30 Jan 2012

Bob Dylan In The Sixties - Beginner's Guide

With a catalogue the size of Dylan's it's pretty hard to know where to start for the uninitiated, so hopefully this'll help someone out. I'll be taking a look at his back catalogue, album by album, starting today with the sixties.

Bob Dylan ( 1962 )
Still very much in thrall to Woody Guthrie, this set is mostly made up of enthusiastically performed covers of blues and folk material. Recorded over two 3 hour sessions, this gives you a pretty good idea of what the young Dylan would have been like live at this very early point in his career. It's particularly surprising to hear how gritty his performances of the old blues standards are, especially as Dylan was only 20 when this was recorded. Of the two originals, Talkin' New York is a pleasant enough talkin' blues, while Song to Woody points to where his songwriting would soon be heading. ( 6/10 ) BUY IT HERE

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan ( 1963 )
A massive step forward in terms of songwriting and performance confidence, with only one cover. With iconic protest songs like Blowin' In the Wind, Masters of War and A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, this was always going to be a well remembered album, but Dylan's softer side is shown for the first time too with Girl from the North Country and Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.  Side two tapers off a little towards the end, but it's got stiff competition from the material on Side One, and compared to other folk albums of the period this is peerless and assured stuff. ( 8/10 ) BUY IT HERE

The Times They Are A Changin' ( 1964 )
A much angrier protest album than Freewheelin' this is a little more difficult a listen, but full of rewarding stuff. The Ballad of Hollis Brown and North Country Blues are some of the darkest songs in Dylan's catalogue. Grim stuff, but full credit to Dylan for saying what he thought needed to be said. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll has some wonderful wordplay and impressive attention to detail. There's also room for Boots of Spanish Leather, one of Dylan's loveliest ballads, and the thoughtful Restless Farewell shows even more growth. ( 8/10 ) BUY IT HERE

Another Side of Bob Dylan ( 1964 )
Another big step forward for Dylan, and a step away from his protest persona. Impressively recorded in one long red wine fuelled evening session, this features a number of songs with Dylan on piano, and as suggested by the title is quite a departure for Dylan. Chimes of Freedom and My Back Pages show an increased interest in surrealism and Motorpsycho Nitemare and I Shall Be Free No. 10 show a gift for slapstick. All I Really Want to Do was Dylan's poppiest moment so far, as evidenced by covers from everyone from the Byrds to Sonny & Cher. Lots of amazing tracks here, but for some reason it doesn't really gel as an album. ( 7/10 ) BUY IT HERE

The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 : Live 1964 - Concert at Philharmonic Hall 
This has got an amazing reputation, but doesn't do much for me in all honesty. Granted Dylan is charming , relaxed and confident throughout, but there's not really anything essential here. The arrangements are so similar to their studio counterparts that they don't really offer anything new. I would have rather seen a release of the shelved In Concert album, recorded in 1962 which features a number of tracks not released officially elsewhere. I've no doubt this would have been a great show to be at, but on disc there's just not enough to differentiate it from the studio albums preceding it. Otherwise, this is a pretty good alternative snapshot of his work up to this point for those that don't want to own the studio albums, although I'd always recommend them first. ( 5/10 ) BUY IT HERE

Bringing It All Back Home ( 1965 )
Dylan's first great album with one side of acoustic and one side of electric material. The rollicking Subterranean Homesick Blues and Maggie's Farm make great use of the rhythm section, while Love Minus Zero/ No Limit and She Belongs to Me are more introspective gems. The acoustic side is gold all the way through with Mr Tambourine Man, It's All Over Now Baby Blue and It's Alright Ma showing just how far Dylan had come. ( 10/10 ) BUY IT HERE

Highway 61 Revisited ( 1965 )
Dylan's first fullblown rock album may have been a little controversial at the time, but is one of his masterpieces. Al Kooper's keyboards and Mike Bloomfield's guitars help make this Dylan's most raucous rock n roll album. Dylan's already proven that he's at his most eloquent when he's angry and Like A Rolling Stone and Ballad of a Thin Man may be the best examples of this, while Desolation Row shows that he hasn't lost his poetic touch. A fantastic, visceral rock n roll album. ( 10/10 ) BUY IT HERE

Blonde On Blonde ( 1966)
Dylan's first double album, and quite possibly his best. In his words : "The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on Blonde On Blonde. It's that thin, wild mercury sound. Its metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up". Refining the sound of Highway 61, this has it's fair share of boisterous rock n roll numbers, but also finds room for the likes of I Want You ( as close as Dylan ever got to pop ), and the swooning, gorgeous Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.  ( 10/10 ) BUY IT HERE

The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 : Live 1966 - The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert
One of Dylan's most impressive officially released live albums, this catches Dylan at the point where he was getting grief from a large amount of his fans for abandoning folk music in favor of rock n roll. As a result he'd perform two sets on this tour, one solo acoustic set to keep this part of the crowd placated, and one fired up full band set which could be hit and miss depending on the night, but is firing on all cylinders for this show. Dylan's obsession with reworking his material began on this tour too, with previously gentle acoustic gems like One Too Many Mornings given the full band treatment. There's also a wonderful sparse solo version of Visions of Johanna which is particularly memorable. Excellent. ( 9/10 ) BUY IT HERE

John Wesley Harding ( 1967 )
Dylan totally reinvents himself again with this album, abandoning the rock approach of the previous couple of years, in favor of a stripped back acoustic three piece sound ( with added steel guitar on the last few tracks ). In doing so he helped kick start the country rock movement along with the Byrds. Lyrically this is very different as well, with many songs inspired by biblical allegories. This is pretty unique in Dylan's catalogue and a favorite of mine. The Wicked Messenger and I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine are highlights of this very consistent effort, also the home of the original versions of the much covered All Along The Watchtower and I'll Be Your Baby Tonight. ( 9/10 ) BUY IT HERE

Nashville Skyline ( 1969 )
This is one that gets mixed reviews, but is a lot of fun if approached with the right expectations. Lyrically very lightweight compared to Dylan's normal output, this is an entertaining country album with some pleasant steel guitar and top notch session work from a bunch of Nashville pro's. Dylan's voice has never sounded better either - it's hard to believe this was the same voice that was responsible for Like A Rolling Stone. Main single Lay Lady Lay gives you a good idea of what to expect. He sounds as relaxed as he looks on the cover. This is Dylan the entertainer rather than Dylan the spokesperson for a generation ( which is a tag he hated anyway ). ( 7/10 ) BUY IT HERE

1 comment:

  1. thanks agree mostly with what you have said. only to add that the 1963 carnegie hall show should have been released as part of the bootleg series instead of the drunken sloppy Philharmonic Hall concert.also you have not mentioned the basement tapes sessions of 1967