (one of the best poems of the 20th Century, I say), but to hear Dylan rap through them over the course of several minutes is to hear a man age several decades. But as he careens through 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright', his approach changes even line-to-line, from playful to grave to pensive to angry. See what I mentioned earlier about jazz?  I can't say enough about Dylan's ability to captivate with his voice...he sounds meaningful even when he's playing something as hilariously silly as 'Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues'. The only bummer tracks are the ones that you might think would come across best - at the end of 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall', he says something about 'taking 15 minutes', meaning a set break, but I could swear he was talking about the length of the song he just wrapped up.  'Times' sounds like a commitment rather than a way to kick off things off with a bang, and the show nearly grinds to a halt during Joan Baez's set.  Here's one woman that couldn't have less in common with Bob Dylan.  He's mercurial, sharp, fast, 'unpretty', has a very lackadaisical attitude towards pitch, but sounds perfect nonetheless.  Baez is as formal as a starched cummerbund and while her voice is trained down to microscopic levels, she's got less personality than a department-store mannequin. Singing duets also forces Dylan to reign in his phrasing and attempt to keep on beat, which fails miserably by either breaking down completely (the train wreck of 'Mama, You've Been On My Mind') or sucking the life out of the performance.  Their voices do mix nicely a times, though, as well as I heard their bodily fluids did, anyway. Ah well, it's still all in good fun, and it's not like Baez sucks the air out of the joint like she does on Woodstock. 

But this is Dylan's show, and as heartbreaking as he can be in the middle of one of his apocalyptic 'heavy' tunes, he can be just as giddy and wacky between songs.  He's quicker than a butterfly knife with a comeback, and he intereacts with the audience far more than he would the next year, as evidenced by the respectfully mum acoustic set and outright antagonism of the electric one on Live 1965. We've all heard the 'Tonight's Halloween...I've got my Bob Dylan mask on' comment quoted all over the place, but that's not even the funniest thing he says here.  Shit, man, the passive-agressiveness he shows towards Baez is worth the cover price alone. Bob's quite obviously higher than Yao Ming's cowlick, and his quips are often as hilariously incomprehensible as they are simply hilarious.  He also screws up several times, including the memorable part where he has to act audience members what the first verse of 'I Don't Believe You' is. Shit, why is it that I think he's in complete control despite the missed cues? Maybe he did that shit on purpose just to remind us that he's still human. 

Capn's Final Word: By the way, the best line is when some wisenheimer in the audience calls for 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' and Bob says ' God, did I record that? Izzat a protest song?'. Poke poke, indeed.

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Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: YOU're hard on Baez ."No personality" is hard to swallow when you know she was a committed artist who was with MLK and used to sing in front of the induction centers during the Vietnam War. Anyway,the best D/B duets were never released:they were part of the "Hard rain" film -but never made it on record or CD- :the flamenco rock of "poor immigrant" and the fiery rendering of "deportees" are mind-boggling and marvelous examples of their collaboration.
(Capn's Response: Just because she sang in front of induction centers doesn't mean I'd want to get caught in an elevator with the woman.  One listen to her intro to 'Drugstore Truck-Drivin' Man' on the Woodstock soundtrack and I'm halfway to writing a check to Pat Buchanan.)


Bringing It All Back Home - Columbia 1965.

Some time in late 1964 or early 1965 Bob Dylan was heard to say the following phrase:

'Fuck It.'

He was frankly tired of trying to babysit a bunch of crusty old radicals who wanted Bob Dylan to be their new messiah and keep rewriting Times over and over again. He took himself a trusty Fender Stratocaster and plugged it into a whole new world of Beatles and Animals and Hawks and Eagles (okay, no Eagles yet, but it fit well, didn't it?) And while his songwriting hasn't exactly changed that much from when we last heard from Bob, his sound has. His new backing band is fresh, bright, an explosion in a bottle and is well-versed in how to play rock 'n' roll as raggedly and loosely as possible...in other words it's a perfect fit for Bob's giddy attic-clearing wack imagery. They can sound drunk like on 'Maggie's Farm', can bash it out garage style like 'Outlaw Blues', and they can imitate the best sort of folk-rock band on 'Love Minus Zero/No Limit', and have a good time all around. So Bob's not completely plugged in, but this was enough for the old crustybutts in his former audience. They were gone, and off to follow some twerp like Phil Ochs or Donovan or something like that. You know where that left Bob? Appealing to kids who'd spent the last few years growing up with the Beatles and were thirsting for something more chewable to wrap a lobe around. And as a result fell into being another sort of messiah to a new bunch of freaks who took much more shaking to finally get rid of, but that's a can of worms we'll talk about later on.

But this album is a blast, a roller-coaster on acid. Bob's humor is at his absolute peak on here: 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' not only invents rap music (sans funk beat, of course) but also prvides us with a no-seat belt fun ride through the more humid areas of Bob's imagination. His world is one of brightly lit city streets filled with hopped up pimps and clingy girlfriends who talk in headlines and biblical references, and when you could spin any one of these lines into a song (or concept album, if you're a progger) of it's own...you know you're in the presence of something bigger than life. The effect is exhilarating. 'Maggie's Farm' is probably some veiled reference to politics or the folk rock scene or something, but you could probably apply these characterizations to just about anyone if you wanted to. Or you could just sit back and follow the funny twists while your Dad tells you to turn this down like mine did (This has got to be one of my dad, Gerald Atkinson's least favorite songs of all time). 'Outlaw Blues' and 'On The Road Again' are just goofy rocking pointlessness, but 'Bob Dylan's 115th Dream' tells this story about Bob's adventures in America with Christopher Columbus that's so far out damn hilarious that Bob himself has to start it over again to get it out right. Yeah, musically it's the same as 'Motorpsycho Nightmare', but who gives a flip? This damn thing is funny.

When Bob gets serious (or at least less obviously funny, because I wouldn't go and say 'Tambourine Man' is serious.) His songs get a little more weighty and melodic. 'Tambourine Man' is a wonderful little romantic ditty to a drug trip, and probably made more people get misty eyed when remembering their youthful chemical innocence than you could shake a sugar cube at. It's performed mostly solo Bob with acoustic and lip harp, but with just enough quiet electric lead to remind you we're not returning to Folk World, thanks. His 'love' songs ('Love Minus Zero/No Limit', 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue', etc.) foreshadow what is to come on Blonde On Blonde, and are just as great. When Bob goes completely solo, like on 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)', he takes pains to sound as far from expectations as possible. This is another rap tune, but set to a devil-dog chord procession and featuring Bob Dylan at his absolute most serious. As serious as 'Masters Of War', but here he takes on just about everything on the face of the planet and it's absolutely breathtaking. The lines just spin off of one another for seven and a half minutes, and, as I said above, each one holds a song (or book or play or whatever) of its own. It's as if he wanted to write the Song of Songs, and did so in such a massive thought-purge that when he finally ends up with a kind 'if my thought dreams....could be seen, they'd put my head...in a guillotine, but it's all right, ma, it's life and life only' you feel as if you've come to some place in this world where, despite all the bullshit, it's still worth going on. 

Capn's Final Word: Spectacular album. A breakthrough adventure, especially if you like some witty silliness as well as the heartbreaking stuff.

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Highway 61 Revisited - Columbia 1965.

Essentially the same vision as Bringing It All Back Home, focused and cranked to the eyeballs and all the screws tightened down. No acoustic vestiges like 'Tambourine Man' hanging around drinking all the free beer, either. Just one crazy raucous word tornado after another...it seems that Bob was a big speed freak here at these times, and it shows. He would just spit out these songs one after another while the musicians were sitting around the studio waiting for him to finish writing. He'd disappear into another room for an hour or so, come back and they'd bash it out. That's the way to make records, I say. None of this 6 months in the studio fixing each and every different snare crack. I still have never heard the benefit of doing record that way, except for freaks like Dark Side Of The Moon or maybe Minor Threat's Complete Discography.

Now, about the songs themselves: If he was in full comedy mode on Home, here he's gone from that to being just a little bit nuts, and just about every song excepting the first ('Like A Rolling Stone') and the last ('Desolation Row') is a variation on the spitting acid tongued humor we first met on 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' and 'Maggie's Farm' and the like. Musically it's about the same as last time, too, if maybe a little more controlled and as such, a bit less interesting. Hey, what else you gonna do with basic mid-60's blues rock? And each song is either straight from Lesson 1 from Blues Rockn' 101 ('Stay fast and use a lot of cool piano or organ') or Lesson 2 from the same course ('Except when playing slow and using a lot of cool piano or organ'). So if you're against the idea of basic rock 'n' roll you could raise your hackles after one boogie progression too many. Guitarist Mike Bloomfield keeps the solos interesting and sounds more like Robbie Robertson on here than that wonky Injun himself. (Note to those who don't know who Mike Bloomfield is, don't worry. I didn't for a long time either, and every time I read anything about this record I used to feel really dumb. He was a white American blues guitarist in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band who, at least for those pre-Clapton and pre-Hendrix days, was a big deal. After that he was pretty much forgotten about. So now you know. The PBBB album East-West is their big one.) (Oh, and the organ player guy you're supposed to know is Al Kooper who later formed the first incarnation of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, but quit before that big fat-sounding guy took over on vocals.)

Oh, so I'm supposed to talk about individual songs? How'd that become my job? (*looks at name tag that says 'Ryan Atkinson - Web Music Reviewer'*) Crap.

Okay, so 'Like A Rolling Stone' is everything you've heard it is, the condemnation of the formerly posh rich bitch who at some time got ol' Bob down, but now gets her own back after being conned by the wizened street folks. But what makes it special is the fact that Bob is smart enough not to make this lady sound inhuman...in fact, one could easily fit onesself in her shoes. Plus the organ riff and vocal delivery is superb. A deserving classic. Not quite so with 'Ballad Of A Thin Man', which is sorta just mean, and probably was used to incorrectly jam all of the squares who ever dared to criticize the Baby Boom Counterculture Selfish Idiot Generation. Hey, man...sumpin's a-happenin' here butcha don-no what it is, dy'a, Mister Jonez? (or Dad, or Senator Goldwater, or lower-class simp who was dumb enough to get drafted, or whoever dares not to smoke pot and act like a hedonistic loser). It's funny, but I go for the hell-on-earth described by God and Dylan on 'Highway 61 Revisited' better...that's funny stuff and it moves, too, and that counts a lot with me. And as for the finishing monstrous goddess of gloom 'Desolation Row', all I can say is that it's taken me a long time to get into this song, but I am now one of it's fans. 11 minutes of Bob intoning about the saddest town on earth and some Jerry Garcia-esque lead acoustic guitar is all it is, but the close listeners will be rewarded with some of Dylan's most heartbreaking-ever lyrics.

This is probably Bob Dylan's best ever lyric album, but I'll still choose Bringing It All Back Home   as his best record, because it's a little more hard-hitting and varied, or better yet, Bob Dylan because it's one of the most entertaining and fun records in my collection and I'm a complete fraud. But it's hard to choose 'bests' from this prime-period Bob Die-lan (as I used to pronounce his name when I was 10 years old, always wondering who this Dillon character was) because he's such a maniac with the pen. His bands are good, his music is fun and rocking, and he's always got some wacky lyrics turn up his sleeve. What can you say?

Capn's Final Word: A successful repeat of the same thing that worked last time, a great collection of great songs. You don't find this stuff any more.

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Tom     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: On my top 10 favourite albums of all time list for sure....its definately dylans best

 

ddickson@rice.edu

'None of this 6 months in the studio fixing each and every different snare crack. I still have never heard the benefit of doing record that way.' YOU know which record I'm thinking of, Mr. Anti-Lange. :)

Still, you've got a point.  In general, an artist has two options: a.) Bash out a record as the muse hits him, hoping for gold, or b.) Work on it to the point where it doesn't SOUND worked over.  Both approaches result in great records--occasionally.  Anything in between usually results in mediocrity or disaster.  Prime examples of the utility of option a.) include Dylan, the Beatles, and (to a lesser extent) the Stones.  Prime examples of option b.) include Prince, Beck, the Smashing Pumpkins, and a good amount of Led Zeppelin.  You can tell Genesis' Calling all Stations is a prime example of option c.): Not Enough Either Way.

Now--the album.  What can I say.  Mega-classic of the '60's.  Like you said, bashed out in 3 days, but these songs are so musically brilliant and well-played that they sound labored-over for months.  And the lyrics!  The record would be amazing if Dylan was singing about electric manhole covers in Greenwich, but this is his peak as a lyricist, at least in the '60's.  Some people don't like the overall grunginess, and neither did I when I first listened to it.  It takes about seven listens before this sinks in as a work of genius.  But it sinks in, my friend.  Believe the hype.

 


Blonde On Blonde - Columbia 1966..

Now this here double banana split is Bob at his most demanding. Meaning, if you're not already well into the guy, this album may well put you off quite sharply because he's pulling back into himself and cutting back on the entertainment value. Wait! Wait! I'm not saying this album isn't entertaining, not at all...it's just that the statements tend to be more personal and the level of humor has definitely gone down from Home and Highway. And the music? Tempered as well, this time settling mostly for 'romantic mid tempo' than 'balls out 50's rock'. What I'm trying and failing to say in any short manner is that, if before you had at least some signs of cool songs or performance energy or quite so much obvious hardy har or whatever, more or less all you've got  is Bob and his feelings, and that's gotta sustain you through four sides.

Luckily, I think it does. This is a warm and fuzzy album that girls will probably love the heck out of, and I find to be pretty darned good when I'm not in a mood to hear Bob kicking ass all over the place. For one, everything on here, more or less, is kind, like Dylan is attempting to reform on his ol' hating 'Positively 4th St.' ways. Sometimes he even sounds sincere, like on 'Sooner Or Later (One Of Us Must Know)', but man, a lot of these songs sorta sound alike and I have a really bad time telling them apart. I guess I can, but I prefer to listen to this as one big long fluffy song. Some parts stick out a bit for some reason or another, like the opening drug/criticism double entendre extraordinaire 'Rainy Day Women #12 and 35'. Funny that some folks think this is a pro-drug song, and probably more than one of us is guilty of putting this on while smoking some of the seedy stuff, but it's quite obvious that silly ol' Dylan was trying to provoke that sort of reaction, when what he really meant was 'Everybody must get stoned' as 'everybody must take their knocks'. Stupid people. 'Stuck Inside Of Mobile' is waaaay too repetitive at over 7 minutes, and I've been stuck inside of Mobile, Alabama before. Actually it was Biloxi, Mississippi, but what are we doing, splitting hairs here? People also usually particularly love 'Just Like A Woman' with it's revisitation of the rich chick Bob used to screw formula we've seen more than once or thrice from the man. Here, too, is Bob being kinder than he usually ends up being with his women. Eh, just you wait until 1975....that's when he gets real ugly again. Oh, and the side-long closer 'Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands' is the true test of Bob's career...it's much less interesting or universally themed than 'Desolation Row' from last time, but you might just find a crack in your armor that lets this one in and makes you think that maybe Bob was some sort of melodic genius after all. Or you'll quickly tire of Bob's best pre-cycle crash attempt at crooning (he tries to sing, or at least use his voice as an instrument, a lot more on Blonde on Blonde than before) and endless descriptions of said weepy valley woman.

That applies to the entire record, in fact. The songs are too superficially similar and too concerned with their warm themes to kick your butt around, but when the mood gets you it's perfect. And rest assured that the Bob Dylan genius is still fully functioning here as well, once you get over the fact that he's forgotten about protest/psychedelia/comedy completely.

Capn's Final Word: Very, very pretty and very, very samey. But when it's genius, samey is good, right? Bob as a living, feeling human being.

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Nathan Harper nator9999@comcast.net     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Ok, first off, what's up with the title? Blonde on Blonde? That sounds like the title some late-night adult feature they'd play on HBO. Second, are you freakin' nuts? This is definitely one of Bob's most accessible albums if not THE most accessible. As far as I'm concerned, 'I Want You' and 'Just Like a Woman' alone blow away 85% percent of everything else he ever did. Why, you ask? BECAUSE THEY HAVE MELODIES!!!! Good lyrics are never a bad thing, and can definitely ruin a song if they are really bad, but lyrics are alway always ALWAYS second priority to good music. Dylan's lyrics just aren't good enough to justify all the droning, overlong, unmelodic clunkers he usually forces down our throats. If I were rating him on George Starostin's scale, I would be happy to give him a big, fat ONE for diversity, because he really deserves it. He's been writing the same song over and over againfor the past four decades!!!!! (takes deep breath) Whew. Well that felt good. Sorry if my rant offended anybody, but I just really don't get Dylan....

