Saturday, 22 July 2017

Bob Dylan album by album

To do: Update links to Spotify. Put in scores and links to AllMusic and Wikipedia.  March 2019

"Play it fucking loud"

I’m gonna let you pass
Yes, and I’ll go last
Then time will tell who has fell
And who’s been left behind
When you go your way and I go mine

Dylan has gone his way all his life, and is the most important song-writer not just of his generation, not even just of the 20th century, but of all time.  His influence is almost incalculable.  

I have seen him live twice. First time was in the Seventies at Blackbushe Airport in front of an immense crowd when he was riding on the crest of his second wave of popularity and creative energy. He was probably at his peak of popularity then, because he was able to command much greater audiences than when he toured the UK in the Sixties.  But the Sixties was his main creative period, and the point at which he commanded the attention of the world, and changed the face of music forever. That would have been the time to see him. I saw him again recently, at Bournemouth, on his Never Ending Tour. A low key event. He tours now, turning up at odd venues all over the world, and people don't even notice. We spent the day in Bournemouth, and would occasionally get chatting to people - "And what are you doing in Bournemouth today?" - "We're hear to see Bob Dylan" - "Oh, he's playing here today? I didn't know."  He played a set of his own songs mixed in with a lot of covers of old crooner songs. He was dressed like a crooner. And he didn't say a single word to the audience. Not even hello or goodbye! 

Having listened chronologically to all the music  his creative periods fall into three periods - the Sixties is his main period, and is the essential Dylan; from The  Freewheelin' Dylan in 1963 through to Blonde on Blonde in 1966 he produced a body of work that stands as among the greatest artistic work of mankind. After the strains of his 1966 tour of England, he withdrew both physically and creatively, using a mysterious motorbike accident as his excuse.  He then released a series of  somewhat off the cuff, weird, or highly individual albums - he appears in this period to be rejecting his image and status, experiencing huge personal issues with how has been perceived by the public, the press, and the music industry.  The first of these, John Wesley Harding in 1967, was thrown together quickly by a scratch band Dylan pulled together at the last minute. I like it - it's odd, light, quirky, and quite gently rejects his image: "Nothing is revealed".  During this period Dylan was also (initially) trying to record a proper Dylan album with The Band, but it appears that he didn't feel comfortable revealing his serious work to the critics, and it was only during his resurgence in the mid Seventies that he felt confident to have some of the recordings released as The Basement Tapes. The mid Seventies resurgence  began in 1974 when he changed record labels and got together again with The Band to tour for the first time since 1966. The album of that tour, Before The Flood, was well received, though also gained the criticism and complaints that Dylan seems to have experienced too much during his career. The first attempt at a serious album, Planet Waves, with The Band, didn't quite work, but returning to old record label, and pulling together new musicians, Dylan released the extraordinary Blood On The Tracks, again railing against the critics and the image created around him, but this time in very confident and assured manner. The follow up album, Desire, was a lesser album but was also solid, but he began to trail off with Street Legal in 1978, and then again entered a troubled period with the first of his Christian albums, 1979's Slow Train Coming.  The Eighties is Dylan's worse period, and after a series of patchy albums, in which his own contributions were becoming fewer and fewer, his creativity completely dried up and by 1992 he had withdrawn into releasing comforting albums of covers, and it's not until 1997 that he recovers his confidence enough to return to song-writing. He now enters his third creative period - his mature period, starting with 1992's Time Out of Mind.


