Monday, 30 July 2018

Bob Dylan - Dylan (1973)


Released November 1973

It is time that this long-reviled album got a reassessment. It has long since been withdrawn. I remember it coming out, though, and getting bad reviews. It is now available on the "Bob Dylan Complete Works" Box Set, which is how I obtained it. Expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised upon hearing it. Expecting it to be absolutely execrable, I found it to be probably two thirds dreadful, which has to be taken as a positive. It is an album of mainly cover versions recorded as warm-ups for "Self Portrait" in 1970 and released as part of a legal dispute between record labels in 1973. Something to do with Columbia and Asylum. I can't actually be bothered to research the minutiae behind it.


1. Lily Of The West
2. Can't Help Falling In Love
3. Sarah Jane
4. The Ballad Of Ira Hayes
5. Mr. Bojangles
6. Mary Ann
7. Big Yellow Taxi
8. A Fool Such As I
9. Spanish Is The Loving Tongue

Anyway, on to the music. "Lily Of The West" is a jaunty, tuneful and attractive Wild West tale and Dylan's take on Elvis's "Can't Help Falling In Love" is nowhere near as bad as has been said. "Sarah Jane" suffers from poor production, and Dylan's insistence of singing "Sar-oh" instead of "Sarah", it is the only Dylan original composition on the album. The backing singers sound louder that Dylan, so it doesn't really come off. "The Ballad Of Ira Hayes" is a heartbreaking narrative about the Native American-descended soldier who was one of those who raised the US flag on Iwo Jima and died a penniless drunk. It again is the victim of a hissy production.

I have to say, "Mr Bojangles" doesn't really come off, but it is again, nowhere near as bad as many have said. The problem was with this album was that it was a record label "kiss off" of mostly sub-standard, throwaway semi-demos, when so much unreleased high quality material still lay in the vaults. Personally, I had just got into Bob Dylan at the time, at the age of fourteen, and considered getting this album. I had no real concept of how far down the scale of influence he had fallen from his position of eminence in the sixties. The same with The Rolling Stones and the members of The Beatles. I was fourteen, I loved them all and lapped up what they released with no disappointment or cynicism. I bought "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", "Angie" and "Red Rose Speedway" and loved them.

"Mary Ann" is an acceptable country ballad that would have been ok on "Self Portrait", but Dylan's cover of Joni Mitchell's iconic ecological anthem "Big Yellow Taxi" sounds as if he was just having a bit of fun the studio. The cover of Elvis's "A Fool Such As I" is just about acceptable. "Spanish Is The Loving Tongue" is very hissy and Dylan sounding like a slightly drunken restaurant Mariachi singer. The backing singers come "la-la-la" ing in and its becomes a bit of a joke. Actually, I guess the reviewers were correct all those years ago. This was an abomination. It has to be said, in defence, however, that none of it was Dylan's fault.

Never mind, "Planet Waves" was only two months away.


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