Saturday, 3 October 2020

Bob Dylan - Trying To Get To Heaven (1997-2020)

 


An ageing Bob Dylan produced some of his best work for a long time in this, the final creative period of his career. It ended, possibly underwhelmingly, with cover versions of standard easy listening ballads.

Time Out Of Mind (1997)


Love Sick/Dirt Road Blues/Standing In The Doorway/Million Miles/Trying To Get To Heaven/Till I Fell In Love With You/Not Dark Yet/Cold Irons Bound/Make You Feel My Love/Can't Wait/Highlands  

"There was a time when the songs would come three or four at the same time, but those days are long gone...Once in a while, the odd song will come to me like a bulldog at the garden gate and demand to be written. But most of them are rejected out of my mind right away. You get caught up in wondering if anyone really needs to hear it. Maybe a person gets to the point where they have written enough songs. Let someone else write them"   - Bob Dylan  
             
This is one of Bob Dylan's darkest albums. He had not released an album of new material in seven years, and 1990's Under The Red Sky contained largely good-time pieces of bluesy fun. Here, we have a Dylan accepting and expressing awareness of his own mortality. He again uses Oh Mercy producer Daniel Lanois, who is a producer with a liking for a deep, sombre sound. This production seems to fit with Dylan's often reflective, deep lyrics. However, it has a bit of an intransigent feel to it. It doesn't breathe much. Critically, however, it was an album that had many purring and reclaiming Dylan as their Messiah after a long sojourn. The washed-out old has-been was now the wise old sage.
             
The tracks seem to follow a slow track/upbeat blues track pattern. The reflective, shuffling Love Sick is followed by the lively Dirt Road Blues and then we get the walking pace, dead slow, mournful Standing In The Doorway, which sounds like Dylan is about to give up on it all. "I can hear the church bells ringing in the yard, I wonder who they're ringing for...". He sounds tired and old. Ironically, many of the albums he has produced in the wake of this one have found him in a much livelier frame of mind. 

Million Miles is a mysterious-sounding, swampy blues, with an addictive bass sound and a convincing, croaky Dylan vocal. It was on this album that we saw that gruff old man's vocal appear that would dominate all his albums post this one. There was a different perception of Bob Dylan after this album. He was now credible again.

Trying To Get To Heaven is an update on Knocking' On Heaven's Door and is a moving, melodic slow burner with tones of the Oh Mercy material about it. "I'm trying to get to Heaven before they close the door..." sings a sad-sounding Dylan. It is a most evocative, emotional track. 

Time for some more blues in the grinding, insistent Till I Fell In Love With You. Juxtaposing the yearning, sad songs with the more bluesy, upbeat ones is a good idea. 

Not Dark Yet is the album's finest track, for me. A deeply moving, dignified song reflecting Dylan's feelings upon ageing. "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there...". As I write, twenty-one years later, Bob Dylan is still here. When he wrote that song, he was four years younger than I am now.


Cold Irons Bound is an electric, rocking blues full of intense atmosphere. 

Make You Feel My Love is now well known to many due its being covered by Adele. Dylan's original is a beautiful haunting love song and seems destined to be a much-covered classic. It does, however, sit somewhat incongruously with the rest of the album's material. 

Can't Wait has an appealing guitar underpinning its slow rhythm. 

The final track is the longest track ever recorded by Dylan, the sixteen minute Highlands. It is a slow, regular paced song with a reflective mood to it. It just keeps going. There is no real story to it, though, unlike some of Dylan's other longer songs. Despite its length, I don't tire of it as it goes on its way, possibly because it is absolutely jam-packed with memorable couplets.

This album proved to be a real turning point into the final creative phase of Dylan's career. Strangely enough, despite its strong reputation among critics, it is not an album I return to as much as I do others. That doesn't mean it lacks quality, though. Far from it.