Bob Dylan (/ˈdɪlən/; born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) is an American poetic songwriter, singer, painter, writer, and Nobel Prize laureate. He has been influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when he became a reluctant "voice of a generation" with songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'", which became anthems for the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement. Leaving behind his initial base in the American folk music revival, his six-minute single "Like a Rolling Stone", recorded in 1965, enlarged the range of popular music.
Dylan's lyrics incorporate a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture. Initially inspired by the performances of Little Richard and the songwriting of Woody GuthrieRobert Johnson, and Hank Williams, Dylan has amplified and personalized musical genres. His recording career, spanning more than 50 years, has explored the traditions in American song—from folkblues, and country to gospelrock and roll, and rockabilly to EnglishScottish, and Irish folk music, embracing even jazz and the Great American Songbook. Dylan performs with guitar, keyboards, and harmonica. Backed by a changing lineup of musicians, he has toured steadily since the late 1980s on what has been dubbed the Never Ending Tour. His accomplishments as a recording artist and performer have been central to his career, but his songwriting is considered his greatest contribution. Since 1994, Dylan has also published seven books of drawings and paintings, and his work has been exhibited in major art galleries.
As a musician, Dylan has sold more than 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He has also received numerous awards including eleven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award. Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of FameMinnesota Music Hall of FameNashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Pulitzer Prize jury in 2008 awarded him a special citation for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." In May 2012, Dylan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. In 2016, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".

A Spotify account is needed to play the music in the links. Selected "Bootleg" and other relevant albums are inserted where appropriate in the order they were recorded rather than released, as valuable background information. The Basement Tapes, however, is placed at the date of release, as that release was in itself significant. 

Bob Dylan (1962)
Covers of traditional folk songs plus two original Dylan songs. There's an appealing sardonic energy about the delivery, and "Talkin' New York" indicates the promise of the young man. Culturally interesting as his debut, and showing where he was coming from.

The Witmark Demos (2010)  
This a collection of 47 song demos for the music publisher Witmark & Sons recorded mainly in 1962 and 1963. The demos were never intended for public release, but simply to sell Dylan's songs to other artists. The collection was officially released in 2010. The songs are mainly of historical curiosity. The best songs, like Blowin' In The Wind, were released on Freewheelin', and hearing them here in a crude and casual format (Dylan coughs part way through Blowin') is again just a historical curiosity. This is mainly of academic interest, but I get a chill listening so intimately to the earliest recording of It's A Hard Rain..... this is history being made.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) 
Wow! What a leap forward in one year. Even the cover is a leap forward - a picture that is so iconic compared to one that is so cheap and geeky.
All the songs here are Dylan's, and include "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and "Blowin' in the Wind".  Phew.

Live at Carnegie Hall 1963 (2005)
This album is the remaining six songs unpublished (officially) from an acclaimed concert in which he performed a number of the songs from Freewheelin.

The Times They Are a-Changin' (Jan 1964)
This is Dylan starting to be self-aware and self-reflective, and moving his song-writing away from folk into a broader literary feel. As a result the songs here are a little ponderous, a little lacking in humour, and a bit too self-consciously "weighty". But these are quibbles, as this is again a movement foward. It's not as immediate, poppy, likeable and stunning as Freewheelin', but is dourly impressive and worthy.  Most folks would put this album in a Dylan Top Ten, but not in a Dylan Top Five.

Another Side of Bob Dylan (Aug 1964)
This is more recognisably Dylan than The Times - there's flashing images, sardonic humour, self-reflection, critical jibes at those who have expectations of Dylan, and a lighter, more poppy feel.  Critical reception has been mixed, with a general feeling that this was a transitional album. Though, oddly, most of his albums are transitional. The one constant with Dylan is that he changes - he seems to be in an almost constant state of transition, and critics seem to be in an almost constant state of trying to catch up. 

Live 1964 (2004)
A full concert, well recorded, of acoustic Dylan. In his early career he often performed with Joan Baez, and she is present on several tracks on the album. This is a good example of the late acoustic Dylan live in concert shortly before he went electric and the world changed.

Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965)
Dylan's first electric album - side one is electric, side two is mainly acoustic. This is recognisably the Dylan most folks know. This album is in the top five of most Dylan lists.

Highway 61 Revisited (Aug 1965)
O my fucking gawd! What a stunning album this is. It kicks off with Like A Rolling Stone, and a new world has just opened up. He combines folk, soul, pop and rock music, he takes protest songs and personal songs and stream of consciousness songs, and several literary styles and devices and mixes them together in a way never done before, and that nobody had thought of. Yes, of course, there were protests. But, yes, of course, this album is amongst his most acclaimed, and amongst the most acclaimed of any artist. This is human achievement at its greatest.  "Voice of a Generation" and "Nobel Prize Laureate" both. 

