Saturday, 21 December 2019

Bob Dylan - Making Waves (1973-1978)



This was a classic phase in Bob Dylan's career. For many, it was the best. Anyway, on to the music.

The albums covered here are:-

Planet Waves (1973)
Before the Flood (with The Band) (1974)
Blood On The Tracks (1975)
More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 (1975)
Rolling Thunder Live: The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 (1975)
Rolling Thunder Revue Sampler (1975)
Desire (1976)
Hard Rain (1976)
Street-Legal (1978)
and Live At Budokan (1978)

Scroll down to read the reviews chronologically.

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PLANET WAVES (1973)

1. On A Night Like This
2. Going. Going, Gone
3. Tough Mama
4. Hazel
5. Something There Is About You
6. Forever Young
7. Forever Young (fast version)
8. Dirge
9. You Angel You
10. Never Say Goodbye
11. Wedding Song                    

Early 1974's Planet Waves was the bridging album between the folky/country material of the late sixties/early seventies and the acoustic-driven rock poetry that was Blood On The Tracks. It is also as emotionally complex as that album too, no lightweight country pie on here. It is an album that grows on you with each listen, as I listen to it now, I am thinking that the album is better than I had previously thought. The sound is excellent, by the way, unlike the rather harsh sounding New Morning.
              
On A Night Like This is an energetic, swirling throwback to the days of 1966, with The Band on top form backing Dylan once again and his delivery enthusiastically upbeat.

A beautiful, melodic, deep bass underpins the gorgeous Going, Going, Gone. This is definitely a precursor to Blood On The Tracks. It is a dignified, sombre track with a great sound to the backing on it. Robbie Robertson comes up with one hell of a guitar solo to finish the track.

Tough Mama is a Basement Tapes-style bluesy romp, with Garth Hudson's organ blowing and circling around all over the place, like an idiot wind. Hazel with her "dirty blonde hair" is a love song from Dylan to another mercurial woman and most entrancing it is too. There are very slight shades of 1983's Licence To Kill in there somewhere, just before the "touch of your love" part. Dylan delivers a delicious harmonica too.

  

Something There Is About You has Dylan being nostalgic about the "old Duluth" of his youth. This is harmonica-driven blues rock song that wouldn't have sounded out of place on either Blood On The Tracks or, indeed, Desire. Tracks like this remind one that Dylan hadn't really laid down anything this powerful since John Wesley Harding and possibly Blonde On Blonde. Forget all that country twanging and folk odes, this was proper Dylan.

Talking of proper Dylan. Forever Young is next. Uplifting inspiring, heartbreaking. One of my favourite Dylan songs of all time. It never fails to get me all emotional. Superb. I remember seeing Dylan in concert with Mark Knopfler at the Hammersmith Odeon a few years back and Knopfler sang this as the encore, with Dylan sitting regally behind the keyboards. Mark turned to him to deliver the line "may your song always be sung" and the great man, just nodded, like The Queen waving to her subjects. A priceless moment. The faster version of the same song that comes next doesn't do it for me. The slow version is the definitive one, in my opinion. This slightly rockabilly version of it deprives of of its soul, its emotion. It should have stayed on the cutting room floor, maybe replaced by Nobody 'Cept You.

Only Dylan could title his own song Dirge. Here he is backed by Robertson, while he plays piano. It is a stark, emotions bared song that, at the time people presumed was about his marriage. Robertson's guitar is sumptuous and while the song is stark and bleak, it is no dirge. Listening to it, you realise Blood On The Tracks is on the way.

You Angel You is a Band-style mid-tempo rocker. "If this is love give me more, more, more" pleads Dylan over another magnificent organ break. Never Say Goodbye starts with some searing guitar and is a beguiling, romantic slow burner, once again, it is very Band-like. It is so good to have Dylan back, listening to this. We had missed him.Wedding Song is a stark, acoustic guitar and harmonica love song that is in the Blood On The Tracks style.

There is no question that this is, by far, Bob Dylan's finest album since John Wesley Harding. He was now entering a four year halcyon period, the third great one of his career.