Matthew Byrd  matthewbyrd@hotmail.com  Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: I think this is possibly.... well, no, I think this is Bob Dylan's best album.  It is, quite simply, a great collection of short, pithy pop songs (with a few longer breath-takers like the one a-'boot the weepy woman of the valley and, of course, visions of johanna) that, once they dig in, are incredibly enjoyable.  There's the problem with Blonde On Blonde, it's the fact that most people(myself included) hate the bloody hell out of the album the first few times around, or even still hate it after that.  I don't blame them, I'm lucky that one night I was just in the mood to listen to it, I think that if I didn't listen to it then I would still hate it now.  I still have to wait for that to happen with Blood On The Tracks, by the way.  I really can't say much that hasn't been said... I just really enjoy this album.  4th Time Around definetely sounds like a bit of a snap at John Lennon (listen to Norwegian Wood).  I even heard that John Lennon was a bit par!
anoid about Bob Dylan insulting him in his songs.  But, anyway, if you want a hazy and melancholic love-oriented album, this might be for you(uless you hate bob dylan and screeching harmonicas).  I say this is the greatest album ever made... Born To Run being second.... speaking of that, why in the bloody hell does everyone belittle Bruce Springsteen and Born To Run and well, every Bruce album?  It doesn't seem like they have legitimate reasons, he IS talented, if you hate him, you still got to admit that.  I guess you just have to say you like Bob Dylan before anybody gives you respect enough before you can say you like Born To Run, of all things, without being considered a qualified retard.  I'm sorry, I'm just tired of the blasting of a truly magnificant album.  The same goes for Paul McCartney.... I mean, yeah, he made some nonesensical stuff, who cares?  Many think that his stuff is basically nonesense and that John Lennon was the power behind the Beatles... what is tha!t?  Paul has written some of the most memorable melodies I have EVER heard, oh, yeah, he's SO superficial, like your smirky and smug indie rockers(I'm not saying they're bad, just not gods) are so deep and they know the secrets of the universe and can tell you what hey are with a phrase that may be only superficially well thought out but rarely as good as anything Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan himself could have thought up.  I'm sorry for that rant but some review sites(not yours) can really bug me.  Yeah, of course old doesn't mean good but it doesn't mean bad.  I don't know, I've just finally come to a decent site after seeing a bunch of comments all night that bug the be-jeezers out of me... phew.  Thank you, goodnight.  

ddickson@rice.edu

Basically Highway 61 on steroids. Call me Crazy McGee, but he NEVER rocked (or squealed) as hard during the '60's as on "Passing the Time", "Most Likely You Go Your Insanely Long Song Title Etc." and "4th Time Around." But screw it--this is as classic as it gets. Sprawl, mess, and absolute genius. "Absolutely Sweet Marie," "I Want You," "Positively 4th"--he was never as relentlessly catchy as he was here. Gah, I can't rave enough about this album. It's like a sea of candy for the Dylan fan. Everything you could want spread over 73 minutes. Hell, I'm not even much of a fan of the lyrics. Mostly about women anyway. Or about buildings, maybe. Who can decipher the man's maniacal metaphors, anyway? Hell, his singing sucks, too. He doesn't hit a SINGLE note during "Mobile." Not a SINGLE! But this is still some of the best music ever made. And not even his best album? What a guy. Oh, yeah, and "Visions of Johanna" is one of the all-time ultimate make-out songs, if you ignore the lyrics. Supposedly about ghosts 'n shit.

Melanie     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: The album's great,it's my second favorite Dylan.

Err...he was stuck In Biloxi MS? Thus partially inspiring "Stuck Inside Of Mobile..."-and he didn't like Biloxi? Yep,he's weird alright.

Appenidix-Oh it was YOU who was stuck in Biloxi and didn't like it. Ok,then YOU'RE weird.
 

Bobby Bouchei      Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: I must say that a third of this album is crap, and the rest is marvelous. I especially like Stuck Inside Of Mobile, but there are many songs here that don't cut the line for me. My advice to the reader is this: Listen to the album, and then download all the good songs, because it's not worth your mullah.
(Capn's Response: Yeah, I've got my Mullah right here, and though he smells like Falafel and sheep, and keeps babbling about Allah in Persian all the time, I'm not gonna let him go for anything less than Bringing it All Back Home)


Live 1966 - The Royal Albert Hall Concert - Columbia 1997.

For a little background for those who the words 'Royal Albert Hall 1966' mean nothing, here goes, edited for style: Bob's on European Tour with Hawks (nee Band). Limeys come see show. Limeys know Bob plays musical variety 'rock' from last three albums and year of press, etc., but want to hear one musical variety 'folk', sans electric current. Bob plays 'folk' and 'rock' sections. Limeys clap slowly for 'rock' section. Limeys yell 'Judas'. Bob grumbles (audibly) 'I don't belieeeeeve you.' Bob yells (inaudibly) 'Play fucking loud!' Limeys go home unhappy with Bob but feeling full of musical wisdom. Bob goes home pissed and wrecks motorcycle. Bob takes long break and changes style. Bootlegger goes home with tape, makes millions of copies. Copies make millions of dollars.

So that's whacha get, eh? I'll put it like this: for historical value this gets an A plus plus. For actual entertainment it's not flying much higher than a B+. The acoustic folkie part is performed and sung well (let's just say he likes his newer songs better, to be sure), but it doesn't add too much to the recorded legacy of Mr. Bob Dylan at all. I'll go on record and say that listening to live solo acoustic versions of songs that you've already heard and know is about as lame as tongue kissing your sister. But just as some folks have really hot sisters, this album has some surprises on the acoustic disc. For one, Bob can make even the most obviously aimless fucking around on the harmonica sound meaningful ('She Belongs To Me'), and that the melodies on his electric material sound just as powerful when strummed on a single guitar. 'Just Like A Woman' sounds very different, sadder, soberer, more like one of those gritty suicide anthems on Times They Are A-Changin' than a cute put down of a rich gril. What else? Ummmm....I really miss the hockey rink organ on 'Visions Of Johanna' and 'Desolation Row' certainly doesn't improve much here...it in fact feels even more boring and endless than in the original version, in fact reaches new plateaus of endlessness for Bob, which is a pretty lofty accomplishment.

But who cares? I bet you you'll be waiting the entire first disc through sitting on your hands (except for periodic glances at the CD timer) waiting to see just how bad it gets on disc 2. Don't get me wrong...the performance is great. Bob and the Hawks were a lot closer to sounding like some hotshot honky tonk roots band than the languid country rockers the Band turned out to be (and you can hear on '74's live Before The Flood). Some critics have described it as being nearly punky in execution, but they're all smoking crack. Just because Robbie Robertson is genetically incapable of playing a guitar solo smoothly doesn't make him Darby Crash, okay? Everyone sounded this fast and ragged on stage back in 1966...it was rock 'n' roll, baby! And this set has Bob waking up as well, to hear him wail on the opening 'Tell Me, Momma' is to hear the young man like you've never heard him before, because this was the only time you ever get to hear him perform live as a young man. And boy is this young man ever hacked off by his audiences' reaction. He not only redoes songs from his latest albums acoustically so the pointy-headed liberal wussballs in his audience don't get to hear the ol' favorites done the old way, he redoes those old songs ('Baby Let Me Follow You Down') in their hard, fast, loud-as-raped-by-an-elephant rootsy rock trappings. Pure. Balls.

See, lots of you young kids get to hear this album in it's proper place, get to skip his later live albums if you want to, don't have to sit around reading old accounts of how fantastic this gig was and how everyone should hear this, but you can't because it's just available on some really expensive bootleg you never can find. Nope. You got it easy. If you have been exposed to some of the hype and haven't come around to actually hearing it yet, you're probably going to be disappointed by the amount of actual 'audience sparring' going on unless you listen through about 15 times real hard on headphones, then you'll catch Bob's funny story and some of the things those goons in the audience were shouting. (What? It's not like they didn't know he did this kind of music at this point in time. He'd only released 3 albums of the stuff! Or had they saved up all their painful private tears of betrayal for over a year and jumped at the chance to run to the concert hall and spew out all their frustration at the man himself? Whatever. I bet they feel really stupid now.) But mostly it's your opportunity to shake your head at how narrow-minded these supposedly intellectual music fans can be. Watch out, 'cos they're still like that.

Capn's Final Word: So if I've piqued your interest enough to go out and pick this up, but not enough to puff you up as high as what the old rock writers did to me before this was released, I've done my job. It is Bob's best live record though.

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John Wesley Harding - Columbia 1968.

Bob returns from his neck-snapping hiatus with a record that really confused the freaks when it came out. Back to folk? Back to country? Back to bearded black and white songs about outlaw heroes? Remaking Times They Are A-Changin' the way it should've been done the first time, with a beating heart replete with pulse, taking out all the ear-pricking preachy stuff and injecting it full of human feeling? And all this directly after Well, Bob, if you insist...but you better make it good. And well he does, as well as one could do with this sort of thing. In fact, I'd go and say that while JWH (with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and Beggar's Banquet, probably) kicked off the 'back to the country' thang in the late 60's that soon blossomed into CSN&Y, the country Dead, the Band, then onward to the outlaw Texas C&W movement and bullshit Eagles piffle in the 70's, no one, including Dylan, ever topped the mood captured on this disc. It's like one of those late 60's Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns (you know, Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, etc. etc.) captured on an LP and giftwrapped for us in black and brown and white.

But you really can't get your point across as a pious, buttoned down, rural bard while slinging out the same sort of wacko couplets and turns of phrase that Dylan was famous for. You have to tone it down, make it plaintive, pious, and straightforward, like a prayer or a wanted poster. So what Dylan does is return to telling stories, with a beginning, middle, and end, just like normal people tell. Luckily his stories are pretty snazzy, what with the whipcrack outlaw Robin Hood of the title track or the fable of 'The Ballad Of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest'. And when Bob feels like being hardcore, he pulls out something like the nightmarish 'All Along The Watchtower', full of more of those gathering thunderstorms and outriders on skittish black horses. It's not like you have much choice but to listen to the words anyway, because there sure ain't much in the way of music going on here. Take 'Frankie Lee', for example, it's simply Bob strumming the same three chords over and over again (doncha know, there ain't a chorus to be found), no fills, no frills, no nothing, while the trap player tippy taps and the bassist dwonks in a similarly rudimentary manner. Sometimes it picks up some, and Bob's harmonica makes some welcome appearances now and then, but this is for sure Bob's most intellectually demanding record. If before you could get all tied up in chains trying to pick your way through a lyric phrase, now you have to follow a story while attempting to keep your attention alert on top of the repetitive folk backing...damn. But, again, these stories are worth hearing, and stimulate the daydream muscle in a most rewarding manner...it's just that compared to Blonde on Blonde (or especially Highway 61 and Bringing), this sounds grown up, like an album a 60 year old would make. I'll also say something here about Bob's voice, which started to clear up about now (due to either quitting cigarettes and speed, or starting a diet of road asphalt and breaking a neck...you takes your pick) and get less rough...only to turn out more doughy and croony. I love his nearly Irish yodely delivery on 'Drifter's Escape', hate his pinched-nose whine on 'I Pity The Poor Immigrant' (which belongs, from stem to stern, on Times...it's really a loser on here) and his new timbre fits this music well...you couldn't go and quack out country music sounding like a hoarse speed freak, now can you?

And thank the good thing for 'I'll Be Your Baby Tonight'. A perfect little country love song to finish us off with a smile. Yes.

Capn's Final Word: So Bob gives us some hardcore Old Testament country and makes it stick. I say huzzah, but don't listen to it all that often.

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Matt Wilson lwilso5@lausd.k12.ca.us    Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: You don't listen to it very often and yet you still give it an 'A.' The reason why you don't listen all that much is because the songs don't mean a whole lot to the average, non-Dylan fanatic. I mean what's he talking about here anyway? I know how it's supposed to be a classic, a "return to roots" or some such gibberish, but couldn't he have made these songs a little more easy to understand? I know "All Along the Watchtower" is apocalyptic (it's taken from the Bible), "John Wesley Harding' is about the outlaw (without the "g"), and 'Tonight I'll be staying here with You" is self explanatory but the rest? Try as I may I can't really figure out what he's on about in "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judus Priest." There's a moral here somewhere, but...

"Dear Landlord" could be about God (as has been supposed) or it could be about skipping out on that month's rent. Ya just never know. Zimmie was supposed to have spent a long time on the lyrics to this album too. It just goes to show you... Some people probably like the abstractness of it all I dunno, but as for me I like to understand what a songwriter's  getting at before I go ahead and throw an "A" rating out. Still, everyone in the known universe rates this highly, so I suppose the failing's mine.

(Capn's Response: No, no....don't be too hard on yourself. John Denver needs fans, too.)

ddickson@rice.edu 

Sorry, Atkinson, I'm going to have to agree with the John Denver fanatic above.  This album is monotonous and minimal as poo, and about as diverse.  And who thought it was a good idea to end the album on a lightweight country
love ballad?  It wasn't Robbie Robertson, I'll tell you THAT much.

Still, it's DYLAN, for Carst's sake, and has that ol' vibe we all know and love, so it's got something going for it.  "JWH", "Geddy Lee and Judas Priest", "I Pity the Foo' Immigrant", and "Down Along the Cove" are all classics, and "Dear Landlord" and "Drifter's Escape" aren't far behind.  Oh, and the lyrics.  Good lyrics.  Nice lyrics.  Different from anything he'd done before.  Still, MUSIC is where it counts, and Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61, and Blood on the Tracks, musically, make this look like overrated hackwork by comparison.  Massively, gargantuanly revolutionary hackwork, but hackwork nonetheless.  If you want a definitive document of what Dylan was doing post-'66, pick up the Basement Tapes.  A lost classic, that is, and proof positive that Dylan doesn't have to be penning mind-blowing sentences to rule mercilessly

Vladimir Mihajlovic     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Brilliant album.I have to admit that it took me some time to really get into it.I noticed that songs were great right away but it was hard for me to sit through the whole album.I guess it's so cause of album's general sound.The sound is the same throughout the record cause of Dylan's minimalistic approach.On the other hand it's the sound that makes this record so special.Simple but effective songs accompanied with very intriguing story-like lyrics take you back in time.You get such amazing feeling listening to this.The highlights are All along the watchtower which Dylan sings way better than Hendrix(but Hendrix has his solos),Drifter's escape,As I went out this morning,Dear Landlord etc But my fav muct be The wicked messanger,it has an amzing bass line.The rhythm section is amazing indeed,one of the best I have ever heard.

It's not a good record to start listening to Dylan with.But when you get into Dylan by listening to Highway 61 or Blood on tracks go and get this one.It will blow you away.

Alan Brooks  kerry_prez@yahoo.com   Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: John Wesley Hardin is eerily understated; more than a (supposedly the first) back-to-the-roots album. Listen to this  album on a dreary, cloudy day and you will understand right away what the lyrics mean.



Clubbeaux     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: The reason this record has a different sound than all other Dylan studio records is that his usual way to do a song is to start with a progression, then mumble a melody using dummy lyrics (as you can see on Under The Red Sky when he didn't bother rewriting the dummy lyrics into real ones) then write the final lyrics, but on JWH he started with lyrics and set music to them.  Only album he's ever done that on

 


Nashville Skyline - Columbia 1969.

Well, Christ, if you're going to make a throwaway album, you may as well make it this goshdarn fun, and good. And don't be denied, this is one album that has 'rushed hackwork' written all over it, plus it's not even 30 damned minutes long. And almost 4 minutes is a live version of 'Girl From The North Country' with Johnny Cash (and some unbelievably awful duet singing between Mr. Growlin' Man In Black and Mr. Nasal Croon). I mean, Cash is one of my idols, and so is Dylan, but maybe it would've been better just to leave it for Johnny to sing all by himself, eh?