Live 1966 (1998)
Dylan going electric was a controversial issue that created  a negative reaction from some folks, who heckled Dylan during his 1966 world tour, which he went on after recording Blonde on Blonde, which had not yet been released, though Dylan was playing some of the songs that would appear on that album. The most famous incident occurred during a concert at Manchester, that had wrongly (or deliberately) been ascribed to the Royal Albert Hall on the famous bootleg of the concert. Just before the last song, someone shouted "Judas". Dylan was disturbed by this. He paused then shouted "I don't believe you." Thought about it a good while longer then adds: "You're a liar." Turning to his band he then says the best rock and roll sentence ever: "Play it fucking loud" and the band go into a searing version of "Like A Rolling Stone". It is probably the most famous and compelling moment in rock history. This album is that concert.  The first half is acoustic, the second is electric. Both sides are sublime.  

(All the audience comments have been removed from this Spotify version - here's a film of the incident.)

Blonde on Blonde (July 1966)
This is "my" Dylan album. The first Dylan album I owned, and the first I really got into. I have loved it over the years, and I am reluctant to concede its number one spot in my heart to any other Dylan album, though Blood On The Tracks, Highway 61, and Freewheelin' are all contenders these days.....

The Cutting Edge (2015)
Alternative takes and a few unreleased songs from 1965-1966, the end of Dylan's core creative period. Of interest to Dylan students, fans and critics, but others can safely by-pass this as the essential material is on the albums that were released at the time.

John Wesley Harding (Dec 1967)
I love this album. This was for years my second favourite Dylan album. It is kinda special in a sparse, quiet, poetic way..... This was Dylan's first release after his mysterious motorcycle accident which saw him withdraw from the public for nearly 18 months. There is speculation that he withdrew more because he was stressed and unhappy after the 1966 tour in which he had been booed and heckled, than because of any accident. Much of what he recorded with The Band during this withdrawal period would be officially released in 1974 as The Basement Tapes. But this album was not part of what he recorded with The Band. This was a spontaneous moment when he took himself off to Nashville, quickly wrote some songs, and in a few days had recorded this semi-acoustic album. It sounds fresh and light and spontaneous. This isn't stuff he's worked over and pondered - this is magic fairy music. Stuff that dreams are made of.

Nashville Skyline (1969)

Dylan's country album. This is probably his oddest album - it doesn't sound like Dylan at all. Not in the voice, the music, the lyrics, or the attitude.  It's a a pleasant album with some pleasant songs, but - hey - just about anyone could have made this, and it sounds like just another soft country rock album. This is really the start of Dylan's fallow period which would last until Blood On The Tracks. He wasn't the voice of a generation nor did he win the Nobel Prize for pleasant trivia like this.  The closest he comes to being Dylan is a couple of lines in Lay Lady Lay: "His clothes are dirty but his, his hands are clean / And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen".

Self Portrait (June 1970)
Is it a joke or is it shit? As weird and throwaway as it is, it's way more interesting than Nashville Skyline.  At least its a talking point, and people can debate exactly what the hell he thought he was doing.  In discussions with friends we would often compare it with An Evening with Wild Man Fischer.  It's a mix of new songs, old songs live at the Isle of Wight, and various covers.

New Morning (Oct 1970)
A poor album, but as it sounded like Dylan, there was sense of relief and welcome at the time.  That sense of relief and welcome hasn't lasted, and most people now recognise it for the collection of weak songs indifferently performed that it is.

Another Self Portrait (2013)
Previously unreleased material from Dylan's dubious period. Just what we need. Ha! Though, to be fair there's some listenable stuff here. Nothing important or essentially, but moderately interesting. This is not for the general public, but is of interest to Dylan fans and critics (of which there are many!)

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (July 1973)
A rather sparse album (as - to be fair - a lot of soundtracks are); mostly acoustic instrumental mood music, though does contain Knocking At Heaven's Door.  It was poorly regarded at the time, especially as it came during Dylan's lean and difficult period, and people struggle to be generous about it even now, though people do regard it more favourably these days. There was an interest in the mythology of America's Western outlaws in the late Sixties and early Seventies both in film and music. Also in 1973 The Eagles released Desperado, which has a similar feel to this album in places - though I have a much higher regard for the Eagles' album..