Love And Theft (2001)


Tweedle Dee And Tweedle Dum/Mississippi/Summer Days/Bye And Bye/Lonesome Day Blues/Floater (Too Much To Ask)/High Water/Moonlight/Honest With Me/Po' Boy/Cry A While/Sugar Baby 

"These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music... I don't feel they know a thing, or have any inkling of who I am and what I'm about. I know they think they do, and yet it's ludicrous, it's humorous, and sad. That such people have spent so much of their time thinking about who? Me? Get a life, please. It's not something any one person should do about another. You're not serving your own life well. You’re wasting your life" - Bob Dylan

Well, let's hope I'm not wasting my life writing this review. This is a Bob Dylan album packed full of nostalgic Americana - it is folky, bluesy, cajun, swampy, country, rockabilly. All of those things make for a nice gumbo of an album, very much influenced by a Louisiana Southernness, more so than on any other Dylan album. It is also part of the HDCD remaster series so the sound is top notch.
                                          
Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum attracted much derision upon release many expressing incredulity that the man who wrote Desolation Row or Like A Rolling Stone could have lowered himself so far down as to write a song with such a title. The title is an easy target, however. The song is a lively, rollicking almost rockabilly romp, with some beguiling lyrics and Dylan's croaky voice rising above the rapid, shuffling beat. It has real instant, catchy appeal to it. Just forget the title.


Mississippi sees the great ageing genius applying his now stately growl to a beautiful, slow-paced and emotive number. I love this one. Dylan's voice is just so appealing here and the song is both sad and uplifting, simultaneously.

Summer Days is just an upbeat, toe-tapping joyful delight. Nobody can fail to enjoy this. Dylan sounds as if he is positively enjoying himself, his singing matching the guitar-picking, frantic rockabilly, Cajun-ish beat throughout. He packs words into the music - "what do you mean you can't of course you can..." he crams into a split second, effortlessly.

Bye And Bye is a slow-paced fetching song, with and air of 1920s-1930s sleepiness about it. It is a song from days gone by, sung by a man who by now is already starting to seem ageless. The messiah has become Methuselah.

Despite the relaxing, pleasant nature of a lot of the songs, Dylan still finds time for some acerbic, wry, cutting lyrics. Any tenderness, and there is lots of it, is often tempered by a dark gallows humour  and a constant awareness of mortality.

Lonesome Day Blues is a magnificent, chugging blues rock number, with a repeated guitar-driven blues riff and the usual blues thing of repeating the first two verses of each stanza. "Settin' my dial on my radioI wish my mother was still alive..." Dylan suddenly emotively announces at the end of one of the verses. You believe him too. There are so many other wonderful couplets throughout the song - "he's not a gentleman at all, he's rotten to the core, he's a coward and he steals..." he spits out, Idiot Wind-style. Great stuff.


Floater (Too Much To Ask) is a country-style, fiddle and steel guitar number which has Dylan declaring "I'm in love with my second cousin, I tell myself could be happy forever with her..." possibly taking the backwoods thing a bit too far! Again, the song is packed full of wonderful lyrical images. The period coincided with Dylan starting to present radio shows full of Americana recordings, so the direction on this album was no surprise.

High Water is a banjo-led ominously prescient tale of a flood, several years before Hurricane Katrina. It is a dark song, with dark images and a sonorously portentous vocal from Dylan.

Moonlight sounds like one of those "Great American Songbook" crooners that Dylan now records. It is a slow country ballad, with a delicious slide guitar and a lively vocal.

It is back to the blues with the powerful, rhythmic Honest With Me, more wonderful, exhilarating fare. I know a lot of people feel that 1997's Time Out Of Mind was Dylan's finest later-era album. Personally, I prefer this one.

Po' Boy is another swampy, bluesy country-style romp and Cry A While is a copper-bottomed, grinding blues. 

Sugar Baby is a walking-pace, slow and mournful closer to what is a most enjoyable, highly-recommended album. "These bootleggers, they make pretty good stuff.." croaks Bob. So do, you old man, so do you.

Aside - strangely, Dylan looks considerably older on the back cover than he does on the front.

** An interesting non-album track dating from 1999 is the bluesy grind of Things Have Changed, which was written for a movie soundtrack, but would have suited this album nicely.