Okay, so that's the nails-on-the-blackboard track for me on Nashville Skyline, but the rest is all right, baby. Take Harding's 'Ill Be Your Baby Tonight', as sweet and authentically Nashville 1953 as that song sounded, and push it up 15 years. This is the light to John Wesley Harding's relative shade, the goofy grin to it's stern handshake. Tell you for one, you sure aren't meeting any poor immigrants or murderers on here, durn it. Okay, maybe an immigrant or two, but these are the kind that squaredance barefoot on the straw-lined floor, not the ones that shiver all huddled up beneath a cholera-infested government blanket. You see? If Bob was trying to appeal to our hearts and consciences last time, here he's (for the first time? the last?) appealing to our booties. Get up and boogie to the pleasant country music, already!

And he's a-sangin' sweet 'take your baby to the juke-joint and get yerse'f a kiss' songs as well, just like you'd find on a Waffle House jukebox, where you might actually still find the supergood radio hit 'Lay Lady Lay'. The blues get a little bluesier ('To Be Alone With You'), the ballads sound like pure Nashville tearjerker circa-1969 ('I Threw It All Away'). In fact, the whole thing sounds mod C&W, and goes for the same effects as your George Jones or ol' Tammy Wynette or whoever you care to name. The band is ultra-professional and a joy to hear, especially the liberal amounts of pedal steel (the instrument of the Gods). Nothing on here would be out of place on the Grand Ol' Opry, and nothing would shock your parents. Of course, nothing could particularly say to justify Bob Dylan's status as God of 20th Century Popular Music, either, but then again that was the entire point. He didn't want to be a huge Jesus-figure for a bunch of clinging freaks any longer. He simply wanted to play country music like he liked to hear on the radio, and while you may not be listening to this album over and over to find the meaning of life, if you like country at all, its hard to deny that this stuff is as high quality and entertaining as it gets. Which is enough for me. And you know what else? I'm so obscene that one of my favorite ever Bob songs is the silly throwaway 'Country Pie'. Fantastic song.

Capn's Final Word:  An extra packet of cheesy goodness crammed into your box of 25c Macaroni & Cheese. Cheap, not very filling or nutritious, but mmm mmmm.

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Vladimir Mihajlovic     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: A beautiful album,it may be short but every minute of it is filled with pure joy.Dylan's newly adopted voice suits the music perfectly well.
Get this one if you love country-rock.

 


Self Portrait - Columbia 1970

It seems a bit provocative that Bob would create a low-key, lightweight ripoff double record full of country-rock ditties (roughly half of them covers, two originals repeated in two different versions, two awful live tracks, and two instrumentals), slap a fingerpaint portrait of himself on the cover and name it Self Portrait unless he was intending to con a few of his more gullible fans into believing this was going to be the Truth, about to come Straight From The Mouth Of The Prophet, his Final Comment on All This Weird Shit That Has Happened In The World. 'Sidelined' indeed…Dylan fans were always waiting for the next fucking Times Are A Changin' to come out and tell them exactly how to feel and what to think, being unsatisfied with the parables and obscure poetry of pretty much everything he'd been releasing. This was especially true after his motorcycle accident, when everyone was wondering 'Ooh! Me! My! Whatever does Dylan think about Sergeant fucking Pepper? I mean, they put him on the cover! Why doesn't he 'go psychedelic' and blow our minds with some Big Protest Songs about Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson, huh? WHERE'S DYLAN?!?!?!'

Well, Dylan was watching, no doubt bemused as to how he'd been deified by a bunch of airhead longhairs singing 'Blowing In The Wind' for weed money out in Golden Gate Park. Simple fact is, Dylan didn't give a fuck about psychedelia (he'd already 'done' psychedelia back on Bringing It All Back Home, anyway…wrote the fucking book on it with 'Mr Tambourine Man'), and upon his return put out John Wesley Harding, which was brilliant but confused everyone by comprising nothing but folk and country songs. Then came Nashville Skyline, which at least everyone understood, but still…FUCK!!! WHAT DOES DYLAN REALLY THINK ABOUT THE WORLD? The REVOLUTION!?!? WOODSTOCK! What does he think about me? I've got long hair and wear beads and joined a commune and am currently starving to death and have a bad case of the clap I picked up on the Haight, DOES DYLAN APPROVE??!?!?

 Whether Bob Dylan intended Self Portrait to be a widely-hated record that resulted in a notable decline in his popularity and myth is not my call to make. It sure seems that way from here, but regardless, it was the proverbial Final Straw for most of the hippies, the same way his appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965 had been the final straw for the bleeding heart folkie purists. Now, the only people who really recovered from Self Portrait were the ones who A) got the joke, intentional or not, and realized that possibly there was more to Bob Dylan than people assumed, and that the main thing you could expect of him is to do whatever the fuck he wants to do or B) didn't find this simplistic loads of covers and half-songs to be too awful. Now, I'll be the first to admit that Dylan was never quite the same after the release of this record (or was it that he was never quite the same after the release of John Wesley Harding?), only releasing great albums in fits and starts, some dry spells lasting decades. But, well, he always seemed to do whatever the fuck it was he wanted to do, from Christianity to Budokan to 80's pop. And while he seemed to scramble to 'make up' for Self Portrait with the rush release of New Morning the same year, thus indicating that Self Portrait was actually an honest mistake, he never once apologised for it. It seems to me that this record was exactly what Dylan wanted to release in 1970.

 Then again, Dylan nearly confesses to being dry of ideas right here on Track 1: 'All the tired horses in the sun, how'm I supposed to get any writing done?'. Why doesn't he come right out and say 'Fuck it...I've given you almost a decade's worth of great music. I'm tired of writing good songs...I think I'll just dash off some shit and see how you take it, fools!' It takes a better man than me to really get to the bottom of this mess, so let's just agree it's a mess and discuss the music, huh?

 I'm just not sure it's exactly what I want to listen to, ever…what Self Portrait does is take the lightness of Nashville Skyline and combine it with the easygoing, no-heavy-messages songwriting style that he later employed on New Morning and was taken to its extreme on Planet Waves. Pretty much every song is backed by banal country-rock lite, running the gamut from the string-fractured 'All the Tired Horses' and 'Take A Message To Mary' to the drunken garage-boogie slop of 'Mighty Quinn'. This isn't the accomplished country professionalism of Nashville Skyline, though it comes close a time or two…it's more like Nashville Muzak - faceless and dull. The instrumentals 'Woogie Boogie' and the showtuney 'Wigwam' indicate Vegas more than Nashville, as does 'Let It Be Me'…Dylan doing an embarrassing Elvis impression. Of course, he does a great Elvis impression on 'I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know', one of the few songs on here that actually resembles country music of a sort I'm familiar with, rather than limp dogshit like 'In Search of Little Sadie' and especially the 'Alberta' tunes, failed attempts at effortless songwriting that end up sounding simply inept. I'll step bravely out of character here and make a blanket generality about this record (I see you snickering! Blanket generalities have kept my family fed for three years now!) and say that Dylan seems to be consciously attempting to write in a lightweight manner (ala Willie Nelson and other great country songwriters), but never realized how difficult it really is….maybe there's really something to Britney Spears's statement regarding how anyone can write serious rock songs, but it takes a lot more genius to write catchy, lightweight pop tunes.

What was that? I guess I was just staring at your tanned, juicy, melon-sized love blimps. Could you repeat that? And make sure you lick your lips a lot when you do…

Not like Dylan did really fucking good on the covers, either. Now these sound like they were done as a joke. When Dylan can't even stay in tune with himself (on Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Boxer', actually a pretty good song in more careful hands), you know he can't be serious. Double for 'Blue Moon' and 'Copper Kettle' which are covered in so much cheese you might begin to think your trapped between Renee Zellwiger's thighs. 'Days of '49' is just kinda ugly and macho, a bad choice. Oh, there's also inexplicably bad live tracks of 'Like A Rolling Stone' and 'She Belongs To Me' from his Isle Of Wight performance, one of just a couple shows he performed between 1966 and 1974…so you just KNOW how the faithful longhairs were out in force for that one. Anyway, these two tracks have the dubious distinction of being so bad that they make 'the average, unbrilliant Self Portrait tune' ('Minstrel Boy', the 'Alberta's and 'Little Sadies') sound good.

 Anyway, I'll sum up Self Portrait like this: lower your expectations a lot and you may find some minor Nashville Skyline joys among this lengthy record. Just imagine these are outtakes (which should be easy…they sure sound that way to me) and you'll probably be satisfied with what this record has to offer, especially if you're already inclined to like country rock. Otherwise, it's probably wise to just take it as a joke and move on to the Seventies records. It's really not worth getting all riled up and writing 1240 words about.

Capn's Final Word:  Maddening, mostly because if you look at it empirically, Bob spent less time making this album than the time everyone spends arguing over it.

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Dylan - Columbia 1971

Dylan is probably one of the most totally ridiculous items in the whole Bob discography outside the horse turd minefield we call his '79-'88 period, an album of Self-Portrait outtakes of sloppy cover versions released out of spite by Columbia after a bit of a contract spat.  It's not been available on CD as far as I know, and the records never sold anything anyway so you'll probably never encounter it in a dark alley asking for your wallet. Believe me, that's a good thing...the less said about this rotten fish landmine the better.  Suffice it to say, Dylan sings versions of such shopworn Crooning for Complete Goddamn Shit For Brains standards as 'I Can't Help Falling In Love With You', that one ugly bitch's hit 'Big Yellow Taxi' (and no, I'm not talking about Joni Mitchell), and that broke-dick, vomitessent proof of a spiteful, petty God called 'Mr. Bojangles'.  I'm assuming you've heard those well enough to imagine what Bob Dylan tweening his way through them in his patented olive oil-slippery Holiday Inn 10:45 P.M. Wednesday Nite Nashville Skyline voice with those bizarre Hammond organ tinkles and 'Walk on the Wild Side' background whores. I've never heard the traditional numbers, but I'm willing to bet that 'Ballad of Ira Hayes' (about a drunken Injun like Robbie Robertson or that guy who used to do those AAMCO transmission service ads about fifteen years ago) isn't gonna win any awards with the ever-so-understanding Native American community, and that Dylan himself isn't too happy to remember all the flat-ass notes he sings on 'Mary Ann'. His croon is taken to an otherworldly extreme on the closing torch song 'Spanish is the Loving Tongue', right before it becomes a waltz (yeah, yeah I know, but I'm really not kidding). Would you understand it if I said that while no one should have to sit through this album, everyone needs to hear Dylan sing these buttery extreme Poppin' Fresh ass-inflater dinner rolls once, just to realize he was capable of it? I mean, Self Portrait was bad enough, but at least it was kinda cute. Whether Dylan really intended for release or not, (and, I wonder, how could these not have been, considering all the orchestras and background singers and big reverby production? All that studio shit don't get bought with wooden nickels and free donuts, y'know...) this stuff simply makes the mind demand explanation as to why he felt the need to become Liberace for several months in 1970. Was this stuff really that much fun to sing? I guess if you discover that you have a voice that sounds like the fill-in vocalist for the Champagne Time Orchestra at the Airport Best Western in Decatur, Illinois, you feel like taking it around the track to see how she handles. But can't you do that while standing in the shower and soaping your nutsack like everybody else?

As a side note, there is one Dylan original - it's called Sarah Jane, and it substitutes a crap-ass heap of 'La la la la's for real lyrics, indicating to me that Dylan wasn't finished with it when he recorded this version.  Not that finishing it would've improved it much.

Capn's Final Word: So, you now know what happens when you fuck with Columbia Records.

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New Morning - Columbia 1970.

After Self Portrait stunk up the public real good, the record company pressured Bob to come up with something a little less, you know, controversial this time, and since I haven't myself heard that double disc ode to killing your fanbase, I'm going to refrain from commenting. At any rate, New Morning is widely regarded as a big comeback and even more widely regarded as...well, I guess you can't regard something you forget exists, can you? What I'm saying is that early 70's Dylan is about as popular as herpes, and a lot fewer people have it. But c'mon, one acknowledged fuckup and we're going to ignore nearly 10 years of groundbreaking output? Ach!

Fuck it, I never heard this album until just a few months ago either. But if you can stomach the idea of yet another Dylan tossoff half-effort (started with Nashville Skyline, tossed off and simple but still great, and continued with Portrait, and continues here, be assured of that) filled with songs that, instead of each line being a gem you could go and run around the stadium with for an hour or so, you get about half an idea a song. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're expectations aren't too terribly lofty, just ignore the fact that it says Bob Dylan on the cover. Cover it with masking tape, get yourself a Sharpie, put the words 'Bob Seger' and BANG! The best goddamn Bob Seger record you never heard in your life. One dude said 'not every goddamn album Bob Dylan releases can be Highway 61!' and he's spot on. Some Bob Dylan albums have to be New Morning, but there's room for all of them (not for Street Legal, though, but read on) Come in with normal expectations and you'll do fine. Goofy drunken stuff like 'One More Weekend' and the song the Coen brothers saved, 'The Man In Me', are the sort of relaxed, back porch sorts of pleasures that await you just beyond this beaded curtain in the champagne room. 'If Not For You' is the same simplistic song that sounded so right in the middle of All Things Must Pass, but here it's just another inebriated overaged stripper grinding a worn g-string into your crotch. And, well, I don't get 'Three Angels' or the strangely pious wank (again? geez!) 'Father Of Night', and 'Sign On The Window' is horrid junk not fit for my dental work. Oh, and lots of piano, but everyone says that. Not everyone says this, though:

Favorite song on the record? 'Went To See The Gypsy'

Capn's Final Word: Just 'cos it doesn't sound like your Bob Dylan doesn't mean it ain't Bob Dylan. And a distracted Bob Dylan tossoff in 1970 is still better than anyone else's distracted tossoffs, darn sure. Can't give it an A, though...too many fuckups.

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Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid - Columbia 1972

But it's still only a 3/4 instrumental soundtrack album!

Okay, got that off my chest early so I can proceed to praise this album to the rafters. Bob's only foray into film acting (I think, anyway...oh, there's Renaldo and Clara, I suppose, but isn't that just endless onscreen cinema masturbation? I'm only reporting what I've heard, I've never seen it...hear hear! Hearsay!) and his only foray into soundtracking was for this Sam Peckinpah movie Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (Bob played a man named 'Alias'...*chuckle chuckle*, oh, those dippy 70's filmakers). If only all soundtracks were this good. Since even the word 'sound track' doesn't necessarily conjure up images of enjoyable musical listening most of the time (and here I'm talking more about 'musical score' ala Yellow Submarine, not 'collection of songs applied to a movie rather than made into a regular album ala Saturday Night Fever), but I can report I had a more than simply okay experience listening to this album with headphones on waiting for my baby to wake up and start yelling while laying in bed last night. It's firmly country music, and most of that being instrumental excursions with lots of 12 string and pretty violin. The only real 'song' on here is the fantastic 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' which beats the snot out of any of it's cover versions...it's a true inheritor of 'All Along The Watchtower's shiver-inducing nightmarism. But don't think the other stuff is any worse, really, it's just that only the 'Billy' songs have words, and those words are pretty dumb narration-sorta things telling about how the cops are across the river and how they want to send Billy the Kid to Boot Hill and all this stuff over and over again. I guess I really don't need to see the movie now, thanks. But I don't care what's on the film anyway as long as I've got this thing called imagination in my head, and I sure liked what I saw when I heard stuff like 'Final Theme' and 'Cantina Theme'. It all just goes to show that both a) Bob Dylan is an underrated musician as well as being a genius lyricist and b) most of these songs, with words, would've ruled just as well as 'Heaven's Door'...they're melodically strong, and prettier than the preacher's daughter on Fundraiser Car Wash day. I recommend this record for all the reasons not listed in the introduction.

Capn's Final Word: Some darn pretty country instrumentals, plus one of Bob's strongest ever tunes. What's not to enjoy here?

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Planet Waves - Columbia 1974.

Bob must've been one tired-out sonofabitch in the early 70's, because his first real album since late 1970 sounds like the product of about 5 drunken days in the studio following 5 drunken days writing and rehearsing with the drunken Band. Hey, you know what the Band sound like? They sound like Willie Nelson's late 70's live band, but replace the fiddle with a weak organ and you've got it. It's like rootsy and as loose as your sister, but there's all these totally out of place sci-fi sounding chorus effects all the time, making everything sound like it belongs in the soundtrack to a 70's cop TV show like Rockford Files, or...no, wait! I got it! Vegas!! Starring newly inducted member of the Underground Country Club Robert Urich! Yeahhh! I mean Garth Hudson has to be the most critically ass-kissed keyboard player ever...but the man sucks balls without exception, except for those twoingy sounds on 'Up On Cripple Creek'. So with exception, then. Fuck you, intellectuals. Didn't Stalin and the Khmer Rouge finish all of you off already?