Dylan (1973)
Dylan changed labels in 1973 as Columbia has lost interest in the artist who was continually producing turkeys. To compound the problems of the low esteem everyone was now holding of Dylan, Columbia released this album of covers that had been rejected from the albums that were already regarded as failures. It could hardly get worse, could it?

Planet Waves (1974)
With a new record label (Asylum) Dylan became energised, and reformed The Band to record a new "proper" album, Planet Waves, and to go out on tour for the first time since the stressful 1966 tour.  The tour was hugely successful and would be recorded for Before The Flood. The album was less successful. People wanted it to be, and advance orders were big. But as people got to hear the songs, sales dropped off. The songs from the album were also gradually dropped from the tour, leaving only "Forever Young", and the tour ended up being a nostalgia tour of Dylan playing the old songs.

Before The Flood (June 1974)
This album marks the change in Dylan's creative energy. Since the tour in 1966 and his "motorbike accident", he had withdrawn from the public, had not toured, and his recorded work had been sporadic and often bizarre.  There were occasional songs that worked, but on the whole what he produced was not the material that had made him the voice of a generation, nor the stuff that would later gain him the Nobel Prize for Literature.  With a change in record companies, Dylan seemed invigorated. He got together with the Band who had toured with him in 1966, and who had worked with him on the recordings that would soon emerge as The Basement Tapes. They made an album, Planet Waves, and then toured to promote it. The album was weak, and as the tour progressed, apart from "Forever Young", Dylan and The Band concentrated on their older material. 
This is a very strong recording. The tour was a huge success, and this album shows why. Dylan is clearly energised and in command. And The Band are playing at their peak. When it was released there was some discussion and disappointment that one and a half sides were just The Band doing their own material, but they are a great band, and their own songs are classics, so there's no complaints from me. 

As with most things Dylan, there were and still are divided opinions on the album. My own view is that this is the first official release of Dylan live, the first album in which The Band are not just acknowledged, but given their own space,  a key album which marks a change in Dylan's attitude and energy, and has some great songs well played, so as well as being an important historical record, is a damn great listening experience.

Blood On The Tracks (Jan 1975) 
While Blonde On Blonde was the first Dylan album I got into and fell in love with, it was an album I heard a few years after it had been released, so I wasn't there at the moment of release. But for Blood On The Tracks I was there. And I remember everything about it. After years of listening to crap by Dylan, to put on this album and from the first moment hear something quite wonderful.... Man, that was a beautiful moment. And so exciting. There were people who were still uncertain about the album's worth, and were hedging their bets. But I can tell you, in my house, and in my circle of friends, we were fit to burst with the excitement. We discussed this album over and over. long nights of listening to the album, and talking endlessly about what he meant there, and there. And often not talking at all, just taking a drag, closing our eyes, and listening. Dylan was the voice of a generation; but it was the previous generation - our parents or elder brothers. But here, now, and for the first time in our generation, he was speaking live to us. To US, man. This was our Dylan album. We knew it was brilliant. And we loved him, and we loved the album.

The Basement Tapes (June 1975) 
Hot on the heels of the success of the reformed relationship with the Band, the tour and the Blood On The Tracks album, Dylan gathered together some of the songs he had recorded with the Band back in 1967, and which had been leaked over the years in bootlegs. There was immense interest in the album on release, but some doubts and uncertainties on hearing it. This was old music. It was not where Dylan was at today, and none of the songs were comparable in quality to either Blood or to Dylan's classic Sixties songs.  True, they were not weird and throwaway as most of the stuff during Dylan's lean period, but they were neither quite the stuff we were somehow hoping for.  They sounded, well, more like songs by the Band than songs by Dylan.  However, among the OK stuff, there were little gems, such as "Goin' to Acapulco" and "Tears of Rage", and perhaps if the album had been a single inside of a double, there would have been more focus and energy.  The jury is still out on this album, but - despite petty controversy over exactly when some of the songs were recorded and which have been overdubbed - it is generally regarded more highly now than when it was released because some of the disconnect between what Dylan was doing in 1975 and this recording from his past appearing at that time, along with the disappointment that the songs were not as great in reality as the rumours would have them, is no longer present. At this distance people see the album as what Dylan was doing in 1967 rather than what he was doing in 1975, and there is no confusion.