Modern Times (2006)


Thunder On The Mountain/Spirit On The Water/Rollin' And Tumblin'/When The Deal Goes Down/Someday Baby/Workingman's Blues/Beyond The Horizon/Nettie Moore/The Levee's Gonna Break/Ain't Talkin'   

"What happens is, I'll take a song in my head I know and simply start playing it in my head" - Bob Dylan 

Five years after the delicious, Americana-influenced Love And Theft, Bob Dylan gave us pretty much more of the same with this uplifting, often exhilarating album, which had a real ad hoc, almost live feel to it. His band were on top form and they just got on with it, or it certainly seemed like it, listening to its loose, ready groove. Apparently, several lines in some of the songs were ones that had appeared earlier in old blues songs, sparking a bit of controversy. You know what? I don't care. I didn't care when Led Zeppelin did it and I don't care when Dylan does it. He is influenced by these songs so he goes somewhat jackdaw-like when writing new ones. I guess he should have credited the original writers of those lines, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. Dylan loves Americana and he uses it wherever he can to enhance his songs. That is what he is all about in this later phase of his career. The whole album has hints of songs and artists all over it.

Dylan had this to say about the kerfuffle:-


"Well, you have to understand that I'm not a melodist... My songs are either based on old Protestant hymns or Carter Family songs or variations of the blues form. What happens is, I'll take a song I know and simply start playing it in my head. That's the way I meditate. A lot of people will look at a crack on the wall and meditate, or count sheep or angels or money or something, and it's a proven fact that it'll help them relax. I don't meditate on any of that stuff. I meditate on a song. I'll be playing Bob Nolan's 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds', for instance, in my head constantly—while I'm driving a car or talking to a person or sitting around or whatever. People will think they are talking to me and I'm talking back, but I'm not. I'm listening to a song in my head. At a certain point, some words will change and I'll start writing a song"
                                 
Thunder On The Mountain is a lively, appealing bluesy rocker with a namecheck for Alicia Keys, who Dylan was thinking about, apparently. There is some excellent rocking blues guitar on the track and just a great vibe to it. It just gets you going. 

Spirit On The Water sounds like it is straight off Love And Theft, with that laid-back, swampy, jazzy guitar and shuffling, appealing beat. Dylan softly croaks away and it just sounds so reassuring and comforting, even. Rollin' And Tumblin' is an upbeat, Muddy Waters-influenced rocking blues of the style we have come to expect from Dylan now, particularly since Time Out Of Mind. I really like these later-era Dylan albums - they are invigorating, enthusiastically played and just most enjoyable. 

When The Deal Goes Down is a slow, yearning song with Dylan actually crooning, a style he would come to utilise in later years when he covered that sort of material. This is more a piece of old time, bluesy slow swinging jazz.

Someday Baby recycles that old six note blues riff that Dylan and many, many other artists have used before - Muddy WatersSleepy John Estes (originally) and The Allman Brothers Band, to name just a few. 

Now, the mighty Workingman's Blues is up there in my top ten Dylan songs of all times - it is a slow-burning, sad-sounding song, jam-packed with great lines and Dylan's voice just makes me feel tearful when I hear it on this song. I can't express just how much I love it."Sleep is like a temporary death..." is just one of the lines that really does it for me.


Beyond The Horizon is another old-time crooning, shuffling jazzy slowie with some lovely jazz guitar at the end. 

Nettie Moore is a re-working of an old nineteenth-century folk ballad. It is performed here over a thumping, funereal drum backing as Dylan's grizzled old voice delivers the tale of his devotion to Nettie Moore despite his struggle and strife. A sombre violin backs him as he launches into the growled chorus. "The world has gone berserk - too much paperwork..." he tells us. Indeed.

The Levee's Gonna Break is a lively blues romp with some killer rockabilly guitar, throbbing bass and Dylan on enthusiastic vocal form. 

Finally, Ain't Talkin' is a solemn, extended number to end upon. It is reflective, thoughtful and dignified. As with all the post-Time Out Of Mind albums, this has been an impressive outing.