But anyway, Planet Waves is yet another tossoff job for Dyl and his favorite backing band, just a little somethin' to tour behind while dragging Bob back out for his first tour since '66. It's a fun and snappy listen, especially as background music with your brain trying to follow Robbie Robertson's 10 million ideas-a-second guitar playing. (The man is so not smooth, he's the anti-Santana...2 seconds and he's playing something that sounds completely different than what came before, in the same solo. Interesting, but jarring, and I tire of it quicker than even watching televised golf. Or Vegas reruns. Yeahhhh!) And some of these songs are just really bad, like the useless 'Dirge' or the closing 'Wedding Song', which is so bad I really have to force myself to pay attention while Bob pulls yet another cliché love song line out of his nether regions to present to our potluck picnic. But most of the other stuff is at least passable, if for sure nothing special. I was all set to hate 'You Angel You', but there's something about Bob's bubbly delivery which wins me over. And I really like the bouncy songs like 'Tough Mama', or 'On A Night Like This' which is what the Band is really useful for. Of the two versions of 'Forever Young' (yeah, the late 80's Rod Stewart hit he forgot to credit Dylan for, the fag), the slower first one sends me to a really pretty dream filled sleepyland and the second, snappy one is sorta dumb. In fact, much of this record is pretty dumb, but it's dumb fun. Sort of like pillow fights or lawn darts or firecracker fishing. Destroy your neighbor's decorative goldfish pond today! And watch some Vegas! Yeahhhh!

Capn's Final Word: Hackwork that almost doesn't make me nauseous...skip that last song and I don't feel awful at all.

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Before The Flood - Columbia 1974.

My second ever Bob purchase back when I used to have this theory that it was better to get a live album with all the artists best songs on it than actually get a hits collection (yes, I was pretty stupid when I was 15, but at least I was looking at Bob Dylan records instead of, you know, White Lion or Shostakovitch or something like that). And, yes, this has plenty of Bob's Greatest Hits as well as ones by the Band, who were the backers on here, just like 8 years prior. But very much not like 8 years prior, because while the Hawks were a bashing, thrashing rock combo, this Band sounds big and bloated and more concerned with covering everything in stupid 70's synth horns than actually playing interesting music. I already spoke about Robbie Robertson's strange psychotic guitar playing (he controls himself on here and mostly plays quite well), but the key players are very much in the same bloat. Here's a Hammond, there's a piano, then a electric piano twoink, then some hockey game Zamboni background music, then some synth setting Styx made popular...on through the entire range of possible keyed instruments and back again...not a fun experience for those of us who actually care about listening to the instruments, and it's often so distracting as to actually ruin the experience outright ('Ballad Of A Thin Man'!). In short, lots of it sounds like 1980-era Grateful Dead, but without Jerry Garcia, if that helps. But probably it doesn't.

Boy if Bob weren't doing such a fly job of having a blast there just wouldn't be much to care about, would there? He's oversinging just about everything on here (try 'It Ain't Me' for an example), but I'd much prefer that to the alternative of him croaking along and looking at his watch the entire time. The watchword is that the man is having a lot of fun up on stage. That makes me happy, and it's possible to get wrapped up in what he's doing and the energy he's putting out. The Band's own songs are okay, and I'm as much a fan of 'Cripple Creek' and 'The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down' as the next redneck, but the same organ ruination continues in force even on their own songs. 'I Shall Be Released' is sung really weird by, who is that, Richard Manuel? Let Bob do it! Agh! Just knowing he was hanging around while you get to hear this crackhead piano player give it his worst castrato-with-nictotine-damage ought to piss you off. 'Stage Fright' and 'Endless Highway' are sung by the mealy-mouthed tempo retard Rick Danko (I used to actually think the guy was half retarded by the way he sung, but it turns out he was just really into cocaine), and are both just really bad songs. The redneck loser anthem 'Dixie' is sung by a real Arkansan, and is just fahn, though. I mean, the Band have some decent songs, but even taking into account their long history and Dylan connection, why are they continually referred to as 'legendary'? Some things in this world are just beyond comprehension. Like Stonehenge. Or Marshmallow Fluff. Or Jackson Browne.

Bob's solo acoustic set sounds like it's being done as an obligation ('Don't Think Twice', 'Just Like A Woman', which is hard to listen to, how he goes 'butshe BREAKKKKSSSS justlikalittle GIIIIIIRRRRLLLL'...narf! And a rushed-through 'It's Alright Ma'.) Then three more Band songs (bad: 'The Shape I'm In' and 'When you Awake', okay: 'The Weight') and human jukebox of songs you don't really need to hear done this way to finish us off (you know which ones, so don't make me list). Hey, other than all the Band songs, this is as close to meeting audience expectations as a Bob Dylan live album has ever done. The songs are played straight (no weird reggae/hard rock/Vegas rearrangements, if that stuff bothers you), the energy is there, they're having a good time, and...I guess that's it. Oh yeah, Bob sounds really strong most of the time, too. But a lot of this is screwed up bad enough that it could ruin your naptime when you think about it.

Capn's Final Word: Hey, if you like the Band's brand of slop-rock, you should really grab this today. If not, you're better off holding out and just buying some weed.

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Blood On The Tracks - Columbia 1975.

Tracks is the culmination of a lot of things...it's the result of Bob's marriage busting apart, resulting in lots of emotional venting and painful nostalgia, it's the end of Bob's fucking about period where he wasn't caring about or trying too hard with his music (this album is not a quick, written-yesterday, dashed-onto-tape-today sort of thing like Planet Waves...it's meticulously crafted in every possible way) and it's the return of Bob the Personality, like the one we haven't seen since the likes of Blonde On Blonde. Even John Wesley Harding came across all dramatic and staged, this one sounds like The Real Zim. So, in short, he tries really really hard on here, and yes, I just said hard on. And aren't we glad, all of us 10 year olds in the reading audience, anyway.

Okay, so the music here is very smoothly recorded acoustic guitar plus rhythm section a-la James Taylor or whatever other 70's radio-ready Singer-Cokesnorter you care to skip over at the record shop. The songs are nearly all melodic as hell, but also rudimentarily constructed, resulting in lots of ignoring of what's going on behind the words. So like it used to be in the old days, the words and Bob's voice have got to pull you through and they do. But this album sounds like nothing previous in the Bob catalogue (I know saying 'previous' rather than 'else' is sort of a cop-out, but, damn, maybe Under The Red Sky sounds just like this. I've never heard it yet! Have you? Be honest!), it's mixed and arranged for radio play! Wow, imagine that! Not like Bob albums usually sounded like shit, but the day Planet Waves finds it's way onto AM radio is the day that Republicans stop being such pompous Fascists. Oh, don't think that something as acid as 'Idiot Wind' could ever be played on hit radio, but if you ever want to really vicariously get back at a former lover for being dumped, this is the song. Smoke starts puffing from the speakers. It's audio voodoo, baby! Ex-girlfriends get stomachaches when you listen to this song. 'One day you'll be in the ditch...flies buzzing around your eyes....blood on your saddle', oh my God! That's exactly the kind of hatred getting your heart thrown out the window and into the traffic makes you think about! In fact, when I was dropped like so many old newspapers back in '96, this album became a sort of therapy for me. Thanks Bob. You made me feel less lonely.

But not only for the mean stuff like that. That's only part of the story. Half your time after a break you feel like committing murder, half like committing suicide, and the entire time wishing you could turn the clock back. And that's what 'Tangled Up In Blue' is all about...it's the same as looking through your old photo albums and thinking when the hell it all went wrong. And sometimes you begin making up silly theories and allegories to help you explain the inexplicable, but most of them are just that, silly. And they don't help you much at all. ('Lily Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts') there's times you gain some perspective and begin feeling a little better for a short time ('You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go'). And when things finally blow over and you begin to heal for good, all you really feel is goodwill ('If You See Her, Say Hello', as opposed to 'Say Jello', like I first wrote) and then you begin the whole process again and find another succubus...erm, I mean lover. ('Shelter From The Storm'). Love rules. Right? Right? Only one or two songs here are somewhat less connected to the central theme, but they're pretty good too. 'Meet Me In The Morning' is a neato blues meditation, and the fragile 'Buckets Of Rain' is just pretty love poetry.

Capn's Final Word: This is one extremely strong record, and up to the entertainment level, if not the pure blitzed genius of his best 60's work. Highly recommended.

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nazar    Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: This is a pretty good record, but Lily, Rosemary, and The Jack of Hearts is unforgivably boring, and Meet Me In The Morning is generic and it gets old too fast. Also, Idiot Wind is too long, although listenable. The rest is more than worthy of an A+, though.


Live 1975 - Columbia 2002.

Well slap my Mike Love and call me James Watt, but I didn't expect the Rolling Blunder Revue to be the source of Bob Dylan's best concert album ever…including that Live 1966 thing that's half boring and half insanely, gobberingly funny. Nah, when you have only the trashy one-disc Hard Rain to go by, you're not going to expect great things from Live 1975, but there it is…. Apparently this Revue thing started off great, just pigs and pickles for all the stars involved (most past their prime and simply looking for work at the time, but we can't all have solo careers as successful as Roger McGuinn's, now can we?), getting together and playing loosey-goosey versions of ringmaster Bob's tunes in between the picnics and shopping trips for pancake makeup and such. But, as these things will do the minute 'big stars' like Joan Baez become involved, things began to degenerate into ego warfare and a total bummer time for all near the end. Hard Rain got those bad later days when people weren't speaking to one another, and Live 1975 catches some of the wide-eyed early evenings. (Of course, all this information came from George Starostin, so you'll have to take it on faith and try to forget the fact that George is now a fiercely outspoken proponent of Scientology, elective Electroshock Therapy, and the reintroduction of New Coke, so you make the call). Whatever the history, I'm one happy Girl Scout that this album got released, 'cos it rocks.

 I had so many frigging epiphanies when listening to this record that I just have to list a few of them: 1) Violinist Scarlet Riviera isn't nearly as obnoxious and repetitive as she seems on Desire and Hard Rain. 2) If you ever hated Joan Baez, and I mean really hated Joan Baez, her duets with Dylan on here will probably soften your opinion just a smooch. c) 'Knockin On Heaven's Door' is the worst song ever to sing en masse, but it's always sung en masse. MCMXVIII) Bob's incessant screaming delivery is still shitloads more tuneful than his Eighties voice. 1.0223) Striking how this band can render former Times They Are A Changin' snoozers like 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll' listenable and spirited. and finally 1) Those Desire songs are frigging great. Man, do I love 'One More Cup Of Coffee'! And another, and another! I drink so much coffee at work my tongue bonds itself to the roof of my mouth and I can't talk on the phone any more! And I pee every five minutes! And I sleep less than a crank addict anxious about the Gila monster living in their colon! Coffee - tastes better than eating a cigarette!

Do I have any reservations about Live 1975? I suppose it’s a little lengthy for listening to in a single session, and like I said, 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' is run through the Flying Blades of Death by all those B-level moron guests singing so far out of tune with Dylan, who's singing so far out of tune himself that the result sounds more than a little like 'Oh Caroline'. I suppose I could've enjoyed a few more 70's tracks and a few less of the obvious 60's choices, but since pretty much all of the songs are rearranged and jumbled up just like a Jumble, there's still freshness to spare. Maybe not on the acoustic stuff ('Mr. Tambourine Man' is played absolutely straight, hopefully to piss off McGuinn, who I'm sure was standing right on the edge of the stage, 12-string in hand, just in case Dylan ever 'needed any help'.), but those electric tunes take full advantage of the 10 tons of band the Revue hauled around everywhere.

Phooo…after making my way through haggis like Real Live and Dylan and the Dead, I guess I underestimated Bob as a performing artist, but Live 1975 reformed me. Put an edumacation up in heah! Took me behind the shed and knocked some sense into my lame ass.

Capn's Final Word: Live 1975 proves that there are those people in the world who know what people like us want to hear.


Desire - Columbia 1976.

Bob gives us two good albums to rub together for the first time in a dead dogs drippy eye, and simultaneously revisits old roads while checking the roadmap for new routes to get lost on. For the first point, what about the Newsweek Page 38 sidebar protest-story songs like 'Hurricane' (about boxer Ruben 'Hurricane' Carter, falsely accused of murder, but currently enjoying freedom and all the chicks who are trying to get Denzel Washington's phone number) and 'Joey' (about some 70's gangster Bob was probably dead wrong about). For the second, there's Bob feeling out African rhythms here and there, and taking the idea of 'fleshing out a band' to the extent where the band can no longer leave the apartment without dismantling the door, spending most of the time in bed while some weak-willed co-dependent girlfriend consents to sponge out the crevasses between the fat rolls once or twice a week. Thing is, Big Bob is still really Good Bob, and most of the added musicians are used to good effect. The constant commentary of Scarlet Riviera's (yeah, right, that was the name in your high school yearbook. And I'm going to enjoy reviewing Einsturzende Neubauten.) can sometimes get nagging, but I'm almost always in favor of mixing up the percussion.

But despite all the 'bigger is better' nonsense, what's truly important here is that for damn near an hour, Bob sounds like he knows what he's doing. The album sounds focused, purposeful, and well-constructed, even when it really ain't, if you can figure out what I'm drunkenly trying to get across. And his singing style is his most masterful performance since his debut, and maybe ever. He's simply Bob Dylan the Lou Gramm Of Good Writers. He does these neat turnarounds (better known as 'yodels'), he sings Latin-y, he sings duets with Emmylou Harris, he plays his best harmonica in years.

This is probably Bob's biggest sleight-of-hand record, in that the lyrics aren't really all that together (example from 'Joey': 'What made them wanna come and blow you away'? eh? What is this, Terminator II?) and when you dig really far into the nostril, the melodies all amount to the same chord sequence played over and over again for far too long, and sometimes I just want all the soloists to just shut the fuck up and stop cluttering everything up in sight. But after a lighter, superficial sort of non-asshole critic listen, I love this damn thing almost more than Blood On The Tracks, because that one seems (to me) to fit this one particular purpose (feeling shitty/confused about loving matters) ONLY, while Desire is a lot more of a man of all seasonings. And, like I said, Bob sounds like he's 'bout to become Boss Of This Planet, so if you like your Dylan hard core and confident, this is a nugget in the pan.

Capn's Final Word: Critic: It's overblown versions of songs that are okay. Listener: 'Joooooo-ay!!!! Joooo-oooo-aaay!!!'

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Hard Rain - Columbia 1977

Very messy live album from one of Bob's Rolling Thunder Revue Tours of the mid-70's, wherein Bob got covered in whiteface, masking the Negro he really is, Roger McGuinn, Joan Baez, and Venom were among the opening acts, they came out on a huge flower-shaped stage where the petals folded out to reveal Bob riding a 30 foot inflatable labia before Roger set fire to his twelve string after playing 'Jesus is Just Alright' and a corps of Hibbing, Minnesota Hell's Angels come out and hit all the dirty redneck southerners with pool cues. 'Play 'Ballad In Plain D' you devil! Baaaah-laaad!' Man those 70's tours were nutso...