The Basement Tapes Complete (2014)
It is as it says on the lid - all the recordings that were made with the Band during Dylan's dubious period. There are nearly 150 tracks, and as to be expected, and as it typical of  most of the Official Bootleg series, there is a lot of rubbish included. The Spotify link goes to some kind of sampler which contains a number of the songs we are already familiar with from the 1974 Basement Tapes.

Desire (Jan 1976)
After the confusion and (relative) disappointment of The Basement Tapes it was a huge relief to get back to a contemporary Dylan full of energy and fire, and ready to take on the world.

Hard Rain (Sept 1976) 
I don't recall this album at all.  I recall the Rolling Thunder Revue, the tour from which this recording was taken, but not the actual album. I think this is the first time I have heard this.  On listening to it, I can understand why it passed me by. It's an album to ignore. 

Live 1975 (2002)
This an alternative, later (2002), release of the performances on the Rolling Thunder Revue.  It's not much of an improvement, but it is an improvement. If you want a record of the Rolling Thunder Revue, this is the one to listen to.  There's a comfy, slightly nostalgic feel to it.  

Street-Legal (June 1978) 
This studio album can be seen as a companion to the live 1979 Budokan album - they have a similar sound and feel, and use the same musicians. This is a big band sound with sax and backing singers. It has a big fat production, which most critics hated, finding it muddy or simply too slick or commercial.  A number of critics found it Dylan's worse album - which makes me wonder how closely they were listening during Dylan's lean period when he released delights such as Self Portrait and Dylan.  This is not my favourite Dylan album, and there's little here to excite or interest, but it's quite listenable and holds a warmth I find comforting and attractive.  Songs you can hum along to while nodding and swaying sleepily to the tunes. I also hold a fond nostalgia for this album, as this was out at the time I saw him at Blackbushe. 

Bob Dylan at Budokan (April 1979)
I had this album at the time, played it a lot, and loved it. Listening to it now, and I wonder how I could have possibly ever have liked it. I think I must have liked it at the time because it reminded me of his performance at Blackbushe.  Hmmm. While initially I felt uncomfortable by these versions of his classic songs, by the end I had been somewhat won over, and I had a sense of why I liked the album back in the late Seventies. The album contains his very best version of Forever Young, and fascinating versions of other songs. In general there's a weary, late night feel to the album's atmosphere. A spacey sound, wandering away into the night. It's quite a soulful sound. Considering what was about to happen in Dylan's life, the vibe here might be a indicator of his emotional, spiritual and intellectual state.  The version here of Blowin In The Wind isn't angry, it isn't a rallying cry, it's slightly nostalgic, sad, very weary, and almost lost and without hope or faith. It's a requiem. Quite chilling really. Perhaps what Dylan needs is a new faith in his life.....

Slow Train Coming (Aug 1979)
And so comes the first of the Christian albums after Dylan underwent three months of discipleship training and converted to an Evangelical branch of Christianity - popularly referred to as "born again Christianity" by the media.  The religious aspects of the album presented a barrier to his audience who were looking for sharp questions and thought-provoking observations from him, not door step platitudes to have faith and serve the Lord. This is not an album I can easily take - the music is pedestrian, and Dylan's lyrics are among the worse he's ever written. An album that's very difficult to take, and for me marked the end of my active interest in him. I sort of kept a loose track of what he was doing and releasing to see if things would pick up, but gradually lost interest over time.  Listening to it again now, I see little of  worth or interest here, other than as a record of his conversion to Christianity. I should imagine this is one of those records that Dylan looks back on with considerable embarrassment. 

