Music Monday: Dealing With Dylan

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 9/250

With The Beatles last week I opened the chapter on an act with a large number of albums on the list. I have decided to do the same this week and make a start with Bob Dylan; someone who has 6 albums appearing in the Top 250.

Bob Dylan is one of those artists that I have had a longstanding history of ill-feeling towards. This is mainly because in all the music presses he is just unable to put a foot wrong. Whenever he releases an album of new material, or a collection of B-Sides he never deemed good enough for general release until 40 years later, he is always able to garner amazing reviews and appearances on end of the year lists. So, without ever giving an album of his a proper go, I already labelled him as one of those untouchables who well established magazines have to laud with the fear of looking like philistines.

Bob_Dylan_-_The_Freewheelin'_Bob_DylanTitle: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1963
Position: #176 (Same position as previous list)

I didn’t go into my first listen of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan with an open mind. Part of me was desperate to prove other reviewers wrong so I could point and jeer at the emperor as he took a stroll around the block wearing nothing but a guitar and his trusty harmonica. When I talked about this it was suggested that this was because I wasn’t smoking pot. While this may appear a tad flippant it isn’t entirely false. While I do not condemn or condone marijuana it is true I wasn’t in the mind set for such an album. In a day where I have listened to albums by Kanye West, Florence & The Machine and Frankmusik this just jars. So I tried to mentally reset myself into whatever setting it is that allows me to enjoy Devendra Banhart’s Rejoicing In The Hands. And what would you know, it actually worked. Suddenly, having done this, I caught myself saying “this is actually good ” whilst listening to ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.

I am not going to suddenly say that this is one of the best albums that I have ever heard though. While there is a great proportion of songs that I think are really good, there is a reason ‘Blowin’ In The Windis immortal, there are some that should not have made the cut. The one that instantly comes to mind is Down The Highway where nothing sounds right to me, his lyrics and his guitar strums just do not work. This is in stark contrast with ‘Bob Dylan’s Dreamwhich has everything flowing perfectly, I don’t even mind the harmonica interludes. The same is true with his arrangement of ‘Corrina, Corrinawhich is so beautifully delicate that you forget that Bob Dylan can not sing. Fact.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is a good album, but it doesn’t grab me by the shoulder with the genius it has been attributed with and, as Bob Dylan goes, I am still far from being one of the converted.

Bob_Dylan_-_Bringing_It_All_Back_HomeTitle: Bringing It All Back Home
Artist: Bob Dylan
Year: 1965
Position: #76 (Previously: #73)

When stacking up Bringing It All Back Home against The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan there is no contest for me, the former is better and here’s why. There has been a considerable improvement in his guitar and harmonica playing abilities, ok the voice hasn’t really got any better but I guess that’s part of his charm. Also there is a progression in the arrangement in the first half of the album with him employing a actual backing band, with there being an acoustic second half. It won’t take much to guess which of these halves I preferred.

That isn’t to say that the acoustic half isn’t good though, as ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ is by far the best song on the album and a bit reminiscent of the older Bob Dylan material, but the first half marks a new step in his sound. He continues with his self-named tracks in the form of ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ which is in essence a random surrealist flight of fancy regarding the discovery of America by a fictional character reminiscent to Captain Ahab from Moby Dick (here named Captain Arab).

Also worthy of mention, not just because it is one of ’those’ songs, is ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. This quick-fire opener is one of the reasons that you can tell that this is a step forward from his previous incarnation as the voice of acoustic folk rock protest. Here he still has some of the lyrics that one would come to expect from him but this time it is executed in a far smarter way by giving it the sheen of a fast-paced folk-rock number whilst still throwing in references to causes and struggles. The same can be said for ‘Maggie’s Farm’, which was later used by protesters against Margaret Thatcher, as this once again utilises a hook and more fast-paced blues structure whilst still maintaining the heart of protest.

In the end Bringing It All Back Home is a very apt name for this album for as an artist this marks his maturation and his ability to tie all the loose ends together to make a cohesive album. With the exception of the overly long ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ this is a consistently long album which makes me look forward to the albums of his to come which are considered his masterpieces.

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