Especially since Bob goes and rearranges each of the songs here to nearly unrecognizable status, as if your father were to stop dressing like a very naughty French Maid. You wouldn't recognize him either, and neither will you recognize these blathering bunch of big-banded Bob hits...just listen to 'Maggie's Farm'...there warn't none of them high twanky guitar riffs or Venture drumming on the original of that one, or else my dog's ears sucked up all the ultra-high frequencies and I just never got the chance to hear 'em. OR The Strange Pauses! They stop for a good two seconds between the end of the verse and the 'and I ain't a-guano worka for Maggie's brother n'more!' Weird, man, and sorta annoying. Or like how 'Lay Lady Lay' gets this drunken sing-a-long treatment as in 'Lay Lady Lay........*cut music* LAYACROSSMAH BIIIIG BRAAASS BEEEEEEEEEEEDDDDDDD!' Not like I mind Bob doing a bit of reshuffling with his songs on here. In fact, I'm always harping about how this or that live album never changes a single note from the studio version so, you know, what's the point of buying the live album. Well, Hard Rain does change 'em, but just not usually in a way I would describe as 'good' or even 'decent'. For one thing, the songs've gotta fit Bob's big, sloppy band, with it's big sloppy backup singer and little, sloppy violinist. And this band is even looser than the Band was, so you know over in this speaker you have one guitar player doing the solo to 'Stairway To Heaven' in C and over there you have another one playing basic C&W in D and then you have this totally useless violinist who hasn't even heard of keys, or tuning, or taste, or probably Taste. You ever hear Taste, with Rory Gallagher? Real good player. His band didn't sound like this, no way. In fact a lot of this just comes across as a sort of sub-Skynyrd Southern Rock sludge or a third-rate Crazy Horse...sometimes listenable ('Shelter From The Storm', 'Idiot Wind'), mostly not. Bob is just straining to be heard over the din and losing any tenuous grasp he may have had on the tune in the process. He sounds like a damned HM singer trying to sing like that! All in all, not a positive Bob live experience, really, even though most of his recent tunes do come across fairly strong, considering all of the drawbacks.

Capn's Final Word: It may be interesting for some of you to hear these songs done differently, but I'm not convinced this isn't just low professionalism involved. Probably would've been better to have been there...very very highly stoned.

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Street Legal - Columbia 1978.

How tiring was the Rolling Thunder Revue, anyhow? This sounds akin to like those ol' rush jobs Planet Waves and New Morning, but worse, because here he's not riding the last fumes of a genius streak nearly a decade long. on Street Legal, of the power and mastery of Desire are gone to wherever musical goodness goes when musicians stop kissing their muse's ass all day, and remember that the melodies on even that album were merely okay, and the lyrics were showing signs of ass-ness, so where does that leave Street Legal? Well it sounds like he's running out of ideas, to be brief. For one thing, where's that strong singing that almost single-handedly made me believe in Desire? Who knows. The guy doesn't much sound like he cares about how the songs are going to come out musically either, so why should I? While last time he was right up front competing with the violins and accordions and what-have-you's, here he's buried by all the shrapnel. For one thing, he's got a really nagging backup-bitch troupe who insist on echoing every line in every song. Add to that all the unnecessary saxophones and organs and production gimmicks and you're already hurting. But that's no all, oh no. The mix blows, it's all muddy and has as much atmosphere as my grandmother's Bingo club, and the melodies are rote triteness of the worst sort, like Bruce Springsteen without the hooks. The entire thing smacks of being someone else's work, either done too quickly or with too much FM music in mind. But it all more or less misses the 'hit' mark, so pfft! Bob makes a whiff.

Despite all these massive weeping headwound flaws, there are some redeeming factors to Street Legal. 'New Pony' is nasty and grinding, a real heavy rocker for the first time in who knows when, and probably his heaviest ever (but I don't know that for sure...just bear with me). Bummer it's followed by something as toad-ugly (and long...Jesus, why so long?) as 'No Time To Think'. 'Is Your Love In Vain' is sorta just nasty and tasteless as it is on here, but with a different arrangement I suppose it could've been shoehorned onto Blood On The Tracks. And 'Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)' at least sounds good, and probably wouldn't feel so horribly awful if placed next to most of the 'conscience songs' on Desire. Oh, and this isn't any sort of praise in any way, shape, or form, but 'We Better Talk This Over'...wasn't this a Kenny Roger's song? I'm being serious here, wasn't on The Gambler or something? It should've been. I guess it was 1978, the year of the bullshit cowboy.

But really, that's more or less all there is to it. The rest is ultimately forgettable and as regretful as the man who's had to shave off all his body hair due to an especially fierce crab infestation. And about as attractive. I mean, Bob's voice is shit. The music is loud and big but shit. Melodies? Not shit, but no more than mediocre. Production? Shit. Lyrics? Bitchy old-dude shit, like he's been spending too long doting on his old wife Sara who left him some years back. There is a hint of spirit sometimes, but it's really not enough, like he was trying (a little), but just not hitting the mark at any point. I'm afraid Bob's gone around the bend for a good many years now, so don't expect a whole hell of a lot of improvement for the next, oh, twenty odd years.

Capn's Final Word: And on a rapidly fading beer buss it's murder. A headache waiting to happen. Street Legal is a rapidly fading something or other. If only it had any idea what. At least it's not disco.

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Live At Budokan - Columbia 1979

Critics (That Means You, David Marsh! Asshole!) get it wrong again with their historic crucifixion of Bob's second double-live release, which I quite fondly refer to as 'Hard Rain's Correction'. Though built upon similar lines (a big Bob band reconfigures old favorites nearly beyond recognition), Budokan is also everything that Rain wasn't: clearly recorded, professionally played, containing an exhaustive career overview, and even includes a free pound of hash in each jewel case. A case (no, not a jewel case...forget about the hash, smart guy, that was a lame excuse for a joke) could be made that Bob goes Vegas here, even though Neil Diamond is probably closer to the mark, but sheeit, mister. If playing really really slickly, without a misplaced note or a displeasing timbre is Vegas, then move over, Gramma, 'cos I'm next to blow my rent money on the dollar slot! I like it, for a Bob live record it's different. He's as far from his little acoustic country folk roots as you can possibly get without employing Giorgio Moroder. And certainly not annoying or anything. Not like the Primus live record I listened to today. Ugh. Or the George W. Bush speech I heard last night. Barf! Or how my daughter just spat up her dinner in her baby bed. Dubyah!

Okay, so maybe Big Arena Bob goes a little over the top trying to sound like an unholy Adult Contemporary cross between Flashpoint Rolling Stones, the E Street Band, and Just One Night Clapton, I'll give you that. But figuring how popular shit like Foreigner and Steve Winwood still is, your ears will probably be quite well seasoned to what Bob does here. What will we more alien to your cartilagenous friends is how frigged up some of the arrangements are. Some of them are downright amazing (the truly Godly 'I Shall Be Released') often as cheesy as a baglady's snapper ('Blowin' In The Wind'), and some just tongue-swallowingly weird (the strangely latter Roxy Music-sounding 'All Along the Watchtower'...odd but great, or the revivalist million-man wall of 'It's Alright Ma', which strikes me as being...just...plain...strange), but rarely are they what you would expect. And that's where the entertainment comes in. See, Bob was never your go-through-the-motions live performer. First he went 'lectric, then this, and nowadays he's like this one man Grateful Dead, playing every two bit college theatre in Wisconsin while fending off heart attacks and greasy 19 year old co-eds who read too much. This guy's smart, see. Dig it.

Capn's Final Word: Probably Bob's second best concert record, just not the one your expecting. Lotsa laughs to be had.

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Eric esweenor (at) charter.net  Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: I don't see why everyone hates this.  From what I've heard of it, it's a freakin' riot.  It's hysterical!  "It's Alright Ma" sounds like it's done with a movie orchestra or something.  Positively ludicrous!

 

Beau Mihalek  mysteryroach69@hotmail.co   Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: I don't have this just yet, but plan on getting it soon as I'm on a big Dylan kick... anyways, I thought your comment about Giorgio Moroder was rather funny. Was it a direct reference or weird coincidence? Apparently Bob once showed up at Frank Zappa's door unannounced. He played a bunch of unrecorded songs on a piano (that later wound up on Infidels). Zappa then suggested he should call up Moroder to lay some disco down on top of it. It's mentioned briefly on the Zappa book Negative Dialects of Poodle Play.

 


Slow Train Coming - Columbia 1979.

So here is where Bob once and for all jettisons his audience but good. See, some vestiges of the old guard were able to make it past the early 70's half-efforts only to be rewarded with a big huge tour and a couple of strong studio records. He began to slide again, but still was at least reliable enough to deliver a certain 'Bob philosophy' even in his direst of moments. Then came Budokan to shatter his live reputation, and then this. Christianity? Of the most damning, thumping, preachy sort? Goddamn it, Bob! Why this? At least become a Republican or an Eco warrior or something....but not this annoying religious thing where you get to spend each song whining about how your friends think you're silly but you're going ahead and doing whatever it is religious people do not matter what. I mean, even regardless of my personal feelings about Christianity, or religion in general (I used to call myself an agnostic, but recently I've chosen my side....I'm atheist. Party down.) Bob often sounds like he's forcing himself to do this stuff on this album. 'Gotta Serve Somebody' is okay, it's about which side you're following, the Lord or Satan (hey! Or YOURSELF! And your FAMILY! Aha! What a novel idea!) but 'Precious Angel' just keeps dropping lower and lower, like a list of justifications Bob wrote down to counter criticisms of his new lifestyle choice. One of the lines is the beautiful 'Can they imagine the darkness...that will fall from on high, when men will beg God to kill them, but they won't be able to die!' Oh, joy...that's really gonna pull 'em into the pews, Bobby. But you know...that's how fanatical Jesus people often talk! Have you read a tract lately? Take a look next time they come to the door, don't just use it to line your parrot's cage. And when on the title track starts in on how Arabs run America and how unfair those darn laws of economics are to poor folks, well damn it, he sounds just like a frigging Communist! Heheee! Time to choose your side, Bob! And when he starts talking about nonbelievers preaching and how that 'Slow Train Coming' will deal out the justice, all I say is that in just 4 years Bob reneged pretty hard on his religion, so...whoops! I'll shut up about it. Let's just say that the average person, religious or not, will probably find more than a few things embarrassing about these lyrics. Besides the fact that the lyrics are just fundamentally badly written as well as, you know, philosophically misguided. Most of this is just Bob spewing out whatever he's been told without filtering it through his Genius Membrane, which must've suffered some damage from all that white makeup on his 1976-7 Rolling Thunder tours. In fact, most of this stuff just sounds like diary entries, not song lyrics. It's quite awful. Except for the song about the animals, that's fun. Well done, Bob.

The thing is, I often like God music despite myself. Gospel? Love it. Exile On Main Street's more Christian numbers? My favorite music of all time. Van Morrison? Fine. And I could name about 10 other examples of good spiritual music but I'll spare the space and my brain...but you have to concentrate on the positive, uplifting, miraculous, merciful side of spirituality, not harp on hellfire and how really uncool sin is. No one cares! Hell's got all the good bands anyway, to quote Wayne Coyne!

Why so much talk about the lyrics, anyway? Because the music really ain't much. Not bad by any stretch, really open and spare, but just not very much going on at any time. Lots of open space between the notes. The audial opposite of Wall Of Sound, this is the Swiss Cheese of Silence. 'Gotta Serve Somebody' is disco (trying to spread the Word to all the nooks and crannies of sin, I see), 'Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking' is a minor blues, 'When You Gonna Wake Up' is lifeless funk...There's some cool lead guitar work throughout by Mark Knopfler and maybe a nice horn chart here and there, but in general the music is not particularly exciting. See? Bad, drugtaking sinner Bob does ragged, fun Devil's music like Highway 61 or Planet Waves. Clean, God-fearing Bob plays this sort of Sani-music. Clean as a whistle and singularly lacking in grit. Even with all this stylistic mixture the interest level never rises much above 'bemused professional tranquil blandness', which, to be quite honest, is what I think Heaven must sound like.

Capn's Final Word: The music is not so bad as to distract you from the hellishly bad quality of the lyrics. A half hour talking to your local preacher will be more enlightening and less likely to result in a headache. This album isn't very good.

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Vladimir Mihajlovic     Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: It's a fine record, very enjoyable. There are some excellent songs like Gota serve somebody,Man gave names to all the animals,Slow train coming.Lyrics may not be at Dylan's own standards but still I like some of them especially those of Gotta serve somebody and Man gave names to all the animals.

I like this record mostly cause of music.Excellent band led by two members of Dire Straits.It is certainly not among his best records but it's one of very good ones.

 


Saved - Columbia 1980

Ol' boy was seriously into this God stuff, that's for sure, and one can just imagine the amount of AM radio gospel shows that were consumed on the Bob Dylan Tour Bus circa 1979. Ever hear one of those? Apparently Bob has, because this sounds like he taped a bunch of goopy gospel songs off the radio and rerecorded his own vocals on top of the fat Backup Chicks of Color ('Colour' for those of you saddled with supporting a monarch with your tax dollars). And what's odd is, as dashed out and hurried as Saved feels (and was...a 'tween tour session, you see), and as generic and unnoteworthy as the background music often is, and I'm not even really mentioning the whole religion thing, this album is MUCH less provocatively irritating as Slow Train Coming was. Bob almost went out of his way on that one to shove our noses in his spiritual choice and what it did to his politics (made him a racist, is what it did), while on this one he seems happy to describe his vacant glee at discovering, you know, his new life. I even feel bad putting it down quite so much, possibly because I'm not feeling as nasty as I was last week when I did the Slow Brain review, but mostly because it would feel like plugging a few extra knife jabs into a man obviously already bleeding to death. I mean, Bob is absolutely at his lowest, most homely, most desperate in all objective ways (melody, lyric, innovation, and meaning are all at rock bottom level...shit, even his singing is awful), but he seems so durned pleased with the fact that he's going to an afterlife that plays like a prescription antacid commercial, further hatred is pointless. In fact, it's just as easy for me to enjoy the backing track lulling me to a quiet early grave. All I can do is hope he improves, because this album just provokes nothing in me, least of all entertainment value. Pass by.

Capn's Final Word: I can't even use it to get my blood boiled up like Slow Train Coming. This is what religion does to a man.

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Shot Of Love - Columbia 1981.

Christian, but Christian with a heart (almost), kinda like 'Compassionate Conservatism'...doesn't actively make me want to rip a Bible to shreds and piss all over the resulting confetti like the last two albums, but still not what we could reasonably expect Bob to deliver even after disappointing us, what, like 4 times in a row? Bob Dylan in the late 70's was simply in a bad slump and hadn't learned yet how to gracefully pull himself out of the freefall with dull professionalism...Shot of Love (is that what the kids are calling smack these days?) is obviously better than Shaved or Slow Brain Oozing. For one thing, it actually sounds like rock 'n' roll music rather than the generic gospel shaving cream on Saved and whatever the fuck Train was tryin to be. The production is punchy, and the band makes a game attempt to roll them tempos rather than, you know, just let the beat stutter and blubber all over itself like Barbara Walters in a fierce, lip-smacking windstorm. But, well, the problem is that each of the songs is about 30% good and 70% generic hoopty and bald-faced mistakes...Shot Of Love may be a nicer album than anything in recent Bob memory, but it's still wrought with half-decent tracks and a sense of aimlessness. Bob's Christianity may be in remission, but his songwriting is still in Condition Critical, starring Richard Pryor, a man who was also any good only about 30% of the time.

Shot of Love is immediately interesting because there's some flat-out secular songs on here, including the clunky-yet-heartfelt ode to 'Lenny Bruce' (who wasn't really any funnier than Pryor, but was more interesting). The title track 'Shot Of Love' could be taken in a non-Christian manner I guess, but the gospelly backup singers and the jaunty lunge of the groove sure invoke Sunday morning more than, you know, hot sex or anything like that. In general, Shot Of Love sounds like a highly failed attempt at mimicking Exile On Main Street, but with hints of the E Street Band at their stripped-est, too. Good song, though - Dylan sounds tough, the sound is very alive and the guitarist rips some nice Plastic Ono licks from his notebook. The anemic reggae 'Heart Of Mine' is raggedier than Keith Richard's bronchus but, well, is just a cute song about having a crush, but the itchy reggae groove of 'Dead Man, Dead Man' is a lot heavier...and less compelling. More Dylan damnation of all the poor souls out here not as 'devoted' to the Christian cause as he is...HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!. 

Though it seems that a lot has changed, it's really less than you think. Many of the lyrics here are just gospel songs with 'love' replacing 'God' all the time, and Dylan may have cooled his hot head down a bit, but he's still willing to take the Proverbial Stick to anyone who passes out 'Watered Down Love' (shitty Jackson Browne-y song) and damns anyone who isn't 'Property Of Jesus' (which is kind of a third-person version of the old standard 'The Christian Life', except with more nasty finger-pointing and less dirty fucking. Oh, and it's yet another gospel-rock song, in case you didn't know for sure.) 'The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar' is a bald remake of Highway 61's sound, an actual attempt at the blues (that sucks, as does the paper-thin 'Trouble'...if there was a more objectively repetitive set of blues songs with so many people playing, I don't know what it is...) that shows that while Bob was willing to try anything (well, anything within his reach, anyway...he wasn't trying to do Jazz Rock, fer chrissakes), he was able to create successfully only part of the time.
 