Saved (1980) 
It's quite likely that this is the first time I have heard this album - and it's quite likely this will be the last time as well.  This has a Contemporary Christian Music feel to it, and though it's Dylan doing it, so there's a little more interest and depth, it's still not the sort of thing that interests me at all. Music and lyrics are mainly superficial, though there are moments when he adds something interesting and Dylanesque to otherwise commonplace gospel music, such as in Pressing On, which has hints of Forever Young in its sound.

Shot of Love (1981)
Conventionally classed as another of the Evangelical Christian albums - indeed, critics seem to want the Christian albums to form some form of unholy trilogy, this is Dylan moving away from the Christian experiment - most of the songs here are not religious, indeed, seem to be turning their back on Christianity and religious faith. The ambiguity, bitterness, and incisive lyrics in the title track are fascinating - this is classic Dylan: calling up images and ideas that cause everyone to pause and think, yet nothing is revealed..... However, the rest of the album doesn't live up to the promise of that opening track (though "The Groom..." is pretty good) - and that might account for the backlash it received from critics. Take away the title track and there's another failed album, albeit a little more interesting than his other failures. But the title track shows just what Dylan is capable of, and that simply teases and frustrates. Yes, that's gonna create friction - something Dylan is familiar with!

I'm remembering now that a friend got into the album at the time and urged me to listen to it, and I  did indulge him one evening, but all I was hearing was the Christian aspects, and rejected it. Listening now, I'm starting to appreciate what he heard back then. This was the start of Dylan's "recovery", and the album has very strong moments. Not a great album, but much better than its undeserved reputation.

Infidels (1983)
Liked by critics because it contained no overtly Christian songs, this - for me - is marred by its clearly Eighties sound and production.  He sounds like Bruce Springsteen.

Actually, there's just as many Christian songs on this album as on the last one.

Hmmm. I think I prefer Shot of Love.

Real Live (1984)
Most notable for the reworking of the lyrics to "Tangled Up In Blue", and for using Mick Taylor on guitar, this is an otherwise flat and meaningless recording.

Empire Burlesque (1985)
Mostly harmless.

Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
Generally regarded as his worse album. (And now you want to hear it....)

It's looking so far as if the Eighties were Dylan's least interesting period - something he holds in common with other artists. What exactly was it about the Eighties that resulted in so many major artists failing to produce worthwhile music?

Actually, I don't dislike this. There are elements of his various styles and approaches, though he only has single writing credit on two of the songs - others are covers, traditional, or collaborations. Brownsville Girl, widely regarded as the best song on the album, and by some as one of his best ever songs, is a collaboration with Sam Shepard.

This is an interesting album - definitely, along with Oh Mercy, his most intriguing and attractive work of the Eighties.

Down In The Groove (1988)
This album is almost as despised as his previous. Dylan seems to have been going through a bad time creatively - again there are few solo songs, and there's evidence of some indecision, with different musicians and studios used on each track. Despite this I find there's more effort here and more listenable songs than during his Self Portrait period. Others find the opposite to be true.

Dylan & the Dead (Feb 1989)
Mildly interesting versions of some of Dylan's middle period songs. But not really interesting enough to listen a second time.

Oh Mercy (Sept 1989)
Liked by the critics, this is one of his better albums for a while. It does not anywhere near compare to his important albums, but it's a not a piece of rubbish either. I think this, along with Knocked Out Loaded, is his best work of the Eighties, but on the whole this is a very weak period in Dylan's creativity, so it's all relative.  Essentially his last decent albums were the four albums: Before The Flood (1974), Blood On The Tracks, The Basement Tapes and Desire in 1976.

Under The Red Sky (1990)
Disliked by most critics. I kinda like it, but it's not a major work.

The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (1991)
A mix of unreleased tracks, demos and live recordings from 1961 to 1989, this is the stuff regarded as not good enough at the time, but as Dylan has been releasing so much weak stuff for so many years, the early tracks here sound brilliant in comparison. Well, some of the earlier tracks here ARE brilliant, and only someone of Dylan's ability could have such recordings discarded because they had other recordings they preferred to publish at the time. The mystery, of course, is why it took so long to officially publish them.