Together Through Life (2009)


Beyond Here Lies Nothing/Life Is Hard/My Wife's Home Town/If You Ever Go To Houston/Forgetful Heart/Jolene/This Dream Of You/Shake Shake Mama/I Feel A Change Comin' On/It's All Good  

“Hunter is an old buddy, we could probably write a hundred songs together if we thought it was important or the right reasons were there... He's got a way with words and I do too. We both write a different type of song than what passes today for songwriting" - Bob Dylan       

This is a blues rock album from Bob Dylan, played straight and without frills by a tight as a gnat's chuff band and by a Dylan sounding lively and committed. It was, apparently, recorded very quickly, but therein lies its appeal. It sounds almost "live" and is all the better for it. Dylan collaborated on the songwriting with The Grateful Dead's Robert Hunter, with whom he had written a couple of good songs on 1988's Down In The Groove
                                      
Beyond Here Lies Nothing is a harmonica, bass, guitar and rums-driven industrial chugging blues with some great instrumental breaks and Dylan's croaky old voice strangely powerful and charismatic. Dylan's pre-occupation with "Americana" music from the pre-rock'n'roll days (something begun strongly in "Time Out Of Mind and Love And Theft is exemplified in the slow, folky, croony ballad Life Is Hard.

My Wife's Home Town is a very stark, bluesy number in the style of which continued on the next album, Tempest"Hell's my Wife's home town..." sings a cynical, world-weary Dylan over a classic four-note blues riff. 

If You Ever Go To Houston is another one sung over a repeated riff, this time played on an accordion (or something similar). This is an album very much rooted in the past, in both musical and lyrical history, speaking of an almost mythical American past, a seemingly forever stuck in the 1950s sort of groove.

 

Forgetful Heart starts with lots of hissy, crackling noise in the background, as if it were an old blues record. Dylan's ageing but strangely comforting voice suits the slow grinding melody down to the ground. There is some great scratchy guitar on here. 

Jolene is not the Dolly Parton number, but another copper-bottomed blues with some seriously top notch guitar riffery. This album cooks, big time. 

This Dream Of You has Dylan going all Tex-Mex, complete with accordion and yearning lovelorn Latin vocal. It is a quite endearing, most enjoyable song.

A lot of people didn't seem to like this album, as they didn't like Tempest either. They don't seem to like an old man continuing his career singing bluesy songs based in style on a time long gone by, yet they also seem to want him to come out with stuff that matched his material from forty-five years previous to the recording of this album. Not going to happen. A blues like Shake Shake Mama would have been perfectly acceptable on Blonde On Blonde, given the "wild mercury" treatment, so why not accept it here, with its down 'n' dirty guitar sound and gruff vocal. None of these artists can re-create their genius from their twenties - not Dylan, Springsteen, Morrison, Costello, The Stones, McCartney, Elton John, Paul Simon - any of them. It does not mean what they do in later years is not worthy of attention, in my opinion. I really like this album.

I Feel A Change Coming On again has some essential accordion, some searing guitar and yet another wise-sounding Dylan vocal about "reading James Joyce...". He was always good for a literary name-drop, like Van Morrison.

It's All Good sings a wry Dylan above another classic, often used blues riff on the energetic, shuffling closer. It has all been good, Bob. All of it.

Tempest (2012)


Duquesne Whistle/Soon After Midnight/Narrow Way/Long And Wasted Years/Pay In Blood/Scarlet Town/Early Roman Kings/Tin Angel/Tempest/Roll On John  

"Shakespeare's last play was called 'The Tempest'. It wasn't called just plain 'Tempest'. The name of my record is just plain Tempest. It's two different titles"  - Bob Dylan  

Like most of Bob Dylan’s “later period” albums - Time Out Of MindLove And TheftModern Times and Together Through LifeTempest is very much and album chock full of Americana - folky blues, railroad blues, country, folk, rockabilly and bluegrass influences and the usual perplexing lyrics often dark, sometimes mournful, mischievous and disarmingly tender at times. Basically, it is 21st century Bob Dylan.

Something that is constant with these five albums is that Dylan seems to have found musicians he is happy with, whom he can go into a studio with, and quickly thrash out this music, played to an extremely high standard. He draws, like he does in his “Radio Hour” show, on the American folk music of his youth and constructs songs in that style but played to contemporary standards.