Shot Of Love is, by far, the best album that Dylan put out during his Gospel Period, but that's mostly because it has only partially to do with gospel and religion at all. For some reason, becoming a non-heathen turned Bob into his most disgustingly repulsive self yet, and this is the main reason why this album isn't more interesting than it is. I feel that Bob is at his best when he's talking about Everything, and when he begins writing songs about Something (Times, the Gospel period), he grates. Add into that a general artistic malaise brought upon by middle age and a rapidly changing music scene and you've got an album that begs to have been done better. But at least it's an album I see potential in...that's a big jump, isn't it?

Capn's Final Word: A better try that has definite failures, making me wonder if he knew what he wanted to do in the first place. The receeding of his Christianity is nothing bad, man. Kill your soul.

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Infidels - Columbia 1983

Dylan's first post-Christianity album, or, if you'd rather, his first ultra-Jewish one. When it came out, this was hailed as The Best Dylan Since The Sixties and all that fucking bullcrap that rock writers stuck in horrible musical times like to spout off. Well, it certainly isn't that, and unless you consider Bob Dylan releasing 8 songs that manage to somehow be almost 100% eventless to be something beyond this world, Infidels is maybe the Most Passable Bob Dylan Album Since Desire. I'll go that far. He manages to put together something that resembles consistency, a neat trick when compared to what he'd just come out of. Infidels is a (mostly successful, I'd say) attempt at modernizing Dylan's sound to the early 80's. Of course nowadays that probably sounds horrid, and all the different layers of fakely crispy, badly mixed reverb probably affect things a little too negatively, but back then, boy, this shit gave Cyndi Lauper a righteous run for her money, doncha know! He's also got Mr. Sleepy Mark Knopfler back on guitars, along with Mick Taylor!! Whoo!! And I thought the last one sounded like Exile On Main Street, now you go out and get Blondie himself! Bummer that the years and the drugs and the oppressive production render the guy almost worthless (while Knopfler, on the other hand, sounds like this kind of flatlining was what he was built for...), but at least the guitar work is professional and tasteful throughout. Bob's in good voice, and when I concentrate on his lyrics, I almost feel charitable enough to say 'the old Bob is back', but I just can't. It isn't true. It's a new, more basic Bob: the lyrics are simpler and less evocative...he tells fewer stories and takes us on fewer trips. He's just pontificating, usually, and while Bob Dylan writing simple rhymes is still worlds beyond the barren Tatooine that is most lyric writing, I have definite problems with his subjects here.

Listen, Bob Dylan hasn't been overtly 'political' since 1963, not really, and when he starts writing hard-Right xenophobic humdrum like 'Union Sundown', a damnation of foreign trade (and pretty much anyone who works in a foreign factory...) in the guise of a lament for the lost power of the unions since, shit, like the 1930s. Now, I'm all for the idea of trade unions, and I think that people need any protection they can get from the blood-guzzling vampires who run blue collar (shit, and white collar) businesses, but this is a bit too far...lyrics like 'well you lost your job, they gave it to somebody down in El Salvador...' certainly don't really help the cause of the fucking El Salvadorian, do they? And his ultra-Zionist Judaism, whether it's demonizing Yassir Arafat ('Neighborhood Bully', 'License To Kill', 'Man Of Peace', all three about the treachery of this big bad guy with foreign-bought weapons who stirs up violence against the quiet, peace-loving people who just want to be left alone, and how one should stand up against this guy who claims to be a 'Man Of Peace'...like that isn't a pretty shortsighted view of the Israel/Palestine situation....psha! Little did Bob know that his calls for peace through strength to overcome this 'devil' would still fail to work 20 years after the release of this record. Israel? Palestine? West Bank? Jerusalem? The Wailing Wall? I say pave the whole fucking thing over.)

Okay, well, I've gone off on tangents and haven't really discussed this album worth a Joanna Kerns. Infidels has a very clean, sterile feel...everything is presented right up front of your nose, and there's very little revealed with further listening. I think 'Jokerman' is probably his best song in some time, a sweet little trip to the Reggae Island (nearly sounds like dub with that throbbing bassline, but it's some kinda dub of a cleanliness that Lee Scratch Perry never spun up, that's forsure. Call it Stingdub.)

Anyway, the main beef I have against fucking Infidels is that despite the newfound energy in Bob's demeanor and the general feeling of competence displayed here, I simply don't care to hear what Bob has to say on most of these songs. Some of the ballads are okay, I guess ('I and I', 'Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight'), and 'Jokerman' is a pretty decent, interesting little piece of machinery, but all in all I really don't think Infidels will ever hold a place in my mind as one of Dylan's better moments.

Capn's Final Word: Dylan tackles political Zionism over crispy-creem soundscapes out of Roxy and the Straits. Not his forte, I'd say.

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Ty      Your Rating: A

Just FYI: you misunderstand the song "Neighborhood Bully."  It is about the middle-east, but is not about Arafat.  The "bully" is Israel; but Bob's point isn't to suggest that Israel *really* is a bully.  Rather, his point in the song is to show how ridiculous it is that Israel, this tiny Jewish state -- Jews themselves only comprising 0.2% of the world's population -- in the middle of literally hundreds of millions of Muslims, has been portrayed for so long as the overly-aggressive bully of
the middle-east.

A quick glimpse at the lyrics in the first few stanzas should suffice to convince you of this:

Well, the neighborhood bully, he's just one man,
His enemies say he's on their land.
They got him outnumbered about a million to one,
He got no place to escape to, no place to run.
He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive,
He's criticized and condemned for being alive.
He's not supposed to fight back, he's supposed to have thick skin,
He's supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
He's the neighborhood bully.

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land,
He's wandered the earth an exiled man.
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn,
He's always on trial for just being born.
He's the neighborhood bully.

Best wishes,
Ty

(Capn's Response: Okay, you've brought me clarity on theme. Now, can you give me an explanation my this album stinks worse than when that ground squirrel decided to squawk out underneath the patio?)


Real Live - Columbia 1984.

Throughout the first 20 years of his career or so, at least after he began doing major rock-style tours in 1965, you never knew what kind of live Bob Dylan you were going to get once you bought a ticket and walked past the scalpers and on into the ampitheater. Bob had his Electric Punk Rock Extravaganza (1965), his Arena Rockin' Tour (1974), the Old Folkie Revival (Rolling Thunder and Rolling Thunder II, '75 and '76), the Neil Diamond Freakshow ('78), whatever kinds of tours he did around churches and shit in '79 and '80. No wonder the guy released a live album from pretty much each of his big outings: each one sounded completely fucking different than the last one, and what's more, you weren't even able to rely on him to play his songs in a recognizable manner.  Pretty much a nightmare for anyone who likes their Bob predictable and sing-songy, great for those of us who like to hear what Bob thinks 'Maggie's Farm' should sound like this year.

Well, on Real Live, Bob Dylan decides he wants 'Maggie's Farm' to sound like 'Maggie's Farm', dammit. Rock guitars and boogie beats. Lotsa bluesy guitar solos (courtesy of Mick Taylor again, who acquits his rather dull performance on Infidels with one that sounds, well, just like himself) and jaunty piano and organ lines (courtesy of former Small Face/Face Ian McLagan, who describes the tour brilliantly in his autobiography All The Rage, which I recommend to everyone. Hear how he rips Lenny Kravitz! Even though he was broke and couldn't pay his rent, Ian couldn't bring himself to continue on a big bucks tour with Lenny 'cos Lenny was so musically backward and regressive! Ha! Lenny sucks bigger Zork than I thought he did already!) that are barely audible, and Bob trying to keep everything as close to the musical vest as he can. He's still in his Infidels voice, not quite an out-and-out whine, but lets call it an un-nuanced squawk that's lost a lot over the last time we heard from him on Budokan. Dylan is clearly trying to recreate something from his past, trying to get back in touch with that raunchy ol' Dylan from the Sixties that went out and burned everyone's barn down with his earth-shattering rock performance. Well his intentions may be honorable, but I'm not clear that he's successful...the band really generates little genuine heat (besides maybe Taylor, who lets her rip like he was wearing eyeshadow and taking big lines of coke off the top of Wyman's amp again) perhaps because Dylan lets them have so little leeway to rip it up.

The inclusion of two languid songs from that recently dull Infidels album sho don't help either...things grind to a Dire-Straits-esque halt on 'I and I' and simply lapse into coma on 'License to Kill'. Perfect time for a piss break, in other words. Perfect time to bring in old reliable warhorses like 'It Ain't Me, Babe' (solo Bob acoustic that rather shows his voice to be just as bad even when he isn't straining) and 'Ballad Of a Thin Man' that the liberal-weenie crowd can fail to sing the choruses correctly to. Eh, they still sound good though, I mean these songs are as much a part of the American Lexicon as anything by something by some old gay dude who'd sing songs about the frigging flag and tying yellow ribbons and shit. You know what? I've gotten into big arguments (and I mean heated, something I'm really not usually inclined to do in public) with the president of my little engineering firm, a guy who probably makes a quarter million dollars a year, about the relative merits of Don McLean's 'American Pie'. I think it's a good song, a lot preachy and reactionary, but still melodic and with that genius hookline. He thinks it's the best song of the last 35 years, hands down. Best song of the last 35 years!!! From any country? Man, this guy is daft. I try to tell him how far fucking off the mark he is, but I value my job, so all I can do is steer him more towards Dylan and hope he comes around sometime.

Anyway, the performance of 'Tangled Up In Blue' has the lyrics changed slightly, and I think it's a great version and the best track on the record, 'Masters of War' still sucks Geraldo Rivera's gay top lip, and 'Thin Man', well, the band does a good job making it sound nice and paranoid again, but it's really nothing special since Bob by this time has lost interest in singing intelligibly. 'North Country' isn't too hot, and manages to totally lose track of it's melody, and 'Tombstone Blues' sounds quite a fucking bit like the Stones' 'Starfucker'...weird, weird trick. Real Live is decent, short, and unrevealing, probably exactly what the general audience expected out of a Dylan live album all these years, but about 6-8 years too late for anyone to care. Just think if Budokan had sounded like this...Bob'd become a star!! Just like Peter Frampton!

Capn's Final Word: Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Budokan didn't sound like this. That's why I'm an unpaid music critic rather than a moron with low expectations from their heroes.

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Empire Burlesque - Columbia 1985

Bob began creeping from total suckhood to a very irritating inconsistency 'round about 1981, and Empire Burlesque marks the high-water mark of this period where it seemed like Bob was game to try some new flavors and styles (lookit that record jacket, fool!) and had a firm grasp on his lyrics for the first time in awhile, and wasn't actively trying to piss anyone off (also a new development), but for all these attempts at competency, just couldn't produce an album that sounded good. I wouldn't even say Bob is uninspired here, for I hear quite bit of effort...effort at singing well, effort at giving interesting arrangements with horns, synths, chunky guitars, and lots of background singers...this is almost a Bob Dylan soul/funk record, but with a lot of those Rolling Stones-trademarked diddles that he seemed so enamored of in the Eighties. Better the Stones than, you know, Pink Floyd or something (don't wanna make Bob sound like he's dying or anything, you know) but still with an overall effect that's strikingly unoriginal and often ponderous. All the jerking rhythms of songs like 'Seeing The Real You' encumber their ability to purvey their (admittedly weak) melodic ideas, and render me confused and unsatisfied at the end of this album, by which time the synth demons have taken over the church and killed the preacher outright. 

Empire Burlesque is just the story of ideas, ones that were probably at one time pure and good and worthy, buried under a lot of horrifyingly wrongheaded 80's production (if I've ever heard a song that sounds less convincing than 'I'll Remember You'...shit....I just never have. How exactly did they calculate that they needed a full second of dry-sounding reverb on the snare drum, while the voices sound like they're being phoned in from the other side of the Superdome? What the fuck kind of person would think this sounded good?) and cumbersome arrangements as to choke the very life out of them. Kinda like, you know, Dirty Work, maybe, or rather more like Undercover, if you like the Stones comparisons. Or, say...um...I guess McCartney II...things go too far, and by 'too far', I mean 'horribly wrong', on 'When The Night Comes Falling', which is the most horrible of the horrible in terms of unintentionally funny 80's trappings. Syn drums roll improbably, the synths moan and breath imperceptibly...it sounds like Kenny 'Fucking' Loggins, if that tells you much. Even the songs that seem more firmly grounded in 'normal' arrangements, like 'Something's Burning, Baby' have these bloinky guitar effects and obscene synth tones to screw everything up. Luckily Bob does a little solo acoustic/harmonica excursion on 'Dark Eyes' (not a great song, maybe, but firm in its melody, at least...if only it were a little less creaky) which cleans the palate at the end....kinda washes that bad taste out, you know what I mean?

This album is by no means very good, and is frequently embarrassing to Bob, who seemed stuck for a way to proceed in the mid-80's. Was he now a modern 80's-pop singer in the mode of frigging Don Henley? I don't wanna hear that noise. It's clear that underneath the mistaken production there's some fairly decent songs here (check out The Bootleg Series for some illumination on that idea), but there's only so much load these melodies can bear. It's good to hear Bob trying so hard, but in the end the ball is fumbled and the crowd goes home drunk and surly.

Capn's Final Word: Adrift in the wasteland of Pat Benatar and Kenny Loggins, Bob attempts to modernize, resulting in melodic assassination.

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Eric     Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: Mmm...appropriately enough there exists a video for "Tight Connection to My Heart", and it somehow involves syrupy-voiced black women, Japanese men in suits in cages watching blue-haired strippers, a knife fight, and Bob Dylan attempting to "dance", or at very least attempt some sort of synchronized, simplistic routine. The song itself is just embarrassing. I'd rather listen to Street Legal, muh.


Biograph - Columbia 1985

Hrm. Reviewing boxed set releases is sort of akin to binge drinking a combination of 10-year single malt and Mad Dog 20/20...you know sooner or later you're going to have had enough and pass out, but the question is how big of a headache you're going to have the next day.  Well, since Bob Dylan, in general, is pretty safe as an artist (especially if you stick close in to his Sixties work, which this one does), I decided to go ahead and review his mid-80's boxed set while it was still fresh on my hard drive.  Biograph (along with Eric Clapton's How Many Long Years Has It Been Since Slowhand, Anyway?) set off the mini-boom of boxed set releases in the late 80's and early 90's, the cardboard multi-disc monstrosities quickly became the SUV's of the music world, high-profit, wasteful, bulky, and ostentatious, and everyone seems to own one, but most of 'em just use the things as glorified Greatest Hits packages with liberal use of the >> button. The fad culminated in the release of not one but two (why, God, Why? Are you there, God? Well, why am I talking to you, then?) Split Enz boxed sets in the late 90's, proving that if you can sell a mass of songs that someone already owns for a price higher than finding the bargain-bin original releases, you may as well try to get lightning to strike twice. I hate most boxed sets because I find them fascist in that they coerce long-suffering completists to shell out the beaucoups bucks for a thick booklet filled with a blowjob essay from some old fart like Dave Marsh interspersed with cruddy 'rare' photos (most likely scanned from old issues of Creem) and a handful of unreleased live cuts and shitty alternate takes of the same songs you've heard for 25 years already mixed with the usual hits and pieces. Hi! I've just described 95% of all boxed sets in the world! Give them all B-'s and pay the money for 'em only if you like it so far up your ass you can brush your teeth with it. Led Zeppelin boxed set? Four new tunes? One of them live and the other just a bullshit edit of two drum solos you already own? The fuck is that?