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BEFORE THE FLOOD (with THE BAND) (1974)

1. Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)
2. Lay Lady Lay
3. Knockin' On Heaven's Door
4. It Ain't Me Babe
5. Ballad Of A Thin Man
6. Up On Cripple Creek (The Band)
7. I Shall Be Released (The Band)
8. Endless Highway (The Band)
9. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band)
10. Stage Fright (The Band)
11. Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
12. Just Like A Woman
13. It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding
14. The Shape I'm In (The Band)
15. When You Awake (The Band)
16. The Weight (The Band)
17. All Along The Watchtower
18. Highway 61 Revisited
19. Like A Rolling Stone
20. Blowin' In The Wind  

This is possibly Bob Dylan's greatest live album and it is also considered to be one of rock music's greatest live albums of all time. In 1974, however, Dylan had been in something of a rut and The Band had seen their better days pass by. Dylan reunited with his old Band(mates) and conjured up a vibrant set of songs dripping in nostalgia (most of them are from the mid-sixties), even in 1974, but also what were often reinterpretations. The instinctive interaction between Dylan and The Band is clear for all to hear. The remastered sound on the latest edition (in the Complete Works box set) is superb.
                                  
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) is an effervescent, rocking opener with Garth Hudson's organ swirling all over the place and Dylan on enthusiastic vocal form. Lay Lady Lay has a typical Band backing. Knockin On Heaven's Door is just perfect. Dylan's vocal is yearning and sad and The Band are just superb. Excellent, crystal clear percussion, drums and keyboards. It Ain't Me Babe is given a radical country-ish rock makeover, with some Cajun undertones. This would develop into a reggae style backing in 1975's Rolling Thunder tour. The seeds of the future pacier renderings of the song were sown here. Ballad Of A Thin Man is just sumptuous, with more addictive backing. The Band are just so damn good on this album.


Now it is time for The Band's brand of retrospective rustic rock. Up On Cripple Creek has a funky, wah-wah guitar and organ backing and a soulful vocal. I Shall Be Released is evocative and plaintively delivered. Endless Highway has a great bass line and another Cajun-sounding organ riff. It rocks, solidly. I have always loved the Civil War-based song The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (covered by Joan Baez). Actually I prefer Baez's version, but I don't dislike this one. It is their song after all. Stage Fright has a great drum/piano and organ intro and another slightly funky feeling to it.

Dylan is back now, for an acoustic Don't Think Twice, It's Alright. The solo acoustic numbers continue with the wonderful Just Like A Woman and It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding. He sounds so vocally committed on these tracks. The Band return with the delicious bluesily soulful The Shape I'm In. The melodic When You Awake and the iconic The Weight conclude their solo stuff without Dylan. The great man returns to join them for a barnstorming ending to the album.

All Along The Watchtower is energetically superb, with some guitar that Dire Straits made a career out of a few years later, and an appealing Highway 61 Revisited has a slower, bassier groove than the original. It is again slightly funky. I really like this version. Like A Rolling Stone is positively incendiary, maybe the definitive Dylan live version of the track. He is on fire. Garth Hudson's organ is sublime too, even giving us some playful stuff after the "tricks for you" line. The closer, Blowin' In The Wind is given a rockier backing than usual - a Band groove rather than an acoustic one. It has a great guitar solo in it too.

It is an enjoyable experience listening to this album, with the Dylan stuff and Band performances side by side. Full of variety. No need to recommend it, is there? It speaks for itself.



