Friday, 9 August 2019

Bob Dylan - Unplugged (1995)


Recorded on 2 May 1995

Running time 69.24

This is Bob Dylan's contribution to the "unplugged" craze. As with most of them, "unplugged" was a bit of a misnomer, because his band features a drummer, a bassist, organist and a country style steel guitar as opposed to merely acoustic guitars. A lot of the tracks have a warm, full sound to them. It really is a most appealing album in the canon of Dylan's live stuff. There is a warm, homely atmosphere to it and you really get the sense that Dylan is enjoying himself. It is one of my favourite Dylan live albums. There is a looseness to it that is uplifting.


1. Tombstone Blues
2. Shooting Star
3. All Along The Watchtower
4. The Times They Are A-Changin'
5. John Brown
6. Desolation Row
7. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
8. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
9. Dignity
10. Knockin' On Heaven's Door
11. Like A Rolling Stone
12. With God On Our Side                                     

The album kicks off with a robust, country, twangy take on Tombstone Blues. Dylan's voice was at the outset of the soon to be increasingly slurred, incomprehensible phase, but here it is just about still ok. It is a bit nasal and some words are overlooked, but the versions on here are eminently listenable. Shooting Star is lovely. Dylan's voice and diction are fine, with a moving crack in his ageing voice. The backing is excellent too - substantial and powerful in a stately way. The cheer when Dylan plays his harmonic solo is a nice moment. The bass, drum and guitar interplay is impressive, as is the bit when the organ comes in. It is always a pleasure to hear him play lesser-aired songs like this.

All Along The Watchtower is given an organ-driven, quirky makeover with Dylan croaking mysteriously away. Once more, the sound from the band is superb. The Times They Are A-Changin' features some beguiling bluesy slide guitar, when Dylan comes in on vocals I just can't help from being moved. It is a lovely version - powerful drums, swirling, melodic organ, slide guitar and Dylan just sounding great. The spiritual blues, John Brown fits the acoustic bill, being just Dylan, an acoustic and the bass. It is full of atmosphere.

Then we get my favourite Dylan track of all time, Desolation Row. He murdered it in 2011 when I saw him sing it live for the only time at Hammersmith Odeon. Thankfully, on here he does it pretty well. He loses a couple of verses, but it still stands up. It has a subtle but urgent acoustic, bass and slide guitar backing. Dylan's delivery of the song's many words is good, as it always should be.

I have never been a great fan of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 but it is lusty and ebullient here, as I guess it always is.

Another big favourite of mine, though, is up next - the beautiful Love Minus Zero/No Limits. Once again, justice is done on a lovely acoustic and bass rendering. There is a truly entrancing guitar and slide passage in the middle. Then Dylan's harmonica comes in at the end. Enough said.
It is great to hear Dignity get an energetic, enthusiastic airing. The full band with the drums are back for this one and Dylan rocks on reliably, with Prince Philip at the home of the blues. Knockin' On Heaven's Door is given a full-on rock makeover, full of power, although still including a great acoustic solo at the end. Then it's Like A Rolling Stone time. Dylan delivers a solid version, organ to the fore, drums pounding, one of his best. Not quite Before The Flood but pretty damn good all the same.

This excellent concert concludes with the always evocative With God On Our Side, Dylan on acoustic singing his always-relevant anti-war anthem. A fine end to a fine album.