Friday, January 10, 2014

What's New?: 1.10.2014

A guy named ALLEN:

Bob Dylan — The Witmark Demos 1962-1964 (early 60's)

This is peak early period Bob, so if you love Bob wailin' over his own strummin', you're in heaven here.  I of course love it, but I understand that not all Bob fans will dig it as much.  The most interesting and revelatory things are the demos for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album.  There's enough strength in those songs that hearing them in any version is worthwhile.  'Don't Think Twice It's Alight' and 'Masters of War' in their initial, more subdued versions have a sense of calm reserve that only seems to intensify their timelessness.  Hearing 'Boots of Spanish Leather' back to back with 'Girl from the North Country' in their initial versions is just heart crushingly good.  Elsewhere, the original demo for 'Mr. Tambourine Man' shows up with Bob playing a pound and stomp piano to accompany himself and, finally, the long rumored original recording of 'I'll Keep it With Mine' closes the set out on a very poignant note.  Like I said, nothing super amazing, but for the already converted to the school of Dylan, this is more than enough to keep you occupied with obsessive listening for a while.

Bob Dylan — Live 1966 The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert (1966)

The famous concert actually recorded in Manchester at the Free Trade Hall. It's a bit awkward to listen to this in one sitting because you can hear the tension in the room. The audience politely claps after each of the acoustic performances and then when the Hawks step out to back Bob on the second half, the boos get louder and the jeers get more frequent until the infamous "JUDAS!" shout leads into an absolutely scorching 'Like A Rolling Stone' to close the show. To Bob's credit, he holds his composure quite well through the whole thing until the very end.  All the cultural baggage aside, this is an absolutely essential live document of Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan, with many of the performances here presented in such stark contrast to their studio recordings that these are very worthwhile on their own.  It's pretty much peak Bob at the height of his powers, waiting for everybody else to catch up.  For best results, play it fucking loud.

Bob Dylan — Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid OST (1973)

Pretty fun stuff, mostly instrumental.  It has a nice studio soft rock sheen that all of Bob's material of the time does.  I like this stuff, because it focuses on Bob the guitar player.  While Bob's guitar was never life changing, it certainly was hugely influential, so it's cool to hear him really just jamming out on a record for the first time.  It's mostly just repeating of theme statements, but there's nothing wrong with that, because Bob's at his most melodic here.  The big one here, obviously, is 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' and it's become such a big one, in fact, that it's easy to look past how beautiful of a song it is because it's been played a time too many.  But, yeah, it's usually regarded as one of his best for a reason.  Besides that one big tune, there's a lot of unfamiliarity to this material, which makes going back to it pretty easy and rewarding every time.

Bob Dylan — Oh Mercy (1989)

All the stuff talked about here, and this one gets the fiver, you ask?  You're damn right, my friend.  The general wisdom with Bob Dylan is that Desire was his last really great record and anything after that, you'll be wading through a lot of garbage songs in order to get to the good ones.  But nuts to that shit, where does that leave an album like this that has such amazing tunes as 'The Man in the Long Black Coat', 'Shooting Star' and especially 'Most of the Time'?  Daniel Lanois' airy, lush production goes a long way to dress up and contemporize these tunes and they're certainly attractive in this setting, but they wouldn't be so successful if the source material wasn't as strong as it is.  Where 80's Bob is generally seen as a mess of overproduction and preachiness, this seems to be Bob really just saying to hell with all that and just following his head and heart.  This is Bob at his introspective best and Lanois' eerie, masterfully layered production only enhances that.  Even the outtakes that have subsequently surfaced from these sessions are worthwhile, highlighted by the excellently anthemic 'Series of Dreams.'  Definitely one in need of reassessing. 

Bob Dylan — Good as Been to You (1992)

You could argue that Bob had already run out of creative gas by going so quickly back to an album of all acoustic folk standards, but there's two big things that should be addressed in answer to that claim: 1) This is the first album he had cut in this vein since the early 60's.  It's only fair that he have another shot at this sort of thing and 2) The arrangements here are not exactly obvious.  So, whatever if you want to be cynical, but if you want to hear Bob getting in touch with his roots for the first time since his initial recordings, it's hard to imagine it being done more attractively.  There's not really any standouts and the album definitely sounds better when played front to back, but all the better for it, so no complaints.  I do quite like Bob's jangly take on 'Canadee-I-O' and if there is a standout here, that's it.  Certainly not for everyone, but quite good if you're into it.

Bob Dylan — World Gone Wrong (1993)

Another quick fired all acoustic album of standards.  And, just like the one right before it, it stands up really well as a singular piece.  This one is a bit more stark and feels more like a late night affair, as the title implies.  There is, however, a definite highlight on this one with the excellently dark run through of 'Jack-A-Roe.'  Definitely a worthwhile album and one that's hard to not look at as anything other than a sequel in retrospect.  Arguably the more listenable of these two albums.

Bob Dylan — Love and Theft (2001)

This, like all of Bob's latter day albums, was extremely overrated when it came out.  I was working in two record stores simultaneously when it came out, so I heard it a lot and I was always a little skeptical of how much praise it received.  After a bit of time has passed, I can hear it as a semi-decent later album.  The production is certainly warm, masking the somewhat pedestrian nature of some of the material.  It has a kind of forced old timey music hall sort of feel — the sort of thing that just occurred on past Dylan material like the Basement Tapes now serves as a blueprint of sound to aim for and it's always hard to catch that sort of spontaneity twice.  As far as highlights, the jaunty faux rockabilly of 'Summer Days' is certainly fun, while the closing ballad 'Sugar Baby' is one of Bob's prettiest songs of recent years.  This is the deluxe edition that inexplicably includes two rare acoustic demos from the early 60's.  Not anywhere near anything resembling coherence as far as being included here, but I'm not complaining.


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