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BLOOD ON THE TRACKS (1975)

1. Tangled Up In Blue*
2. A Simple Twist Of Fate#
3. You're A Big Girl Now*
4. Idiot Wind*
5. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go#
6. Meet Me In The Morning#
7. Lily, Rosemary & The Jack Of Hearts*
8. If You See Her, Say Hello*
9. Shelter From The Room#
10. Buckets Of Rain#                                                       
* December 1974 sessions (Minneapolis)
# September 1974 sessions (New York City)

This was the beginning of the third classic phase of Bob Dylan's career, for many, after the early acoustic protest years, then the "wild mercury sound" of 1965-67's switch to electric era. Yes, there was the laid-back country stuff, but that didn't really merit "classic" status. This did, however. The foundations laid on Planet Waves were fully built on here on one of the finest "relationship break-up" albums of all time. I remember first hearing it as a teenager in March 1975 and being totally blown away by it. In many ways, it is an album so familiar to me that I find it a bit difficult to review. I know the songs so well. It is far easier to review a new album you have just become excited about rather than what has become something of a "comfy old chair" of an album for me.

Anyway, firstly, whatever format you buy this album, the sound is pretty much uniformly excellent. I have the current remaster from The Complete Album Collection box set. Those crystal clear, razor sharp acoustic guitar parts (check out the intro to You're A Big Girl); that lovely, melodious, gently rumbling bass; that great drum/percussion sound and then Dylan's voice (and also his harmonica) as good as it ever sounded. Just spectacular sound. 

  

I have learnt, over the years, as many have, that the album was initially recorded as a stripped-back, acoustic and bass creation, and that Dylan re-recorded five songs a few months later, in Minneapolis, using a full session band. I remember, when I first enjoyed the album, in 1975, automatically thinking that those five songs were the "fuller", more powerful-sounding numbers, without knowing the reason why. Not that I didn't enjoy the stark beauty of the other five, augmented wonderfully as they are by Tony Brown's sumptuous bass lines. 

Asterisked above are the "full band" songs from the later sessions in December 1974 and the more acoustic ones from September 1974's sessions. Now, more takes from the sessions can be enjoyed thanks to the release of the excellent More Blood, More Tracks box set. There is some seriously good stuff on there - alternate versions, slightly different ones and the like. 

Secondly, and this is important to me, I want to make a case for the often-maligned Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts. It is one of my favourite Dylan songs of all time. It was the first song I heard from this album, back in 1975 and I bought the album as a result. Ok, I accept that it sits rather strangely amidst the soul-searching, lyrical poetry of much of the album's other material. However, it is a truly great Dylan "narrative poem" in the same style as Brownsville GirlHurricane and, latterly, Tempest (another one that divides fans). I guess you either like Dylan's "story songs" or you don't. Yes, it is repetitive, musically and in the fact that it is verse after verse irritates some people. However, I love the characterisation, the story, the cinematic atmosphere, Dylan's delivery. It is perfect in every way as far as I'm concerned.

Of, course, so is the rest of the album - the great poetic songs of Tangled Up In Blue, with its marvellous imagery, about "Italian poets" and so on and the lovely Shelter From The Storm; the tortured and tender love songs - Simple Twist Of FateYou're A Big Girl Now and the lovelorn If You See Her Say Hello with their spectacular turns of phrase.

The slow, insistent blues of Meet Me In The Morning and the two folky "short songs" that end each of the old "sides" in the folky blues of Buckets Of Rain and Dylan trying to be thoughtful and sensitive on You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. All marvellous in their own way. 

The thing about the album which is often overlooked is that it is not all made up of "break-up blues", lyrically. There are several tender moments - You're A Big GirlSimple Twist Of Fate and You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. Even the lover's lament of If You See Her Say Hello is a gentle, affectionate song. A song like Shelter From The Storm is certainly not a bitter, resentful one. It is one that misses better times gone by. There is only one truly vituperative number, isn't there - lest we forget, the titanic Idiot Wind - Dylan spitting out invective left, right and centre bemoaning his broken relationship, the press and the state of the country/world in general. Even in his criticism though, his use of language is magnificent. I don't have words to describe it sufficiently, I'm afraid. Much as I have declared my love for Lily, Idiot has to be the jewel in the crown.

One of the century's greatest albums. No question. I never tire of listening to it, all these years later. 



