Thursday, 3 June 2021

Bite-sized Bob

These are most of Bob Dylan's studio albums, together with short accompaniments from my longer reviews (which can be accessed here) :-

Bob Dylan (1962)

Yes, I know this is where it all started for Bob Dylan, but, as someone who owns all his albums (save the last two "crooning" ones - Fallen Angels and Triplicate) I have to admit that I rarely play this album and find it a slightly grating and, at times, difficult listen. It is largely made up of old blues covers, but they are sung nowhere near as appealingly as they are say, by the older Dylan, on Good As I Been To You or World Gone Wrong. I find Dylan's young voice just a little irritating on this album in places, although of course, I realise what an effect the album had, having been released by one so young. It is nowhere near as good an album as The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan or The Times They Are A-Changin', though. Though released not long after, they are light years ahead. This set him on his way, though, but the whole folk/protest movement thing came over the next year or so, with his next two albums and contributions from other artists in the Greenwich Village folk scene.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

After a debut album that included only two original compositions, Bob Dylan effectively launched his singer/songwriter career from here. He still used traditional folk melodies but now he added his own unbelievably mature, prophetic and wise beyond his years lyrics. The cultural impact of this album simply cannot be overstated. Some of the songs on here became synonymous with the early sixties, the burgeoning folk scene, particularly in New York's Greenwich Village, and with an increased need in the young and intelligent to protest. The songs embraced the Civil Rights movement, political corruption and the omnipresent early sixties paranoia about impending nuclear war. He also had love songs on here, but they were not "moon in June"/"baby I love you" odes - they were often cynical, bitter and accusatory, something continued for a fair few years. As fetching as the picture is on the front cover, I have always felt sorry for poor old Suze Rotolo, who must have been on the receiving end of Dylan's acerbic tongue on many occasions. You can somehow imagine him talking to her in a scathing manner when she failed to grasp whatever irony he was dabbling with or because she wasn't aware of a particular little-known author.

The Times They Are A-Changin' (1963)

This is by far my favourite of Bob Dylan's folk "protest" albums. It is a spectacular masterpiece of the genre, written and delivered by a young man of barely twenty-two. Personally, I find the songs more melodic and less starkly bleak than those of the previous album's, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. The subject matter is pretty much the same - impending nuclear war, the Civil Rights movement, racism, oppression, social deprivation, poverty, religious hypocrisy, political corruption and wealth and, of course, the generation gap, as expressed in the magnificent, epoch-defining title track. The Times They Are A Changin' is, frankly, a strong contender for being the greatest popular song ever written, albeit a protest one. It means something to every young generation as they collectively rail, passionately, but often naively, against their elders. It mattered so much in 1963, when there was an older generation that really could not comprehend the ideals and attitudes of the younger one. Today's older generation are much more understanding - many of them listen to rock music and Bob Dylan, of course something hardly anyone over twenty-five did in 1963. Even now, in my own middle-age I find I can listen to this and bristle with rebellious ire, imagining I am singing it to what were my actually quite tolerant, enlightened parents. Its effect is that strong.

Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964)

This, Bob Dylan's last all-acoustic "folk" album is one of those that I don't play so much, for some reason. I much prefer its predecessor, The Times They Are A-Changin'. I'm not quite sure why that is. I think I prefer the more blatant "protest" songs of that album and The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan to the more tongue-in-cheek, or romantically bitter tunes on offer on this outing. There are undoubtedly some fine songs on here, and Dylan has certainly diversified his songwriting approach. There are other changes necessary too, though. These songs need more of an accompaniment - get yourself a band and strap on an electric guitar and play .....loud!

Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

The album that alienated Bob Dylan's folk fans by "going electric" on the old "side one". It was, in many ways, an album that changed all sorts of things - Dylan's approach to songwriting and also that of The Beatles, who Dylan had recently met for the first time. Gone were the "protest songs" of 1962-1964 and in came the much-vaunted "stream of consciousness" lyrics and an electric guitar, rock 'n' roll influenced drum, bass and keyboard sounds. This album signalled a new era. Dylan was off on the electric tour and within a few years electric guitars, weird lyrics and psychedelia were everywhere. In many ways it started here although the UK blues rock groups were similarly genre-creating.

Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

The album that blew the windows wide open. Yes, half of Bringing It All Back Home had introduced the “electric” element to Dylan’s sound with a colossal bang, but here it took it to the max and mixed it with some of his most evocative, cinematic, imagery-full lyrics. Indeed, some of the most adventurous lyrics popular music had ever seen. Remember, this was 1965. The Beatles were only just out of the covering of rock n roll standards on half their albums, The Rolling Stones of covering blues standards and The Beach Boys were still singing about surfing, cars and girls. What Dylan achieved on this album was just remarkable. It is Dylan taking his influences and making something new, innovative and adventurous out of them. As the title suggests, Highway 61 is "revisited". "Re-worked" more like, with Dylan's supremely poetic, image-packed lyrics making Dylan's style of blues something completely unique.

Blonde On Blonde (1966)

Before Sgt Pepper had been conceived of came Dylan's double album masterpiece, Blonde On Blonde, his third consecutive "electric" album featuring what he described as "that wild, mercury sound" - a sort of guitar, swirling organ and crystal clear cymbal/percussion sound that is pretty much unique to this album alone, in all his works. It is a magnificent, ground-breaking work of contemporary musical and lyrical art. For a start, double albums were virtually unheard of, let alone one side of a vinyl disc being taken up with one single track, as here in Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands. Indeed, this was the rock genre's first double album. Dylan's vocal delivery was as good as it had ever been, many of his lyrics were actual poems, full of intriguing imagery, the result of an imagination running wild and free. The connection with traditional blues musical conceits was a strong one too. There is some great blues material on here. For many, this was/is Bob Dylan's crowning achievement. It is difficult to disagree. It is also very difficult to review because a) it is so damn good and b) so many people have offered so many opinions on it. Mine are just some more.

The Basement Tapes (1967)

I have always had a bit of a problem with this sprawling album of largely "demo" songs being hailed as one of the greatest albums of all time, packed full of works of genius. While it is not quite in the execrable category as The Beach Boys' equivalent of studio buffoonery Smiley Smile, not by a long way, I still have difficulty in accepting the album as anything other than a reasonably interesting collection of loose, pressure-off, relatively light-hearted pieces of studio fun. The musicians involved on the album have said many times over the years that the material was never intended to be released - they were just trying out a whole heap of songs and styles and having fun doing it. Robbie Robertson has expressed disappointment that the stuff got bootlegged. For me, it will always sound rough and ready, some guys having a good time in the studio, and were it not Bob Dylan & The Band, it would not have garnered 1% of the attention of that it subsequently did. But, because it was them, it does have an interest. Give me Music From Big Pink anyday, though. Sorry.

John Wesley Harding (1967)

John Wesley Harding was Bob Dylan’s somewhat low-key 1968 album release. After the glory that was Blonde On Blonde, from two years earlier, Dylan had suffered a motorcycle accident and had gone low profile for a year or so. He had recorded some material with The Band, but otherwise he had gone to ground, tired of the stresses of being incredibly famous. Briefly, he had had enough of the whole thing and it deemed his muse had deserted him, to a certain extent. He was back in 1968, after The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys had produced, or were in the process of producing, works of high quality, so he returned with an almost deliberately low-profile, laid-back album of folky songs. Based around acoustic guitar, a melodious bass, some trademark harmonica and a gentle drum sound, there were no extended works of genius on here, like Desolation Row or Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands. Just a collection of sensitive, often quiet, reflective songs with a fair amount of biblical references dotted around in the lyrics. It must be remembered that this album was released into a maelstrom of psychedelia and full-on electric stuff from Jimi Hendrix, Cream and the like. To revert back to quieter, tuneful folky, country-influenced material was a huge move.  It also pretty much kick-started the “country rock” genre. Crosby, Stills and Nash were waiting in the wings. I feel this album has been unfairly overlooked in many ways. It was as ground-breaking as any other album he produced, and more than that, it was simply a good album.

Nashville Skyline (1969) 

I've always found it a strange little album, Nashville Skyline. Consistent to his seemingly perverse nature around this time, in early 1969, Bob Dylan gave his impatiently waiting fans, who were expecting the next work of genius, less than half an hour’s worth of light country music. The album has to be viewed individually and objectively, in order to get the positives out of it and comparisons with Blonde On Blonde, Highway 61 Revisted, or even with the more country-influenced John Wesley Harding are futile. The latter still had songs like All Along The Watchtower and The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest on it, there was certainly nothing like that on here. Neither was there any of the psychedelic or blues rock that was de rigeur in 1968-69 around. “Country Rock” was starting to become the thing to delve into in the late sixties/early seventies. The Byrds were heading that way, as were The Band. Crosby Stills & Nash would put out their eponymous album a month later. As if to emphasise the light-hearted, easy-going country nature of the recording Dylan appeared grinning on the cover, in a cowboy-style hat and holding an acoustic guitar.