Good As I Been To You (1992)
A likeable and popular album.  After clearly struggling with his inability to write a telling song, Dylan retreated into an album entirely of acoustics covers. There is talk that this was done merely to meet the demands of his recording contract, however the result was liked by many, and Dylan would now continue to record mostly covers until Time Out Of Mind in 1997. His Never Ending Tour, which I saw this year (2017) was mostly covers, and this apparently has been the case since the tour started in 1988. His singing style does bring a Dylanesque approach to each song he sings, and allows the listener to review Dylan's career in terms of Dylan's own interpretations of his own songs - the WAY he delivers them is perhaps as important as the lyrical content.

And, by golly, I do like this.

World Gone Wrong (1993)
Another album of covers of traditional songs. It's very effective, and Dylan sounds relaxed, though it doesn't quite have the impact of Good As I Been To You.

MTV Unplugged (1995)
It takes Dylan a little while before he gets into this live MTV performance, when when he does it's quite attractive, though lacking in some of the depth, passion, and interest of his performances during his creative peak in the Sixties and Seventies. He doesn't speak between songs - just plays 'em. This is how he performed when I saw him life recently. The difference here is that there are no covers - apparently Dylan wanted to do the same sort of traditional material that he''s done on his last two albums, but MTV wanted the classics. Odd that Dylan would agree to do that - he's been notorious during his career for doing his own thing, and never compromising. Anyway, a modest but pleasant enough album. Next?

Time Out Of Mind (1997)
After a long creative break having released no new material for seven years, but having continued to play live and to record covers, Dylan seems at peace with himself - there are no expectations any more. And now he can write again. There are a number of people, perhaps relieved that he was writing again, who regard this as one of his best albums. Ahem. Well, back in the real world, this is a moody and atmospheric and likeable work, but it's very minor. There is the feel of Cash's American Recordings about some of the songs, but this doesn't quite have the power of that album. There's also a feel of Tom Waits here. OK, I'm won over, this is wonderful stuff - certainly up there among his best. Wow!

Love and Theft (2001)
With a worn, craggy voice very reminiscent of Tom Waits, Dylan settles comfortably and assuredly into his mature period which began with Time Out Of Mind.  There is an attractive sound on this album. It was well received by critics, and continues to impress.  This belongs among his best work, and it's quite breath-taking that he has been able to span so many decades with work of this extraordinary quality, and at the same time have long periods of producing such dire material.  But better to have such a roller-coaster career, than to remain mediocre all your life.

No Direction Home (2005)
Recordings from 1959 to 1966, mostly previously unreleased, which cover the period of Dylan from an aspiring folk singer playing at home, to the infamous incident in 1966 when Dylan was called a "Judas" just before he he plays Like A Rolling Stone "fucking loud", after which he withdraws and has to wait until 1974 before he has the confidence to tour again and record and release his serious songs.  A fascinating document for those interested in Dylan, but not for the general public.

Live At the Gaslight 1962
Tracks: Hard Rain,  Rocks and Gravel,  Don't Think Twice,  Cuckoo,  Moonshiner,  Handsome Molly,  Cocaine,  John Brown,  etc.

A record of one of his early gigs. For Dylan fans only.

Modern Times (2006)
The boy can now do no wrong. He's touring all the time, and with his status as the legendary Bob Dylan established, and with nothing controversial to say or do,  he is quite relaxed and willing to play chug-a-lug rockbilly. This is Dylan playing to the audience more than he's ever done, and it worked. The album went straight to number 1 in most countries. Dylan being, apparently, the first 65 year old to have a new album enter the Billboard charts at number 1.
It's listenable, but flimsy. Because some critics are happy that he's not releasing weird stuff, or anything attacking them, they regard this as one of his best albums.  I think they need to seriously revisit the core Sixties albums. Gee.

Tell Tale Signs (2008)
Scraps and alternative takes left off his studio albums from Oh Mercy to Modern Times. It's more of the same stuff - slightly world weary lyrics delivered in a rasping older man voice. I suppose Dylan's mature period offers an interesting contrast to his young vital period, and there is much attractive and emotional material, but it is a minor period. However, Dylan's minor period is somewhat better than many artists major periods.
This album is a mixed bag. There's good stuff and OK stuff and not so OK stuff in here.