I am certainly no Dylanologist, so I do not spend hours poring over his lyrics trying to decipher Biblical or Shakespearean oblique references, neither do I hail every album he contemporarily puts out as a “return to form”. I listen to it, and I decide whether I like the sound of it or not. It is that simple. I don’t compare it to Blonde On Blonde or Blood On The Tracks. I just take it at face value. It sounds like a good album of songs to me.

 
                      
Duquesne Whistle is an infectious, slightly rockabilly, lively country-style opener. It has a captivating “brush” drum sound and Dylan’s old man’s throaty voice is so vibrant, so vivid. It gives great gravitas to the song, like an old bluesman would. It also has that rubber band, jazzy bass sound. I love this track. The sound quality on this, and all the tracks, is excellent and the band are top notch, as always.

Soon After Midnight is a gentle, reflective, almost walking beat sad ballad with a steel guitar quietly sounding away in the background. 

Narrow Way has an archetypal blues harmonica repetitive rhythm that stays at the same pace throughout while Dylan confidently delivers his words of warning. “Even Death has washed its hands of you”, bemoans Dylan, portentously. Only Dylan comes up with this sort of stuff, even now. “I got a heavy stacked woman, with a smile on her face…”. Although the tune never diverts from its metronomic beat, you stay with it all the way, as the lyrics never fail to fascinate.

Long And Wasted Years has another constant musical refrain, a melodious tune and another excellent vocal. 

Pay In Blood has Dylan railing and growling about paying in blood, but not his own, over a truly gorgeous bass line. “I’ll give you justice…” croaks an angry Dylan. He sounds as if he means it.

Scarlet Town is a slow burning, solid piece of country rock, with a slow banjo accompaniment.  

Early Roman Kings revisits that “da-dah da-dah” repeated harmonica riff again, and Dylan’s lyrics are a stream of invective. “I ain’t dead yet….my bell still rings…I keep my fingers crossed… like the early Roman Kings….”. There is some really dark, “house of death” imagery on this one, it is full of it. Dylan cuts a frustrated, world-weary figure as indeed he does on the somnolent, chugging Tin Angel. Insistent and potent, this is one of my favourite songs on the album.



Tempest, the fourteen minute song about the sinking of The Titanic has been derided by many. I don’t really understand why. Myself, I love these long Dylan narratives - Lily, Rosemary & The Jack Of HeartsJoeyBrownsville Girl - they are superb story songs and nobody tells them better than Dylan. Tempest is my favourite song on the album. It is full to the brim with marvellous characterisation, narrative and imagery. Nobody does this sort of thing better than Dylan. If people don’t like this, then what attracted them to Bob Dylan in the first place?

The John Lennon tribute, Roll On John, is also very evocative and atmospheric and displays a real sensitivity and tenderness towards Lennon. It is almost surprising to hear Dylan so personal in his tribute.

So, there you go. No real analysis or gushing “return to form” stuff. I enjoy this album every time I listen to it, and that is good enough for me.




Shadows In The Night (2015)


I'm A Fool To Want You/The Night We Called It A Day/Stay With Me/Autumn Leaves/Why Try To Change Me Now/Some Enchanted Evening/Full Moon And Empty Arms/Where Are You?/What'll I Do/That Lucky Old Sun  

"I don't see myself as covering these songs in any way. They've been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day" - Bob Dylan 
                
Bob Dylan has always liked a cover version, even from way back in his folk days (his first album was full of them). He has always liked to dip into what Van Morrison would call "the days before rock 'n' roll" and the "Americana" from the fifties, and sometimes from even earlier - the Delta blues standards, of course and nineteenth-century folk songs.  Here, he covers songs sung by Frank Sinatra. These are not "big band", It Had To be YouNew York, New York songs, however. They are "torch" style songs from Sinatra's "dark of the night" period from the late fifties - songs intended to be played in the dark of night after an evening hitting the saloon bars, alone, your girl having gone God knows where, with God knows who.