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MORE BLOOD, MORE TRACKS: THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 14 (1975)

  

This review refers mainly to the ten track compilation of alternative takes of each of the original album’s ten tracks, plus Up To Me. I have also listened to other selected versions taken from the extended box set (those that are offered on streaming services as a “sampler”). Personally, I am only interested in the music, so it is the digital downloads I am writing about. I have no knowledge of problems with booklets and the like.


1. Tangled Up In Blue (Take 3 Remake 3)
2. Simple Twist Of Fate (Take 1)
3. Shelter From The Storm (Take 2)
4. You're A Big Girl Now (Take 2)
5. Buckets Of Rain (Take 2 Remake)
6. If You See Her, Say Hello (Take 1)
7. Lily, Rosemary & The Jack Of Hearts (Take 2)
8. Meet Me In The Morning (Take 1 Remake)
9. Idiot Wind (Take 4 Remake)                                    
10. You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Take 1 Remake)
11. Up To Me (Take 2 Remake)

It is a strange thing, listening to different takes of songs you have been so incredibly familliar with for well over forty years now, so much that you know virtually every note and vocal nuance. To be honest, I have to question whether I really want, or need a “alternative” version of an album that, let’s face it, is pretty much perfect. What is know for sure is that I have no desire to plough through no less than NINE versions of You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go , as you get on the full deluxe box set. Sorry, but personally I can’t really see the point in that. (Incidentally, the one version of Lonesome I have heard so far, Take 5,  is extended, slowed down and with a more prominent drum sound. I like it a lot). It is interesting, however, to listen to this selected collection of “work in progress” versions as one complete “alternative album”, so to speak. True hard core fans will want to listen to the whole lot, of course. “Soft core” ones like myself will be more than happy with this. Many fans who are perfectly happy with the brilliance of the original album will be more than content to stick with that.


Some alternative versions of some of the tracks were previously available on “The Bootleg Series 1-3” ( If You See Her, Say HelloIdiot Wind and Tangled Up In Blue) and You're A Big Girl Now was available on the Biograph compilation. So, I had heard some of them.

Regarding the music, what these stripped down, far more acoustic versions have is a more bleak, intense nature to them. In my view the eventual recordings add a fullness to the songs which can’t be beaten, therefore, however hauntingly beautiful the versions of If You See Her, Say Hello and You’re A Big Girl Now are, for example. I still have to say that I prefer them in their finished incarnations, so I have to ask myself how often I will be revisting these recordings. The answer is only occasionally. That said, though, listening to Tangled Up In Blue (Take 3, Remake 2) with its slightly different lyrics and subtle, melodious bass lines is a real pleasure. There is an appealing, understated feeling to it. The same applies to a gorgeous Shelter From The Storm (Take 1) , with its catchy piano bits. Simple Twist Of Fate (Take 3a) is just sublime. It has a truly lovely vocal, bass and gentle drum/cymbal sound. Actually, I can see how these versions may start creeping into my consciousness. If I start listening to them more than I do the original album, would that be a betrayal? After all these years together, too…

Unlike many, Lily, Rosemary & The Jack Of Hearts  has always been my favourite track on the album. (I am a big fan of Dylan’s narrative “story” songs). The version I have listened to here, Take 2, is delivered in Tangled Up In Blue, laid-back acoustic style. I have to say I prefer the fast-paced, drum-backed one that was eventually used. It has more poetic vibrancy, a cinematic speed that the song’s tale's needs, in my opinion. The lively pace suits the story.

As a resource for part-time (and full-time) Dylanologists, the collection(s) are both interesting and relevant. Whether anyone who doesn’t fall into those categories will find it essential is open to question, certainly not the full version, although people like me will find the abridged release extremely interesting.



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ROLLING THUNDER LIVE: THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 6 (1975)

1. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You
2. It Ain't Me Babe
3. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
4. The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll
5. Romance In Durango
6. Isis
7. Mr. Tambourine Man
8. Simple Twist Of Fate
9. Blowin' In The Wind
10. Mama, You Been On My Mind
11. I Shall Be Released
12. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
13. Love Minus Zero/No Limit
14. Tangled Up In Blue
15. The Water Is Wide
16. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
17. Oh Sister
18. Hurricane
19. One More Cup Of Coffee
20. Sara
21. Just Like A Woman
22. Knockin' On Heaven's Door  
  
Recorded at various locations on the first half of 1975's Rolling Thunder tour.