Self Portrait (1970)

Bob Dylan, infuriated by the public’s desire for him to produce works of genius every year or so, supposedly released this album in 1970 as a throwaway work of rubbish, just to spite the ever-expectant public. The perceived wisdom is that it is drivel, much like The Beach Boys’ dreadful Smiley Smile. Over the years, however, opinions have softened regarding it. I, personally, have always quite liked it. Taken as an extension of the country style introduced on its predecessor, Nashville Skyline, it is not a bad album at all. Indeed, I consider a better album than the previous one. It is longer and its instrumentation more varied and the song's diversity is far greater. The music played is excellent and the sound quality superb. By its end, the album does start to lose its appeal a little. A single album would have been far preferable and could have contained quite a few tracks, as they are quite short. It would not have been criticised as much, take out the live tracks and some of these at the end and you have a reasonable album. Go up to Gotta Travel On (leaving out the Tired Horses), add Alberta 2. That’s thirteen shortish tracks of good quality. It was the adding on of too much sprawling filler that did for this album, not the first half of it.

New Morning (1970)

Around 1970-72 was the time many artists put out laid-back, contemplative, rustic country rock - Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Deja Vu and this, from Bob Dylan. It is a beguiling piece of work. It has been praised a lot, especially in comparison with Self Portrait, which I feel is wide of the mark, slightly. Personally, I much prefer the latter. This album I find somewhat stark and unrealised. It came only four months after the reviled Self Portrait, yet it avoided the brickbats and was hailed as a refreshing breath of fresh air. I am not quite sure why. It has always seemed throwaway and lightweight, to me.

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973)

I am not sure I agree with Landau's somewhat sour comment above. This is obviously a movie soundtrack album, as opposed to a regular album release, so there are not really quite as many observations to be made. There are some good tracks on the album, though, making it more credible than many think, particularly as it was Dylan's first material for three years. The presence of the three Billy songs and Heaven's Door make this more than just an album of background music. It is a worthwhile occasional listen.

Dylan (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. 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.

Planet Waves (1973)

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 overall sound quality is excellent, by the way, unlike the rather harsh sounding New Morning, but the album itself, as opposed to its hi-fi, is somewhat brutal and tough in its sound, particularly in comparison to the next release, Blood On The Tracks. For this reason it has never been an album that I have particularly warmed to. There are many others that are much more endearing, both lyrically and musically. Many aficionados love it, however, possibly because of Dylan's reunion with The Band for the recording and subsequent tour. It was actually the only studio album Dylan ever recorded with them. Despite my ambiguous thoughts about it, though, it is definitely Dylan's most confident, "in your face" and confrontational offering since Blonde On Blonde, eight long years previous.

Blood On The Tracks (1974)

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. The thing about the album which is often overlooked is that it is not all made up of embittered, heartbroken "break-up blues", lyrically. There are several lovely, tender moments - You're A Big Girl, Simple Twist Of Fate and the winsome country of 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 - these are genuinely touching love songs. Another counter to the "bitter, divorce. vitriol..." clichés trotted out about the album is that it ends with two quite tender songs in the reassuring loyalty of Shelter From The Storm and the melodic, unthreatening, almost throwaway country vibe of the short Buckets Of Rain. Nothing about Dylan is clear, though, is it? This was one of the century's greatest albums. No question. Dylan was finally shedding the burden of his classic 1964-1966 period and proving that he could once again produce a spectacular piece of work. Even at the time I remember feeling that this was an artist re-discovering his greatness. Not all contemporary journalists took that view, though, and notable names such as NME's Nick Kent, who called it "trashy" and soon to be Springsteen champion Jon Landau, who said it had been "made with typical shoddiness", wrote reviews that they presumably felt embarrassed about in later years. It took a few months for its greatness to be slowly acknowledged, which was a noteworthy oddity. As for me, I'm no journalist but I never tire of listening to it, all these years later. I feel I should have written more about it but for some reason I can't (the same applied to Blonde On Blonde). Maybe Dylan's compositions say all that is needed. Of course they do. 

