Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Music Library: Dylan (+ A.C. Newman, Aesop Rock, & Annuals)

Early folkster Bob:

  • Bob Dylan.
  • The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
  • In Concert.
  • The Times They Are A-Changin'.
  • Another Side Of Bob Dylan.

I'm not going to address these separately. You probably know the score, but just in case, here's my take: the first one is so-so, the rest are indispensable. In Concert is a bootleg of an album Columbia pressed and then decided not to release. I like it, even though it starts with nearly 8 minutes of 20-something-year-old Bob reciting his Woody Guthrie poem.

Mid-60s poet-troubadour Bob:

  • Bringing It All Back Home.
  • Highway 61 Revisited.
  • Blonde On Blonde.

This is what it's all about, isn't it? Lyrics that are silly until they aren't. Scruffy folk-rock that sounds like all the folk and garage-rock and blues and soul and hillbilly and race 78s and everything else has been poured into it and come out new.

Late-60s shabby prophet Bob:

  • The Basement Tapes.
  • The Genuine Basement Tapes.
  • John Wesley Harding.

After his motorcycle accident, Bob attained enlightenment and became a wizened old man. He wasn't yet 30. The Genuine Basement Tapes is a five-disc bootleg of almost everything Dylan recorded with The Band at Big Pink. It is a bit much. The Basement Tapes culls everything down to a two-disc collection. It is not quite enough. John Wesley Harding is utter perfection.

End of 60s/beginning of 70s finding-himself Bob:

  • Nashville Skyline. Bob's a country crooner obsessed with love. One of my absolute favorite Dylan albums.
  • Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid. Four years later, Dylan's a cowboy. Another absolute favorite, and it's almost all instrumental.

In between these two albums are two I don't have as mp3s (although I have one on vinyl): Self-Portrait and New Morning. Self-Portrait is the first Dylan album that is horrible, and it's sort of fascinating for that fact. Greil Marcus famously quipped about it that he always said he would buy an album of Dylan breathing hard, but he never said he's buy an album of Dylan breathing softly. New Morning (the one I have on vinyl) is wonderful, on the other hand. Don't know why I've never picked that up on CD or as a download. The album afterwards is Dylan, which consists of outtakes from the Self-Portrait sessions. Abandon all hope, all ye who listen to that.

70s lost-in-the-wilderness Bob:

  • Planet Waves. Very good album, but it doesn't knock me out like his best.
  • Before The Flood. Dylan and The Band play a lot of songs by Dylan and The Band. All of these live versions suffer in comparison to their studio releases.
  • Blood On The Tracks. On of the greatest break-up albums ever made by anyone who wasn't Richard or Linda Thompson. One of Dylan's last thoroughly groundbreaking and thoroughly great albums.
  • Desire. Lots of sound and fury. I think it actually signifies something, but I don't know what.

80s Bob Of God:

  • Saved. Not terrible, but definitely not great.
  • Infidels. This might not be religious. I can't quite tell.

Missing: Slow Train Coming, which I have on vinyl. I like that one, too, although I don't love it. There's many more albums from this period, but I just don't care about most of them.

90s - 00s Bob The Prophet:

  • Good As I Been To You.
  • World Gone Wrong.
  • Time Out Of Mind.
  • "Love & Theft".
  • Modern Times.

I need to get Oh Mercy. I'm very fond of that album, but I don't have any idea what happened to my copy of it. Anyway, after Jesus didn't work out for Dylan, he tried his hand as a legacy performer, wrapping okay albums around a few good songs, but that wasn't such a great choice for the man, either. Oh Mercy was the best of the period where Dylan rode his own coattails. Since the early 1990s, he's become a world-weary folk blues guy who works up some rock steam, somewhere between Mississippi John Hurt and John Fogerty. It's not a bad fit for him. The first two solely consist of acoustic interpretations of traditional tunes. The other three are fairly creative reworkings of old blues songs into something new and surprising.

Bootleg Bob:

  • The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1 - 3: Rare and Unreleased, 1961-1991.
  • The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert.

The first Bootleg Series release is a fascinating box set of outtakes. Your fascination levels may vary, depending on how much you like Dylan. Actually, for me, the third disc, with all the crap from the 80s, is much like the 80s releases: yawn, yawn, yawn. The second release (Vol. 4) is the famously misnamed Royal Albert Hall Concert bootleg, which actually was recorded in Manchester, where Dylan rocks hard while being heckled by his more conservative audience. The story behind this concert is such a great mythmaking story that it seems too good to be true. But here's the proof that it exists, plus the footage of said concert in the stunning Martin Scorcese documentary No Direction Home. Wanted: the remaining Bootleg Series albums.

After listening to all this Dylan, I find it hard to believe that he's human, let alone a single person. Of course, his humanity isn't in doubt; it's what makes his musical output so amazing. The contradictions of his life and legend, though, leave me with a strong urge to rewatch I'm Not There.


Edit: Hola to my visitors from Expecting Rain. If I'd know you were going to drop by, I would have tried to write something a little more eloquent about The Man. As a little gift, here's something I wrote last Fall about Dylan in the movies for The Screengrab, which is's film blog.


Bonus! Fake Dylan - Dylan Hears A Who!

A few years ago a smart-ass in Houston recorded a bunch of Dr. Seuss stories in the style of mid-60s Dylan and put them on the web. Dr. Seuss's estate was unamused and issued a cease-and-desist letter, which is a shame. These recordings are dead-on impressions of Bringing It All Back Home through Blonde On Blonde style and Dr. Seuss's lyrics have a definite affinity with Dylan's High Surrealism period. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky many who downloaded the songs in time.

Here's Salon on the now-defunct Dylan Hears A Who site.

PLUS! Catch-up:

A.C. Newman - Get Guilty. Newman's new album, like his last, sounds an awful lot like his main project The New Pornographers. And that's not a bad thing at all.

Aesop Rock - Bazooka Tooth. It takes me a while to really figure out how much I like hip-hop albums because it takes me a long time to parse the words from the beats. The sound of this album is great, though.

Annuals - Be He Me. I avoided this band for over two years because its reviews were almost uniformly awful. Awfully written, I mean. None of them panned the music; on the contrary, most asserted the strength of the sound and the songs and the youth of the songwriter (who was 19 or 20 when the album dropped in late 2006). Almost all of them mentioned The Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, and Animal Collective. And I think they were all a little short-sighted. The Arcade Fire may be a touchstone for the Annuals, but there's very little of the overwrought anthemic Springsteen working-class heroics. Animal Collective is even further off: the Annuals rarely build their songs on the loops of bucolic electronic pantheism that power Animal Collective. The lead guy screams a little bit and loops some incidental Moog blips & bloops, but the songs are clearly built on guitar and piano chords. Broken Social Scene is closer, but BSS has such an ethereal take on their songs that they always sound on the verge of falling apart. The Annuals sound better structured than that. Although this is clearly folksy indie rock with mildly psychedelic noise, it's the kitchen-sink sound of Brian Wilson and the Flaming Lips that drives this album. They put out a second album last year; I'll check it out sometime.


Anonymous 8:06 AM, February 06, 2009  

Well I dropped in via expectingrain and I enjoyed your comments, and find myself mostly in agreement, although the bits you're missing are all within my collection so colour me obsessive. Frankly, it's all spoton which is most unusual. Will visit again.

Hayden Childs 10:27 AM, February 06, 2009  

Thanks, Anon! Listening to little other than Dylan for a couple of weeks was quite a treat. His music has been such a big part of my life that I forget sometimes just how extraordinary it is.

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