This is my preferred live recording from the Rolling Thunder tour. Although it is not one complete concert, neither does it replicate a set list it does sort of play as if it were a concert. The recordings are from a fair few different venues and are from the widely accepted superior first half of the tour. The venues are all indoors, and consequently the sound is much better than the muffled outdoor venue sound to be found on Hard Rain, the other live recording from this tour, from the second half.

The sound is pretty good on here throughout and Dylan and the band are on fine form overall, with an early tour freshness and vitality about them.


Highlights are a slightly reggae-ish It Ain't Me Babe; a rocking, guitar-driven A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall; a bassy, shuffling The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll; (good to hear those older tracks given a run out); and the Desire tracks, which are all done excellently, augmented by Scarlet Rivera's unique violin. Check out her contributions to Oh Sister and Hurricane too. Isis and Romance In Durango are also delivered superbly, full of attack and enthusiasm. Dylan seems to be enjoying himself immensely. Later in the collection, Hurricane and Sara are equally impressive.

Simple Twist Of Fate is performed in the original, acoustic Blood On The Tracks style, which is nice to hear. Love Minus Zero/No Limit is done beautifully, also faithful to the original. The same applies to Tangled Up In Blue. Dylan is often the great re-interpreter of his material, and while some of the songs on here are given new makeovers, I like the fact that some of them are played straight. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry is played with a verve and vitality as if it were a new track, as opposed to being recorded ten years previously. There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm on this album. There is some quality too, such as the intoxicating percussion intro to the beguiling One More Cup Of Coffee.


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ROLLING THUNDER REVUE (1975)

1. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You (S.I.R. Studio Rehearsals)
2. If You See Her, Say Hello (S.I.R. Studio Rehearsals)
3. Easy And Slow (Seacrest Motel Rehearsals)
4. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (Live in Montreal)
5. It Ain't Me Babe (Live in Boston)
6. The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll (Live in Montreal)
7. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (Live in Montreal)
8. Isis (Live in Montreal)
9. Romance In Durango (Live in Boston)
10. Hurricane (live in Boston)

This review is based on the ten song "sampler" currently available to listen to, so I apologise to those who may be wanting to hear about the whole fourteen disc box set.

The question I am asking myself, having purchased the extended Cutting Edge and More Blood, More Tracks" box sets is whether this one justifies a similar £50 plus shell-out. Although I have immensely enjoyed the ten tracks on repeated listens so far, I suspect that five almost identical live shows from The Rolling Thunder tour that are included here are not offering me enough variety, particularly as I already have the original Rolling Thunder compilation, Bootleg Series Vol. 5 which has an excellent selection of live recordings from the tour.


The live tracks included on here are played pretty much identically to those I already own - the reggae-ish version of It Ain't Me Babe, the shuffling, staccato The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, the rock version of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna FallIsisHurricane and Romance In Durango. The one new gem is a good version of I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine. It may be just me, but the sound seems better on the Bootleg Series recordings - fuller and warmer.


Performance-wise, though, Dylan and his sizeable band are on fire - crackling with it. However, I had always had the impression that The Rolling Thunder tour was a big, loose behemoth of a tour with rambling, changeable set lists so it was a bit of a surprise to find that the set lists were all pretty static. I should have known that, I guess, but I didn't, I was influenced by that famous picture of Dylan and his band walking through a field by a river like a troupe of wandering ad hoc minstrels.

The sampler gives you an interesting rehearsal version of If You See Her Say Hello with different lyrics, a rudimentary demo of Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You and the folky Easy And Slow, a sort of "new old Dylan song".