Desire (1976)

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 and began its genesis only a few months after the release of Blood On The Tracks. It is, however, a completely different album in its overall sound, is ambience and its lyrics. Its sound is more upbeat, heavily-centred around the use of a violin and its lyrics not influenced by the previous one's emotional angst. There is a strange story emanating from the early months of the creation 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.

Street-Legal (1978)

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. Dylan, heavily in debt due to his messy divorce from Sara, however, was at his most irascible during the hurried recording of the album. You would never have known, though, as it comes over as breezy, accessible and vibrant, surprisingly. In contrast to 99.9% of Dylan aficionados I feel there is not a duff track on the album. Regarding popular analysis, many will say that there are deep religious references buried in the lyrics of songs like Señor and possibly Changing Of The Guard and No Time To Think that would provide a pointer to Dylan’s new direction - a shock salvation that would pre-occupy him for the next four years. There was a slow train coming.

Slow Train Coming (1979)

Sometime in 1978, Bob Dylan "saw the light" and became a born-again Christian. It is easy to deride the three explicitly devotional albums he released in the subsequent years. Some of the criticism is justified, some of it is completely unfair. This is the best of the albums. Its sound quality is superb, for a start. Mark Knopfler is on the album and it was produced by soul veteran Jerry Wexler. It has a rich, bassy warmth to it, and, while the lyrics are undoubtedly preachy and dogmatic, personally, I always find the album a pleasure to listen to and do not find any aspects of it remotely off-putting. Whatever Dylan's motivations behind his Christian phase, there is no doubting his total commitment and powerful, potent attack on this material. Whatever he believes, he does appear to believe in something, and is forcefully expressing it. Good for him, in many ways.

Saved (1980)

The second of Bob Dylan's Christian albums, I have always found Saved, from 1980, far less appealing than its predecessor, the vivacious, dynamic Slow Train Coming. Firstly, despite its supposed remastering, the sound has aways been far more muffled than the previous album. It is somewhat muddy, the instruments far less defined. Dylan's fervour has lost its initial zeal, to be honest, he is saying the same things again - warning of damnation, of purgatory and cautioning us against sin, willing us to accept the Lord - or else. He played a 100 date tour delivering such on stage sermons, which wasn't his best move (although some of the live recordings from that period are surprisingly good - (see The Bootleg Series Vol 13). The songs played from this album actually sound much better in concert than they do here.

Shot Of Love (1981)

After two devoutly Christian-themed albums, Dylan slightly tempered down the devotional message with this third in the supposed trilogy. It is accepted by many to be the best of the three. It is certainly superior to Saved, but personally I prefer Slow Train Coming. A problem I have always had with the album is in regard to the sound. It has supposedly been remastered, but it certainly doesn't sound like it to me, certainly not in comparison with Slow Train Coming. There is a harshness to the sound that I have always found off-putting. I can never truly "get into" the album because of this. The next album, Infidels, sounded so much better. There are some fine songs on here, however, and I feel that if it had a better sound it would have been competing far more seriously with his crown jewels. As it is, it remains somewhat overlooked.

Infidels (1983)

Along with 1989's Oh Mercy, 1997's Time Out Of Mind and, of course, 1974's Blood On The Tracks, this was hailed as one of Bob Dylan's great "comeback" and "return to form" albums. Rightly so, in many ways, despite the hackneyed cliches (that  am also using!). After the comparative "wilderness years" of his spiritual quest between 1978 and 1982, Dylan widened his appeal somewhat, employing Mark Knopfler, widely respected reggae rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and ex-rolling Stones guitar genius Mick Taylor - this was certainly an improvement, all round, on the previous couple of slightly patchy albums. Yes, the Biblical imagery was still there in places, but the full-on, in your face proselytism of Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot Of Love was not nearly as dominant. There was also a warmth to the sound - excellent quality, sumptuous guitar and infectious rhythms, not surprising given the personnel. It was the best sounding Dylan album since Slow Train Coming.