Bob Dylan, as is his way, is a bit classier than that. Of course, legend has it that he's got 10 zillion songs in the can from his various drunken, neckcast exploits in Woodstock or the barren years of the mid-80's when he produced enough mediocre crap to make Duran Duran and Berlin completely redundant. There's mountains of this shit.  Biograph was his first ever (well, okay, not first ever, there was Basement Tapes in 1975, sure, and a couple of single-only tracks on his Greatest Hits albums but those don't really count) acknowledgement that he had a veritable goldmine of rare material itching to get out to fans willing to shell out $50 to some slimy Dago at Barking Porker records for a chance to hear 'Caribbean Wind'. He'd later begin opening his vaults in earnest (and with great success) with his Bootlegs series, kicking off with another three-disc set loaded with only rare tracks (*slather!*), but it really got started here. Much of Biograph repeats what was already released on the first two Greatest Hits packages (plus what would make up the mid-90's Greatest Hits III) as can be expected, but it's also liberally dosed with rare and unreleased tracks to make it worth buying even if you can't stand hearing 'Like A Rolling Stone' even one more time (and what kind of heartless maggot would think that way, anyway?). Considering it's now available used for, like, $8 and a pat on the back, I suggest that Dylan fans really should consider this as one more piece in their collection.  Think of it as a three-disc set with a two-disc greatest hits and one disc of rarities. Oh, and a coupon for a free blowjob. I guess Dylan's got a lot of free time on his hands nowadays that he's not writing, you know, good songs anymore. (Just kidding! Love and Theft was great, but five years since Time Out Of Mind still gave plenty of time for honoring all those coupons!).

Anyhow, Biograph is split into three kinda-sorta-not-really-chronological discs, the first one given over more or less to his early 60's work, the second to the late 60's and 70's, and the third to his late 70's and 80's, but it's all about as well-organized as IRS tax law. I will say that my allegiance lies with Disc 1, featuring six unreleased tracks including the magnificent Freewheelin' era 'Percy's Song', which I think I heard done by Joan Baez at one time (the 'Turn, turn, turn again' chorus is super-sticky) and his first single (done as a one-off with an actual band! A country band! Boom-chicka-Boom!), the rockin' 'Mixed Up Confusion', which is just as good as anything on his debut (read: Spectacular!), which remains the most entertaining Bob Dylan album ever. There's other crap ('Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar' from his early-80's hellhole, the snory 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune', indicative of just how little fun Times was) and some tasty bits (the first ever legally released snippet of some of his 1966 rural electrification plan tour in the part of 'I Don't Believe You'). The rare stuff on Disc 2 is given over to a lot of live and slightly altered versions of old favorites ('Isis' live from Rolling Thunder, 'Visions of Johanna' and 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue' live acoustic from the Sixties, and a hillbilly 'Quinn The Eskimo' and 'You're a Big Girl Now' which don't shock my monkey much). I've had the classic kiss-off tune 'Positively 4th Street' (which helped me through several hard nights following a breakup with a longtime girlfriend some 10 years ago) on my Greatest Hits album for years, but you might not, and you need it. As for stuff we don't know, there's the strangely non-rocking '65 single 'Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window', which still, of course, rules,  the half-assed Desire outtake 'Abandoned Love', which sounds similar to but more banal than the rest of that album, and about forty seconds of one of those cool 'Bob Dylan's Dream'-style mid-60's joke/classics called 'Jet Pilot', which I wish I could hear the rest of. Disc 3 rapidly descends into overproduced crap like 'Caribbean Wind' (obviously circa Shot of Love, the brighter, kinder, gentler, but still barely tolerable Christian Dylan period) and live versions of overproduced crap from this period that I've tried to forget ('Heart of Mine'...bleah.), plus some other various crap (a dashed off demo of 'Forever Young'), and only three lousy pieces of non-crap - 'Baby I'm In The Mood For You', another great, hilarious '62 hillbilly jump tune, another '65 tune that sounds just a hair less revelatory than the rest of Highway 61 ('I Wanna Be Your Lover'), and what sounds like an early demo of 'You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go' off Blood with different lyrics. Of this rare stuff, probably about a third of it is pure gold, a third pure ripoff, and the remaining half good stuff you can probably live without.  But considering this is Bob Dylan, and the good stuff really is that good, I say you still oughta seek this one out.

Capn's Final Word: Adrift in the wasteland of Pat Benatar and Kenny Loggins, Bob attempts to modernize, resulting in melodic assassination.

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Knocked Out Loaded - Columbia 1986.

I first realised just how bad Knocked Out Loaded actually was only about four songs through. I mean, I'd already figured out it sucked pretty much right at the beginning, but we kept spinning down to new planes of hell with each song, from children's choirs ('They Killed Him') to Frankenstein roots-rocking that sounds about as authentic as a $5 toupee ('You Wanna Ramble', which contains the creepy-ass line 'For $1500, you can have anybody killed', making it sound like maybe Dylan was checking around for the best prices or something. Hell, the guy is Jewish. Which is fine...Jewish people are great. They're resilient and have a cool sense of irony. Nah, I love Jews. I only hate fucking Irishmen. And Belgians. Goddamn Belgians. With their little puppies and their wannabe French. Fuckers. To quote my well-traveled Limey friend Ben, 'I've never had a good time in Belgium'). It was the jackhammer syn-snare on 'Driftin' Too Far From The Shore', quite possibly the loudest, most nerve-fraying drum sound ever dreamt up by a 1986-era drum machine, tearing right into the center of my skull with each WHAP!!! I can almost see the guy's finger come down on that keyboard, randomly spaced but getting more and more frequent, each time taking a little bit off my life. It's horrifying, and Bob Dylan receives his worst-ever musical backing (well, I've never heard the trashy Dylan, but those were Nashville guys, weren't they?) on Knocked Out Loaded...another in the long line of failures he hoisted upon us on a yearly fucking basis back in the 1980's.

There's really no excuses for this record. The sense of adventure and fun of Empire, the professionalism and confidence of Infidels, the conviction of the Christian albums (I suppose), they're all packed up and gone down the dusty trail, mister. Knocked is wordy and artless, utterly devoid of restraint as it just marches on through the tracklisting from lowlight to lowlight. Whether it's the silly stuff like 'Driftin' or the endless display of mouth diarrhea called 'Brownsville Girl' that's apparently about how Bob once saw a Gregory Peck movie and tried to see it again, but instead bought a ticket to some other Gregory Peck film that he didn't know. Fucking A, that's the meaningful shit, Bob!!! Way to show up all five of the fans of yours that still think you have any meaning! Yeah, Bob makes a strange habit of periodic career suicide, but I sincerely believe that in 1986, with his popularity definitely at a nadir, this guy was just fucking up. Simple as that. He produced bad music, worse lyrics, and embarrassed himself seriously. Bob Dylan may be a living legend, but this is the first album of his that truly seems pointless. Even his previous examples of sheer awfulness had some reason...Saved would be great for a vacant-eyed Christian who don't like rock music too good, Times got all the hardcore libs wet 'n' squishy...but this album, seriously, does this appeal to anyone?

Thanks to Bob for keeping it short and including a couple of throwaway numbers at the end that are so much more listenable than the rest of this toilet clog it's amazing...this is why this record gets a C- instead of a D.

Capn's Final Word: Simply dumbfounding. Almost an album a year through this mess? What the fuck?

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Down In The Groove - Columbia 1987

Well, if Bob Dylan considers this ditch his career has been in for the last 10 years to be a 'groove', well, I guess he's more a positive thinker than I am. The best thing I can say about Groove is that it isn't Knocked Out Loaded, thank Christ, but that doesn't mean I'm bout to plant flowers in its memory and go and start the Down in the Groove children's hospital or anything. Groove makes probably a tenth of the gross mistakes of Loaded, but its really just the exact same amount of fucking boring, and I'm still not sure of the general competence level of tracks like 'When Did You Leave Heaven', a song which sounds like Bob tried to pull a Stevie Wonder or a Prince or a Paul McCartney or a G.G. Allin and play all of the instruments himself (I don't actually think this is true, but who the fuck knows these guys Bob is playing with now? Besides, it really does sound this way...) including the female background vocals (surgery?). The other tracks at least do away with some of the more noxious '86-era polyester, though you still get extremely loud background vocals (who the fuck is 'Sally Sue Brown', and why do the Chanting Monks keep following her around everywhere, anyway?) and cheezy synth pads that scream out 'Hey! I'm trying desparately to sound important, just like INXS and all those other yuppie bands who sold a bagillion records in 1987!' 'Death Is Not The End' is a bold rip of the melody from Bruce Springsteen's 'Mansion On The Hill', except Springsteen didn't sound like he was simultaneously deflating his body at the same time he was singing. And whatever 'The Ugliest Girl In The World' happens to be, I'd like to take this opportunity to invite it NEVER to play on my stereo again. See...I'm mailing the envelope now. Mailing it Priority You Fucking Suck Delivery...expect it any time.

I dunno, these other tracks, they're not any good in any substantial sense, but they sorta rock, you know? 'Had A Dream About You Baby' rips, 'Let's Stick Together' is a silly cover, 'Silvio' is a mature and charming woodsy-rock cover (of a Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter track, though I think only Robert gets writing credit...Bob went into a mini-Dead period in the late-80's/early 90's, touring with 'em, covering their songs...hell, he even opened for them!)  I even admit that 'Ugliest Girl In The World' rocks just a tiny amount, but let's get real....Bob sounds like absolute shit on almost all of these songs, just whining and croaking and generally sounding like he'd swallowed a kazoo a few weeks back, and just hadn't bothered to get it out of his pharynx yet. This field turd probably took 2 days to write (or, rather, 'select', since there's so many covers here) and was stillborn the minute it hit the shelves. If you can find anyone who gives half a flying Sally Field about this record...well, I guess you should do your good turn for the day and buy them a fresh copy of Bringing It All Back Home again just to set them back on the thin line of Good and Wet Pussy.

Capn's Final Word: Incompetent playing and a sense of half-heartedness prevail on this mediocrity, but at least it doesn't kill my lawn and flood my basement.

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Dylan And The Dead - Columbia 1988.

Hoooeeee! That's a poorly selected group of live tracks right there. Strange the Grateful Dead would've let this quickie live disc go out with such a rank setlist, but then again I guess the Dead aren't necessarily paragons of clear-headed decisionmaking either. If a dartboard and a bunch of notecards weren't employed for the selection of these songs, then Bob Dylan must've hit his head back in '67 even harder than I thought. Two tracks from Slow Train Coming? What, was he trying to finally vindicate his Christian period by playing these songs to the biggest audiences he'd had in over a decade, thus ensuring that 'the message got out?' 'Joey'? With a band as languid as the Dead in 1987 were? Gaiiiiii! I mean, Jerry'd was still groggy from his diabetic coma he'd suffered in 1986 (with all that awful music he skipped out on in that year, I actually envy the guy. Oh, besides for all the money and hot hippie chicks without underwear and blazing musical talent and endless drugs and undying respect, of course.), the rest of the band had forgotten about 8 years earlier what the word 'tightness' meant, and anyway...I've heard that Bob is a near-Chuck Berry out onstage. A band will rehearse a song in one key for weeks, and then on opening night Bob will just start playing it in some other random key, without telling anyone....in other words, EXTREMELY MESSY. Very messy. A mess.

Messy.

Don't be surprised if even big Dylan and/or Dead fans don't like this album. After hearing a few tapes from the same tour, I'm just simply astonished that this album didn't turn out better than it did. I mean, 1987 shows were never that hot for the Dead, but a lot of those Dylan/Dead shows were a lot better than this. Bob's voice in particular is just abominable throughout, and it's not like he can rely on the creaking vocal floorboards of the Dead to bail him out ('Knockin' On Heaven's Door' is a nice exception, though, at least for the Dead's backup vocals). But still there's a certain *click!* between the players at certain times ('All Along The Watchtower' in particular has quite bit of interesting nuances rarely explored by Bob's regular bands, mostly thanks to Bob Weir's unconventional rhythm playing behind Jerry's doodling) which at times buries Dylan in the Band in '74 and gives the album at least some worth. I think it's probably important for big fans of either group to hear this thing at least once, but again I have to encourage you just to go out on the Further.net live-album trading service and try to score a real album from this period. Dylan and the Dead as an idea was a little weird to begin with, and I don't think anyone was overwhelmed by any of the shows, but, really, this simply isn't representative.

Capn's Final Word: Botched again...big Dead freaks should find it cheap.

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Vladimir Mihajlovic     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: Not that bad as many people suppose but the fact is that both Dylan and The Dead were not really in a great shape here.Still the album is enjoyable enough to be worth of getting.I love the version of I want you and Joey.They are highlights here. Gotta serve somebody sounds awful but everything else is ok I guess.Nice solos from Jerry here and there.

 


Oh Mercy - Columbia 1989

Well, at least it gots style, man...Fuck That! Dylan's first album in a dog's arse of a long time to actually garner critical praise, sounds gorgeous, deep, and important....and good. Longtime U2 sound wizard Daniel Lanois produces (shit, with guys like Lanois and Eno behind the boards all the time, it's no fucking wonder that U2 sounded like God raising the mountains!) and gives us a real finely produced bunch of memorable noises: string drones, slap-backed drums, acrobatic treated acoustic guitars, and lots and lots of moody bass prop up Dylan, who's right up front and sounding...well, better than he has since just about the year I was born! His voice is rougher and he attempts 'singing' less than he ever has before. Shit, quite often he comes across more like Lou Reed than himself (especially on 'Most Of The Time', which almost sounds like a mod-rock version of 'Walk On The Wild Side'...and is the best song here by far) For once I feel like this is the person who used to be The Dylan, instead of this whiny, clumsy artifice we've had to put up with for so long...and that really means a lot. Oh Mother Fuck! is a higher quality product, eminently listenable and quite catchy, and most of all introducing an advanced Dylan who might be able to grow old(er) with us instead of just flaming out in a haze of lite-boogie self-immolation like he was trying so hard to do on the last few records: Dylan the romantic bard of the shadows, sort of a 50-odd year old Nick Cave on Quaaludes, whispering his way across the universe, a fellow traveller, not a Voice, not a Preacher, not a Rocker, but maybe a sort of humble companion through the years. I like it, and he'd return to it a several years later on Time Out Of Mind.

Though the quality control, presentation, and concept are well developed, unfortunately the songs are still hit-and-miss...not anywhere in the ballpark as bad as the last few albums, don't get me wrong, but oftentimes the tracks are just too thin to stand on their own, and all this atmospheric hoo-haw actually gets pretty boring towards the end. Take 'Shooting Star', the final track...didn't we hear this song once before? Isn't it all a bit too close to itself and all slow enough to make your weekend seem six days long? Heavy atmosphere is great, but I could use a little more movement across the radar screen. I mean, 'Most Of The Time' is a pretty great single, his postcard from the edge set to a boho-soul/lounge background denser than the center of the Sun, but 'Shooting Star' is just sorta too much James Taylor-pointlessness, and when the song blows (Bob's two out-and-out preachy songs 'Political World' and 'Disease Of Conceit', neither one either interesting or attractive), the problem is compounded. I like 'Everything Is Broken' simply because it bucks the trend, and while it may be akin to the 'rockin' tracks on Down In The Groove and make use of a fairly common lyrical gimmick (one that Bob first twisted all over inside itself on 'Rainy Day Women' back in '66, a song that combined 60's-era paranoia, a knowing wink to the heps in the audience, and Bob's own personal dealings with critics and 'fans'...this song just lists things that are broken. It's cute, but c'mon....) a groovin' shuffle line is gonna win me over moody chord sequences every time. I've said it before.

Just like I've said the word 'fuck' before. A lot. Play faster songs.

Capn's Final Word: At least it's got style, 'cos the substance is just not here....a great first listen, depreciating greatly over the course of each successive spin.

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Under The Red Sky  - Columbia 1990.

Since I know better than to sit around and read lyrics sheets from Dylan albums that I realise aren't very good, I'm immunized from a lot of the major blasts against Under A Red Sky, Dylan's last original album for 6 years before Time Out Of Mind, and the symbolic end of his overproductive 'suck' period that began oh so many years ago and resulted in Bob Dylan holding a popular stature somewhere between 'Super' Dave Osbourne and The Smothers Brothers....all the people who 'knew' just pretended he'd died of a Joan Baez overdose sometime back in 1977 and saved themselves the embarrassment. Well, the man ain't dead, and this album does not suck. Not a single little tiny smidge. Okay, miniscule amounts. Microscopic.