Although my answer is that I do not need all these very similar live recordings I know exactly what will happen - I will "cherry pick" the live tracks I do not have from the tour, of which I have identified eight, plus another ten or fifteen rehearsals and demos and purchase them as downloads. Then it will say I need to spend another £25 to complete my purchase, so eventually I will. That is what happened with More Blood, More Tracks.

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DESIRE (1976)

1. Hurricane
2. Isis
3. Mozambique
4. One More Cup Of Coffee
5. Oh, Sister
6. Joey
7. Romance In Durango
8. Black Diamond Bay                             
9. Sara              

Following on from Bob Dylan's successful Rolling Thunder tour this album utilises the same large group of musicians that had troubadoured around with Dylan the previous year. It is one of his most "collaborative" albums, musicians-wise.

There is a strange story around the genesis of this violin-dominated 1976 album - apparently Dylan was being driven around Manhattan and saw violinist Scarlet Rivera carrying violin around Greenwich Village in a case. Dylan stopped to talk to her and she ended up playing a huge part on this album, contributing a great deal to the unique sound. Rivera herself has said that if she had been a few seconds earlier or later, the whole thing would never have happened. Such is fate, and, indeed, musical mythology. I would like to think it is true. She says it is.

                                      
I am a big fan of Dylan's "story songs" and there are two great ones here - the tale of wrongly accused boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in the iconic Hurricane (which also features Emmylou Harris on backing vocals) and Joey, an extremely over-romanticised tale, based on true events, of an Italian-American mobster, Joey Gallo, who met his end in a "clam bar in New York". Apparently the real Gallo was not the kindly, avuncular old chap who didn't deserve to be "blown away", as Dylan's song positively portrays him. Despite that, it is still a superb narrative song though, full of atmosphere. Incidentally, I went to the restaurant in New York's Little Italy where Gallo's shooting took place. Hurricane is just an iconic song, a wonderful tale of Carter's stitch-up by the police and the legal system. Again, it is overflowing with characterisation.

Other songs with something of an evocative, cinematic quality are the Mexican-flavoured Romance In Durango ("...hot chilli peppers in the blistering sun..." - what a great opening line, it takes to right there in one line) and Dylan's heartfelt plea for forgiveness to his wife, (soon to be ex-wife), Sara. It contains the legendary line "staying up for days in the Chelsea hotel, writing "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands" for you...". It is one of Dylan's greatest love songs, and contains none of the vitriol contained in something like Idiot Wind from Blood On The Tracks. Also very atmospheric are the beguiling Mozambique and the very Eastern/Sufi-influenced One More Cup Of Coffee evoke many different images.

Isis is packed full of all sorts of images too, as are many of Dylan's songs, as we know. This one has its roots in Egyptian mythology and hints of Mexican folklore too. Dylan liked a few Mexican references in the seventies. Dylan sings in the first person as the male character in the song, ending when Isis asks him if he is going to say and he replies "if you want me to, yes...". I have always liked the apparently offhand tenderness of that line. 

Black Diamond Bay is a captivating, lively and rhythmic song about an earthquake on a small island and the outside, larger world's general level of apathy and disassociation towards it.

Overall, the album is a tuneful, interesting one, musically, with debts to Middle Eastern musicMexican music and Caribbean melodies. Lyrically it is packed with all sorts of images and characters, it is one of Dylan's best albums for that. The use of violin is a masterstroke, but not one that would be repeated. Next up, on Street Legal it would be the saxophone taking centre stage. Lyrically, it is a treat if you like narrative songs, great characterisation and multiple uses of all sorts of imagery. 

I have to say that the run of albums from 1974 to 1979 - Blood On The TracksDesireStreet Legal and Slow Train Coming is up there with Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 RevisitedBlonde On Blonde and John Wesley Harding as one of the two great Dylan quartets.

The sound on the edition I have is excellent, it is the one from the Complete Albums Collection but the SACD release from 2004 is similarly impressive.