Together Through Life (2009)

Christmas In The Heart (Oct 2009)

Dylan can do what he wants. And if wants to make an album of nonsense, then so be it. This is not on the same level as Phil Spector's Christmas Album, and is best ignored completely.

The Tempest (2012)

Dylan's best album of his mature period, and his best album since Blood On The Tracks. This is genuinely a great album, and astonishing that he can produce work of this quality.  OK, some of the mature period albums were indicating that he hadn't completely lost it....

Shadows In The Night (2015)
Covers of songs recorded by Frank Sinatra during his melancholy period. It is what it is.

Fallen Angels (2016)
More covers of songs recorded by Frank Sinatra. Oh well......

Triplicate (2017)
A triple album of covers. Oh grief....

Essential albums are marked *
Best of a period are marked !









* BestEverAlbums All
* PasteMagazine Top15
* RollingStoneReadersPoll Top 10
* CoS All
* Nerve All
* UCR All
* Thought Top 5
* TopTens All
* Spinditty Top 10
* PNT Top 10
* Ranker All

My list:
Highway 61 Revisited (1965) 
Blonde on Blonde (1966)
Bringing It All Back Home (1965) 
The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) 
Blood on the Tracks (1975)
Live 1966 (1998)
Before The Flood (June 1974)
John Wesley Harding (1967)
Desire (1976)
The Times They Are a-Changin' (1964)
The Basement Tapes (1975)
The Tempest (2012)
Love and Theft (2001)

This is a new type of song. It is grounded in a folk tradition, and there is a sense of it being timeless - which is always what Dylan wanted. He never wanted any of his work to be pinned down to any one instance. This song could be hundreds of years old - it borrows an ancient tradition of folk songs as its frame, and this song initially appears as though it could be from any place, any time. It sounds familiar. - it could be any folk song or love song: "Where have you been my darling young one?" This is a familiar folk song refrain, as used for example on the nursery rhyme Billy Boy:

Oh, where have you been,
Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where have you been,
Charming Billy?
I have been to seek a wife

Yet the images that follow are remarkable. Quite stunning. And this is where the poetry comes in. He is using symbolism - the poetry used by Baudelaire: " eye brimming with involuntary tears / He dreams of gallows while smoking his hookah" to construct a series of images and symbols that paint a bleak picture:

I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin'
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'
I saw a white ladder all covered with water

Just a single one of those images gives pause for thought and speculation - "a highway of diamonds with nobody on it". It's a remarkable image that captures the imagination - we want to know why nobody is on that highway of diamonds, let alone why there is such a highway, but already we have moved on to the next image: " black branch with blood that kept drippin". It's breathless and dazzling. We catch glimpses of ideas - the black branch with blood reminds us of the poem Bitter Fruit which was famously set to music as Strange Fruit and sung by Billie Holiday.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

And with the lines

And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin'

He is echoing the 1949 Pete Seager protect song, If I Had A Hammer:

If I had a hammer,
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening,
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger,
I'd hammer out a warning

So Dylan is aware of, and bringing together all these separate elements - literature, folk song, protest song, symbolism, poetry, politics, and weaving them into a new structure.

Because he wants it to be timeless, he never pins it down to one thing, though in 1963 it was the height of CND and the protests against nuclear weapons. The refrain "It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall" while allowing for today's concern about climate change, at that time seemed well suited to fears of a nuclear fall out. People took up Dylan's song and sung it on the Aldermaston march. In August of that year the Test Ban Treaty came into force. Was the song responsible for bringing about the ban? Of course not. But it was timely. And it remains timely now because Dylan keeps it open and possible. Some people dislike that open symbolism - they want more certainty. But Dylan has never been about certainty. Has always stepped away from it because "the executioner's face is always well hidden."

* Bob Dylan * Expecting Rain – Dylan news and events, updated daily * Bob Links – Comprehensive log of concerts and set lists * Bjorner's Still on the Road – Information on recording sessions and performances * Dylan interview list (with links)

81 March 2019

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