Nah, it sucks a little bit, but since we're already splitting hairs between 'sucking a little' and Knocked Out Loaded, which sucked so hard they're still trying to find most of the residents of southeastern Montana, we may as well give some faint praise to one of Dylan's most enjoyable 'intentionally not-great' albums, a ragged affair shot through with nursery rhyme lyrics ('Wiggle Wiggle') and Travelling Wilburys-esque roots rock that's just as loose as yo mama please. After the over-serious Oh Mercy, which might have 2 good songs over this album, even the filler here (pretty much the entire album) sounds refreshing. Bob dashes off his most entertaining God song ever (stupid lyrics aside...hell, it's a Christ song, whaddya expect?) 'God Knows' and sounds energized on tracks like 'Handy Dandy' and '2 x 2'. I'm not much of a fan of the updated 'Like A Rolling Stone' sound (piano/organ-driven sound and lots of lines ending with extended notes, like 'I didn't know what to do so I sat down and ate a big ol' juicy piece of pooooooooh!') employed on the title track and a few others, but that's more of an innate aversion to Bob invoking his glorious past on such a mediocre record than a real hatred of the song itself. Bob just doesn't go for any big moves, doesn't try to push himself one bit here, but I bet it was a lot more entertaining of an album to make (other than the Wilburys, which I'm sure was a blast, other than when Jeff Lynne had to cough up a hairball) than he'd had in ages. No, there's not a single classic here, or even anything worthy of a compilation, but it's still more entertaining than probably 8 out of the last 10 albums I've reviewed by the guy.

Capn's Final Word: So he cracks a smile and takes it lightly when we needed him to crack a smile and take it deadly serious....at least he's cracking smiles.

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Spruce  peter.turner15@btinternet.com    Your Rating: D
Any Short Comments?: I am NOT a Casual Dylan fan butI AM a committed Dylan freak.I have all of his studio releases & a few bootlegs as well.I have spent a lot of money on his records & watching him live BUT I HAVE TO SAY THIS RECORD IS SHITE.WHY?BECAUSE ANY MUSICAL PLUSSES ARE MADE REDUNDANT BY THE AWFUL LYRICS. THATS RIGHT, THE LYRICS.NOW WHEN DID YOU THINK A DYLAN FAN WOULD SLATE HIM FOR THAT?WIGGLE FUCKING WIGGLE, I MEAN TO FUCKING SAY.

 


Good As I Been To You - Columbia 1992

The early 90's being, for a lot of folks anyway, a complete rejection of the technocrization and pop pandering of the 1980's and a desperate search for the authenticity of the old days, whenever that may have happened. Well, Bob Dylan wasn't immune from the '1986 Disease', releasing one of the worst albums of his career that year, he was a prominent member of the '1989 Club', wherein a high-profile producer tears the artist from their mid-80's doldrums and gives them what sounds like one of their best albums in quite some time, though in retrospect it turns out to be still pretty mediocre (Steel Wheels, Flowers In The Dirt, Journeyman). And Dylan was definitely part of this particular back-to-basics movement with Good As I Been To You, though for him, stripping down means something a little different than it might for the Rolling Stones (turning up Keith's amp and giving Mick a harmonica). Do y'all remember that, at one time a long fucking time ago when no one had ever heard of Jennifer Love Hewitt's enormous tits and bulimic face, Bob Dylan was once a folkie? A damn good guitar player who used to hiccup his hicky way through 'Baby, Won't You Come Home With Me' and 'Highway 51', ancient, obscure-as-fuck folk tunes he grabbed off some crackly gramophone cylinder somewhere....and he's decided to make a return trip to the ol' homestead.

You may all well know that, as a result of head trauma, Bob Dylan's first album is my favorite of his, and I awarded it an A+ out my sheer love for its audacious, jive-talkin', now-illegal-in-29-states level of entertainment value, even though he didn't even write once single song on there. Well, that was awhile ago that I wrote that, and I might think twice about going for the Big Score on a covers album again, but I stand by everything I said there. I still love that record best of all, and doncha just wish you could see how I boogie around during 'Gospel Plow' so hard the light fixtures gyrate? Well, the Older and Wrinklier Bob isn't near as much fun as the Young Railroad Hat Bob, plus the songs on Good are definitely from the stony-face school of folk music, but there's definitely the feeling of the Old Master plying his craft with command and love for the source material...it's almost like going to school. The air isn't oppressive, however, it's just a lot closer to what you might hear on Bob's back porch some balmy June night after a coupla whiskey sours and some peach cobbler. Just Bob, a woody acoustic, and his harp...it's plenty, really. Bob's guitar skills in particular are stunning...I've never heard him play this well

The songs, well, I've heard 'Sitting On Top Of The World' from a coupla places (most notably from the early Grateful Dead...which is another Dead connection to score on the chart), and of course I've heard 'Froggie Went A-Courtin' from like Hank Sr. maybe, but the rest of these songs are a complete mystery, but I can't say there's a single duffer in here...from the near-pop melody of 'Canadee-I-O' to the boogie of 'Step It Up And Go', it's just great folk song you've never heard after great folk song you've never heard. Let it not be claimed that Bob has no taste...when he's on his home turf, anyway. Like I said, I'd have included a few more goofy pieces to lighten things up just a tad, but I sure don't have any regrets about how the album turned out as it is here...taken in pieces, it never even becomes boring, not really.

Bob Dylan is simply returning to a more comfortable place to rest his bones than the cold, hard bed he's been occupying lately, and luckily, it seems to have acted as therapy. So for those of you who'd like to hear an old craftsman spin a little magic, this one's for you.

Capn's Final Word: Bob returns to the fountain that served him so many decades back, and it may turn out to be the Fountain of Youth.

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World Gone Wrong - Columbia 1993.

Now this one I ain't got much to say about. Just a second volume of Good As I Been To You folkie cover tunes, just as difficult to assess in terms of entertainment value (extremely well crafted, maybe a bit dull, great old songs you've never heard of), that Bob delivers with reverence and care, if not a whole lot of zest. I suppose there's no reason to own this is you've already got Good, unless of course you really dig this ancient acoustic Bob troubadour thing, then go ahead. I won't hate ya for it, that's for sure. There's some weirdos out there who find they love one of these volumes and can't stomach the other, but I say that's daft...these are the same damn album. Personally, I probably won't ever listen to it again, not when there's Carter Family and Smash Mouth albums still out there for me to dissect with my ten fingers.

Capn's Final Word: Bob travels further down that dusty highway...the therapy continues.

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MTV Unplugged - Columbia 1995

Uhhh....this smacks of a sort of selling out, dude. Bob on MTV, mugging for the cameras and playing semi-acoustically (since when is a pedal steel 'unplugged', what about a Hammond organ? Without a power plug, a Hammond is the world's biggest drink stand.)...well, I guess what I'm gonna say about this album is that, like damn near all of the Unplugged sets, is a nice listen for completists and big fans, but has about the same amount of repeat listen capacity as a Now! That's What I Call Music from several years back. First time is a laugh, even a bit revealing (Bob sings some of his 80's non-hits like 'Shooting Star!' and the Bootleg Series release 'Dignity!', Bob's voice is really worn out!, and Boy, am I ever fucking tired of hearing 'All Along The Watchtower!'), but the simple fact is that when Bob isn't remaking his old songs into something new, he's just playing human jukebox. And if I wanna hear a great version of 'Watchtower', I'm gonna wanna go to John Wesley Harding and hear young, power-piped Bob tear through it, not put on Unplugged and, you know, have to live with this.

He shakes up a few tunes, but not to particularly great effect, I'm afraid. 'Desolation Row' is Mexicanized into something resembling a Texas Waltz, but Bob's voice suffers like a Cambodian dissident and the whole thing is too short. 'Rainy Day Women' is ratcheted up into a fever-pitch by the decidedly electric slide guitars and organs and shit, and I like the fact that Dylan's Voice of Hard Knocks actually sounds like it's taken some direct hits from some pretty sharp rocks lately....it adds to the realism. Bob also reclaims 'Knockin On Heaven's Door' as a dread-filled country howl...not as a hair metal wankoff (Guns 'n' Roses) or reggae snorefest (Eric Clapton), though this muscular version has elements of power not hinted at in anyone else's electrified versions. This version of 'Like A Rolling Stone' is jive, though...what is this, Liam Gallagher singing this? Ick.

Well, as usual, this Unplugged set is probably about as good of alive album as yer gonna get outta Bob at this advanced age (his concerts are even more hit-or-miss nowadays than even during the bad ol' Eighties, or so I've heard) and while it delivers the goods more often than it dumps them in the dumpster, I'd still take my Live 1965 for acoustic-in-front-of-a-small-crowd and Live 1975 for my Big Bob Hit Blowout, and Budokan for my Bob Messes Up His Tunes to Great Result. Unplugged? Well, I guess it's good to hear than Dylan's pulse is still pounding...

Capn's Final Word: Dylan on MTV is mighty strange, but this is one predictable live album.

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Time Out Of Mind - Columbia 1997.

Well, it's certainly better than anything that's been released since Desire, this long-awaited return to original songwriting and health, but is it because of great songwriting or production/arrangement smoke and mirrors? Time Out Of Mind is, in essence, a retry of Oh Mercy: same producer (Daniel Lanois, who leaves his echoplex at home) same sound (quiet, smoky, dark), and same themes (losing love, rambling around looking for purpose, getting old), and each one had its prototypical pseudo-hit ('Most of the Time' on Oh Mercy and 'Ain't Dark Yet' here). It also garnered much of the same critical praise as Oh Mercy, except this time around it's probablybetter deserved (and yeah, it won the Superball Jackpot at the Grammies, in an oddly high-quality year in the music industry. OK Computer and this album were both nominated and probably both deserved to win. ) But man, that smoke and those mirrors: this album is probably one of the most organic listening experiences I've had in the digital era, and definitely the 'warmest.' It sounds as if each instrument, each strum, each reverb, is played by a real person. Live, thinking people who hit strings at different volumes inadvertently, who fuzz up the tempo in ways that can't be simulated by a Pro Tools plugin. Add to this the fact that Bob's voice, threatening to collapse for two decades or so now, has finally snapped clear and elevated into a bluesman's groan of such authenticity it sounds like the singing of an unfiltered cigarette up there. Together, these elements serve to wrap up the listener in a cloud of gorgeous haze and mystery that I find impossible to resist. After so many years of albums that assaulted the ears with guerilla tactics, Bob makes up for all of it here.

Now, song-wise, I suppose this is still better than anything he's done in over 20 years, but if you were to conduct a little experiment (NOT that…put the acid and the copy of Bladerunner away) and listen to Desire before Time Out Of Mind, you'll see how limited the songwriting is here. Intentional or no (Bob rankled at the suggestion that this is a 'morose' album), each song besides maybe 'Dirt Road Blues' places the listener in the same grey, downer mood, one that suggests wisdom through a whole fuckload of pain and loneliness. He's grown downright old now, has had a brush with death or two, and has matured into speaking his mind about what's really important to him, death and feeling pointless. A worthy set of topics, sure, but isn't this pretty much the same thing the last two covers albums were about? And most of those old fart 80's albums? I'd really prefer he shake it up a little, 'just 'cos I know he can. Love and Theft, though it gives up a little in the 'sounding important' part, give us just that.

 Please don't take this as harsh criticism, for I've listened to this album probably 10-12 times in the past few days and I'm still pinned down by the gorgeous plea of 'Standing In The Doorway' and find 'Ain't Dark Yet' to be every bit the classic, top-tier Bob song (with a hint of optimism, too…you just can't pigeonhole Bob that easily, you know) it's billed to be. I also want to praise 'Tryin' to Get To Heaven', 'Love Sick', 'Cold Irons Bound' in particular…great songs, each one of 'em. In fact, only 'Highlands' can be considered bad, and that's mostly because the insane length bleeds through all the smoke and mirrors to show us, well, it's really just a dull 16 minute aimless bunch of mumbling after all. It sucks the thong right out of your secretary's buttcrack. That's another big hit - while at 6 minutes, they're pretty good,, and at 3 they'd be brilliant, these songs just aren't built to be particularly enjoyable for very long. They're just too muted and lack interesting melodies of the sort I'm thirsting after. Oh, they've got some, or else I'd probably find this record flat out dull, and I don't. Blame it on the production, blame it on the night, blame it on the record skipping while you're trying to lipsync 'Blame It On The Rain', but Time Out Of Mind, despite some fundamental flaws, is still essential Bob Dylan of the first rank. All I'm asking for is a little variety to make these tracks hit harder, because one right after another, I start feeling a bit gassy. Nowhattamean?

Capn's Final Word: Bob lays down the heavy weather and darkens the corners on his best record in decades...maybe darkens it a bit too much.

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Vladimir Mihajlovic     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Just impressive,after all those years Dylan is still able to write brilliant songs.Love Sick and Standing in the doorway are among my favourite Dylan songs,they are even better than some timeless classics of sixties.

 


Love And Theft - Columbia 2001

Another great, if off-putting, record from the Minister from Minnesota, the Harpist of Hibbing, the Doctor of Duluth, surprising the crapola out of yours truly that Time Out Of Mind wasn't a fluke, but that he's actually putting together the spit and ho-ho's that make up a legitimate return to form. I mean, shit, after not giving a flying motherfuck for, like 20 years, it's hard to believe that the guy is for real and he's not going to wig out and drop Down In The Groove II on us next week. But, like I said, I'm a thankful 26-year-old overexhausted junior engineer/young father who spends his freetime that should be wasted on sleeping writing reviews of his massive, entirely over-wasteful record collection. I'm thankful that I'm now back to the point where, for the life of me, I can't figure out if Bob's lyrics are great or just confusing, and I don't really care, because they sound good to me. And since I work 50 hour weeks and the rest of the time trying to keep my daughter from doing her 'Please Call The Police! This Man Is Torturing Me With Hot Needles and Louisiana Hot Sauce!' scream in the middle of Kroger, it's not like I'm gonna get out my lyrics sheet and Mag-Lite and highlighter and Poetry For Dummies and figure out if this stuff is really good or not. Whatever it is, it's illustrative and provocative, and a helluva lot more of a hoot than the last album. So, most of the time I can't follow it and don't get a good feather-tickle's worth of osmotic transfer of meaning out of the pure poeticism...I guess that's why I'm not ranking it with Blood On The Tracks or John Wesley Harding, the best of his 'literal' writing, or as high as Blonde on Blonde or Bringing It All Back Home, the peaks of his 'impressionist' form. What's happening here is just good entertainment value, and the fact that I'm not taking a whole lot of emotional saddle baggage along with me is maybe a good thing. A light snack, you know? More in line with Nashville Skyline, if you wanna draw a parallel.

Musically, the biggest changes are that we're back channeling boogie from the Buick 6, with probably the best roots-rock band Bob's had in some time...shit, maybe ever. They're sleazy and loose and tight and old school...old school in a Twenties vein more than a Fifties or Sixties one, but then again you know you could still get morphine over the counter in the 1920's. They run that voodoo shit down, boy ('High Water (For Charlie Patton)' swings mercilessly) , which fits Bob's napalmed vocal cords perfectly. That's right, his voice is even gravellier and more parched than ever before, to such a level than on 'Lonesome Day Blues', he could give Tom Waits a run for the border. But he can turn sweeter than honey like on the F. Scott Fitzgerald-y 'Floater (Too Much To Ask)', a goofy little evocation of mischeif in the summertime that's probably about a mass murderer who wears suspenders, for all I know. The lighter side of things is the part that's most attractive on Love and Theft, which is probably just more Time Out Of Mind with quicker tempos and major keys, but the constant smirk in Dylan's delivery is infectious. I'm sure that in a few years I won't like the soft-shoe come on of 'Moonlight' as much as I do right now, but the disarming way he sings this little come-on is something I've just never heard from the guy (maybe on Nashville Skyline? Shit, but he's doing all the work here...no crack Nashville studio bands to wrap onesself in this time). 'Honest With Me' shows us how hard the band can rock the fucking mortar from your bricks...a tad generic, but too toothy and compelling to be forgettable. So he reenters the cottonball forest on the sleepy 'Sugar Baby', it's one regression to the doldrums on an otherwise highly satisfying record that tours the entire spice rack rather than just laying on unprecedented levels of Remorse.

Capn's Final Word: Bob's doing original, lighthearted things again, which makes him dangerous 'cos you may not be taking him as seriously as you ought to. An offspeed pitch that still shuts down the inning with 2 men on.

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