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HARD RAIN (1976)

1. Maggie's Farm
2. One Too Many Mornings
3. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again*
4. Oh Sister*
5. Lady Lady Lay*
6. Shelter From The Storm
7. You're A Big Girl Now
8. I Threw It All Away*
9. Idiot Wind

It is what it is, Hard Rain. Maybe messy. Maybe magnificent. Maybe messily magnificent. Despite its remastering for the Complete Works box set, there are still a few problems with the somewhat muddy sound, for me. On the other hand, there is definitely an ad hoc energy about it. Personally, I prefer the Rolling Thunder Bootleg Series from the same period, by far. This does catch an artist and a band just "going for it" in a slightly shambolic but enthusiastic manner though. It is raw and edgy and, as many have commented in the years since it was released, Dylan was going through a bit of an angry, relationship breakdown period and this undoubtedly affected his gritted teeth, committed performance. Of course, it is a vitally important album, chronologically, in Dylan's career. More so than its musical worth, probably.

It is worth noting that the tracks are taken from two concerts - Fort Collins Colorado and Fort Worth, Texas (the performances from the latter are asterisked * below). So, there is not the continuity of a single show. This adds to the disorganised feel of the album. Another observation is that Dylan wore a biblical style head-dress for the Fort Collins show of the sort worn by children in nativity plays. His appearance was, intentional or not, very Messiah-like.


Maggie's Farm is rocking and ramshackle, full of unrestrained vitality. One Too Many Mornings is enhanced by some excellent violin from Scarlet RiveraStuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again is done vibrantly, with a catchy bass line from Rob Stoner. Dylan is on fine form, vocally, on this too, doing the wordy song justice, thankfully.

Oh Sister again features that lovely violin and a strong delivery from Dylan. Lady Lady Lay is a bit muffled, sound-wise, with a bit of background hiss. Maybe it was chucking it down at the time. Shelter From The Storm is given a slightly reggae-ish makeover on its verses and it positively bristles with an almost punky anger as Dylan spits and bellows out the lyrics. It is a radical re-working of the reflective number we all know from Blood On The Tracks. It is quite visceral in places.



You're A Big Girl Now has a fetching guitar backing and Dylan's delivery is suitably respectful of the sombre, plaintive original. Nice piano on it too. One of the album's best interpretations. I Threw It All Away is the only live performance of it that I have. Unfortunately it is a slightly grating, at times, delivery of one of Nashville Skyline's best songs. Dylan's voice is jarring, as is the unnecessarily clashing guitar sound. Then, of course, there is Idiot Wind. For many, this is the definitive performance of the song. As far as I know it is the only official live cut of the track. It is certainly the only one I have. It is a snarling, incredibly wired rendition of the song, and by far the best track on the album. Not only is an irked Dylan "up for it" but the band are too. When he sings "I can't feel you anymore..." he sounds close to tears. All his raging glory, indeed.

Overall, despite its cultural importance, for me it is nowhere near his best live work. For a lot of people it is, though, and that is fair enough. I can sort of see why, but I can never get past the less-than-perfect sound.

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STREET-LEGAL (1978)

1. Changing Of The Guards
2. New Pony
3. No Time To Think
4. Baby Please Stop Crying
5. Is Your Love In Vain?
6. Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
7. True Love Tends To Forget
8. We Better Talk This Over
9. Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)   

This review is for the fantastic remastering of the 2003 Greg Calbi release and not the remastering that appeared in 2013’s Complete Works box set. For some reason, that remaster is infinitely inferior to the 2003 one, in my opinion. This one blows the more recent one out of the water. It is full, bassy, punchy and brings songs like New Pony and No Time To Think to new life.

Back to the album. Released in 1978, following from Blood On The Tracks and Desire. Hmmm. Tough ask. In many ways, though, this is my favourite Dylan album. As a young punk in 1978 I loved it. I loved the saxophone-based sound, played by Spector (and Mink De Ville) veteran Steve Douglas. I loved the romance of many of the songs and also the urgency in Dylan's delivery. Many find the album too dominated by the saxophone, too sort of poppy in its approach and that it utilises too many gospelly female backing vocalists. They criticise another of my favourites, the same year’s Live At Budokan for the same reasons. Personally, these are some of the reasons I like it.