It is not, in any way, like the more common Sinatra covers album that TV stars put out for the Christmas market. It is a sombre, highly evocative, atmospheric collection of sad, reflective songs. They suit Dylan's croaky, ageing voice perfectly. Yes, Sinatra purists will say that they do not want to hear anyone sing these songs but Sinatra, and, in many ways, I can understand that, but, as a Dylan aficionado, I can derive considerable pleasure from this. Yes, this was the artist who defined the change from when artists covered other people's songs to writing their own songs, and, of course, he is possibly the greatest lyricist popular music has ever known, but, as I said before, he always likes a cover. He respects music that has gone before. He wanted to do this album, and he does it well.













My personal highlights are The Night We Called It A DayAutumn Leaves, the heartbreaking Where Are You and That Lucky Old Sun. The backing on the album is understated and sparse, subtle enough to concentrate on the lyrics, as indeed the originals were. As mentioned earlier, these were not big band-backed songs. I find this an ideal late evening album. I have the Sinatra albums too, but sometimes I like to play this. I do feel, however, that the subsequent albums of "Great American Songbook" crooners were a couple of steps too far from Dylan.



Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020)


I Contain Multitudes/False Prophet/My Own Version Of You/I've Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You/Black Rider/Goodbye Jimmy Reed/Mother Of Muses/Crossing The Rubicon/Key West (Philosopher Pirate)/Murder Most Foul

"Equal parts death-haunted and cantankerous" - Jon Pareles - The New York Times

In the middle of a pandemic of Biblical proportions, guess what? Bob Dylan, music's grand old Methuselah, puts out his first album of self-penned material since 2012's Tempest. There is something hauntingly apt about that, isn't there?

The album is a good one - a mix of lengthy, quiet, acoustic, often mortality-haunted lyric-fests and a few (three) tougher, industrial-strength blues workouts. This has been Dylan's way for a fair few decades now, so those who don't like it should stay away. Those who are ok with it are guaranteed to get some pleasure from this surprise release.

I Contain Multitudes starts the album off with a slow, growled acoustic number in the style of some of the material on Modern TimesLove And Theft and Time Out Of Mind amongst others. The song contains instantly recognisable rhyme schemes and a suitable multitude of references - Edgar Allan Poe, All The Young Dudes, Anne Frank, The Rolling Stones, William Blake, Beethoven, Chopin - that show, indeed, that he and his thinking contains multitudes. It is a low-key but thoughtful and intellectually invigorating song. It sounds like the sort of material Dylan played on his radio show, full of folky, Americana feel. "I'm a man of contradictions, I'm a man of many moods..." he tells us - I think we knew that, Bob.

 

Like the Time Out Of Mind album, this one vacillates between slow acoustic narratives and stonking, big bluesers. Firmly in the latter category is the chugging, powerful False Prophet, which is one of Dylan's finest blues cuts for a fair time. Since 2012 in fact. It brings to mind the material from Together Through Life as well as that contained on Tempest

My Own Version Of You sees the beat toned down but it still retains a deep, bluesy chug of a bass line as it backs Dylan's endlessly intriguing lyrics. "What would Julius Caesar do?" asks Dylan. He still has that ability to come up with simple but interesting lines. "I've studied Sanskrit and Arabic to improve my mind" is another good one. The old Biblical references he always loved are resurrected for this song too, lots of them. I can't keep quoting them. Musically it flows on like a gentle river that one can rely on to flow in the same fashion, year in, year out. Bob Dylan has been doing that for years too. You can still depend on him.

I've Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You is a beautiful, tender number with subtle, repeated “ooh”. backing vocals and lyrics concerning mortality, something that has been on Dylan’s mind for years. The subject is dealt with in even more direct, uncompromising style on the stark, haunting Black Rider. Dylan also gets unusually graphic when he says “the size of your cock will get you nowhere”. In fact, I don't think I can recall Dylan ever getting sexually graphic. The song has a haunting beauty to it, however.



Goodbye Jimmy Reed is a solid, muscular return to the blues. Dylan likes to remember old bluesmen occasionally, remember Blind Willie McTell.

Mother Of Muses puts me in mind of Ring Them Bells from Oh Mercy. It is chock full of historical references - Sherman, Patton, Presley, Luther King Jr. “I’ve already outlived my life by far” croaks a baleful Dylan, most movingly. I challenge anyone who has followed this man’s music for many decades not to feel a bit tearful on hearing this.