  

Changing Of The Guards is a stormer of an opener - “on midsummer’s eve, near the tower”- then that thrilling saxophone riff. I love this song, its glorious imagery and its celebratory tone. New Pony is a repetitive but appealing blues and it now sounds great. Check out that guitar sound.

No Time To Think is an eight minute, piano driven masterpiece. Again packed with imagery and enhanced, in my opinion, but the female backing vocalists (as I said, I know that there are many do not share that opinion). Baby Please Stop Crying was a surprise hit in the summer of 1978. It shouldn’t really be a surprise, as it had a laid-back radio-friendly sound. I remember at the time that it sounded odd hearing Dylan played on daytime pop radio.

The old “side two” began with the beautiful saxophone and yearning lyrics of Is Your Love In Vain?  before we progress to another of the album’s cornerstones - Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power) - with its much-quoted line of “tell me where is it you're heading, Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?”. Great percussion backing on this and Dylan’s mysterious, questioning vocal. 

True Love Tends To Forget is another lovely, romantic, saxophone-dominated goodie. We Better Talk This Over is a melodious, laid back piece of soulful easy rock and the closer, the magnificent Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat), with its insistent Paul Simon-esque rhythms and New York references. I once walked along Elizabeth Street one evening just because Dylan mentions it in this song. Unfortunately, it proved to be just an unremarkable, busy city street. In the song, though, there is a wonderful atmosphere and it is full of evocative images. One of my favourites on what is a favourite album of all time.

Many will say that there are deep religious references buried in the lyrics of songs like Señor that would provide a pointer to Dylan’s new direction - a salvation that would pre-occupy him for the next four years. There was a slow train coming.




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LIVE AT BUDOKAN (1978)

1. Mr. Tambourine Man
2. Shelter From The Storm
3. Love Minus Zero/No Limits
4. Ballad Of A Thin Man
5. Don't Twice Twice, It's Alright
6. Maggie's Farm
7. One More Cup Of Coffee
8. Like A Rolling Stone
9. I Shall Be Released
10. Is Your Love In Vain?
11. Going, Going, Gone
12. Blowin' In The Wind
13. Just Like A Woman
14. Oh Sister
15. Simple Twist Of Fate
16. All Along The Watchtower
17. I Want You
18. All I Really Want To Do
19. Knockin' On Heaven's Door
20. It's Alright Ma, (I'm Only Bleeding)
21. Forever Young
22. The Times They Are A-Changin' 
  
It may surprise readers of this review when I reveal that this is my favourite Bob Dylan live album. For pretty much everyone else, it would seem to be the exact opposite! It was recorded during Dylan's tour to Japan in 1978, where, to please the Japanese audience, he agreed to play quite a few of his "greatest hits". Also, he assembled a large band that interpreted the material in a light, commercial, almost singalong way. There was lots of melodious flute and Phil Spector session veteran Steve Douglas provided some magnificent saxophone, both of those things are to my taste, particularly the saxophone. The way the material is played appals many Dylan aficionados, despising its "crowd-pleasing" nuances. Many prefer the muffled, scratchy intense sound of Hard Rain, an album I personally cannot warm to at all. I do like the Rolling Thunder live material from 1976, however, and, of course, Before The Flood. Despite the excellence of those two, I still prefer this one. Yes, I know, I know.

 
               
Highlights for me are many - a delicious Love Minus Zero/No Limits, a mysterious One More Cup Of CoffeeIs Your Love In VainGoing, Going, Gone, a version of I Want You that is actually close to that done by Bruce Springsteen in 1975, and fantastic versions of Blowin' In The WindKnockin' On Heaven's Door and a tear-jerking Forever Young to end. The latter is the best version of the song I have heard Dylan do - clearly enunciated, emotional and just beautiful. One of his finest live performances. The Times They Are A Changin' is great too. Personally, I love hearing Dylan so keen to please. Give this a listen and give it a bit of a reassessment.

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