“Three miles north of purgatory, one step from the great beyond” says Dylan on the slow blues of Crossing The Rubicon. Once again, this is a track overloaded with wonderful imagery and couplets that show why Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It sounds childishly simplistic to say something like that, doesn't it? But nobody does it like this. Dylan is just so special.

Key West (Philosopher Pirate) has a lovely subtle accordion backing and some decidedly Van Morrison-esque lyrics about old radio stations and frequency bands. It is a marvellous, lengthy and quietly intoxicating song once more giving up many classic Dylan lines - “at twelve years old they put me in a suit and forced me to marry a prostitute” - what a line - that old Western fantasy imagery still coming through strong.

Then, of course, there is what may be Dylan's final track on his final album (then again, people have been saying that for years). Either way, Murder Most Foul goes down as his longest individual song, beating the slightly similar Highlands and the narrative Tempest. It is already notable for over fifty name-checks, again Van Morrison style, as Dylan quietly evokes all sorts of cultural and historical memories over a steady, metronomically regular bass, strings and gentle percussion backing. Dylan's reminiscences are inspired initially by the 1963 murder of John F. Kennedy, but as it progresses it becomes something much bigger, something that seems to act as a mirror to Dylan's whole life. It is a great achievement and yes, I am sure that I won't be constantly sitting through its sixteen minutes plus, but you can be assured that whenever I do, I will appreciate it. It is a veritable cornucopia of beguiling wordsmithery. Hell, it's an incredibly moving work of genius - indeed, the same can be said of this album.






BOB DYLAN IN MONO BOX SET



This is a truly wonderful release of essential mono recordings, let me put that out there right at the beginning. There is so much pleasure to be gained from listening to these recordings (some of which I am used to hearing in stereo for all my listening life). There are a few points about Dylan's mono recordings in general that I wish to make, however.

Firstly, I believe it is a bit of myth that the stereo recordings of the early albums were "guitar out of one channel and Dylan's voice out of the other", Taxman style, rudimentary stereo. I have all the albums in their remastered stereo versions and, with this box set in their remastered mono versions. To me, the first four all albums sound pretty much the same. There is no bass to benefit from the centralised mono punch or multi-instrumentation to sound good in stereo. These four albums sound acceptable in either format, as the stereo doesn't really kick in at all, to be honest, they just sound  mono to me, anyway. Maybe this is just me, and my ears just can't detect. Either way it doesn't really matter, either version does the job for me.

It is on the next four albums that some serious differences can be found, particularly on John Wesley Harding and Blonde On Blonde. The latter sounds ok in stereo, but there is a bit of a Taxman 60s stereo feel about the masterings, in my opinion. The mono, on the other hand, is a revelation. Listen to that massive bass on Obviously 5 Believers punching right out centre field on your speakers. On the stereo version, the bass is barely discernible, comparatively. Visions Of Johanna also has a magnificent bass reproduction in mono, as does Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again and Brand New Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat. The stereo is much weaker, more lightweight. Play these mono recordings mega-loud and you will love it, like being in the studio with The Band. The percussion intro to Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands is crystal clear and razor sharp, like a bell. The stereo version, on the other hand, has the same sound restricted to the right channel and doesn't sound anywhere near as convincing.

A couple that, in my opinion, sound better in stereo are Pledging My Time and You Most Likely Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine, which are just a little muffled in mono.

The wonderful descending bass line on John Wesley Harding's The Wicked Messenger is huge in mono. In stereo it is almost deliberately quiet, inexplicably and unforgivably.

Highway 61 Revisited has superb mono bass on Tombstone Blues and the title track. From A Buick 6 is great too. Desolation Row benefits from the centralisation of the acoustic guitar, but I am yet to be convinced about Like A Rolling Stone.

Bringing It All Back Home's manic Subterranean Homesick Blues is, as one might expect, magnificent in its mono attack and power.

Overall, these mono recordings are an excellent listening experience that you will not regret investing in. If you like big, powerful, booming bass making your floor shake you will love it.

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