Empire Burlesque (1985)

The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney.....they all succumbed to the synthesised curse that was mid-eighties music. Bob Dylan, seemingly, was no different, and this album has been roundly criticised ever since for being an appalling, over-synthesised waste of time. Every time I listen to it, I expect the worst because of this, and I am always pleasantly surprised, to be honest. Yes, it is not the match of 1983's Infidels, but it is nowhere near as bad as some say, nor even quite as synthesiser-dominated as it has been accused of being, either. He did don an awful eighties jacket for the cover though! 

Knocked Out Loaded (1986)

After treading water somewhat with the eighties production-blighted Empire Burlesque, Dylan couldn’t really get away with it twice, and he certainly didn’t with this comparatively average album. If there were great things cut as the album's sessions, as Al Kooper has suggested, then Dylan didn't seem to have used many of them. The album is worth it for the bona fide gem that is Brownsville Girl alone. The rest of the material just doesn’t really pass muster in comparison, I’m afraid. Empire Burlesque was a much better album.

Down In The Groove (1988)

After two eighties-production, synthesiser-drenched albums in Empire Burlesque and Knocked Out Loaded, Dylan tried to get back to a more bluesy, rootsy sound with some of the material on this almost universally-panned failure of an album in 1988. It seemed to be de rigeur to slate pretty much every second Dylan release as being an "embarrassment" and praise every other one as being "a return to form". This is a myopic view in my opinion. Many have cited this as a nadir in Dylan's career. I would beg to disagree a little, I do not mind the album as much as they seem to. It is certainly nowhere near as bad as "Dylan" and, personally, I much prefer it to the strange New Morning. Whenever I listen to it, I am always pleasantly surprised.

Oh Mercy (1989)

After the two previously-mentioned, poorly-received eighties-style synthesiser-dominated albums in Empire Burlesque (1985) and Knocked Out Loaded (1986), plus another critically-panned one in the bluesy Down In The Groove (1988), Bob Dylan, supposedly washed-out and past it, surprised everyone by coming up with a classic. After this album, came another comparative clunker in Under The Red Sky (1990). All very odd. It was, indisputably, though, his finest album since 1983's Infidels. Dylan employed the services of Daniel Lanois, who had produced the phenomenally successful The Joshua Tree for U2. The production was quite deep, bassy and haunting and matched Dylan's mostly sombre-ish, introspective material.

Under The Red Sky (1990)

After the glory that was Oh Mercy, Bob Dylan unfortunately attracted the brickbats once again with this (comparatively) half-baked effort, released the following year. It has always reminded me somewhat of 1988's Down In The Groove in that it was considered to be awful, but isn't actually that bad, but is certainly no work of genius. There are a host of cameo musicians on the album however - Elton John, Bruce Hornsby, George Harrison, David Crosby and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Yes, this album undoubtedly is nowhere near the quality of Bob Dylan's best albums, not by a long way. Indeed it is probably in the batch of those considered his worst. Yes, there are critics who deride the album, largely because of Wiggle Wiggle. Despite all that, I had a pleasant half hour or so listening to it and will do again next year when I dig it out again. I say that abut all the supposed bad ones, don't I?

Good As I Been To You (1992)

This was Bob Dylan's first all-acoustic album, just him and a finger-pickin' guitar (and occasional harmonica), since 1964's Another Side Of Bob Dylan. It is certainly no commercially-appealing album, being full of traditional folk material, but, taken in its proper context, it is a very good album. As someone who enjoys this sort of music, it suits me fine, albeit every now and again. It is a breath of fresh air to hear him doing this sort of material. Bruce Springsteen was not averse to doing these type of songs and Dylan was becoming increasing interested in America's musical history. Some of these songs are UK/Celtic in derivation but some are old US folk songs and blues songs. 

World Gone Wrong (1993)

This was a straight up follow on from the previous year's Good As I Been To You - Dylan with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, singing traditional folk and blues songs, enhancing them with his nasally, croaky ageing voice. He would have seemed to have been made for this material at this point in his life. The songs on both albums actually sound like Dylan songs in many ways, so they don't ever really seem like covers albums. The songs on here are more rural blues than eighteenth century folk airs, more sombre perhaps than the previous album's folky narratives. The sound quality, as it has been on the previous album, is clear and sharp, as is Dylan's voice.

Time Out Of Mind (1997)

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. 

Love And Theft (2001)

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. The period coincided with Dylan starting to present radio shows full of Americana recordings, so the direction on this album was no surprise. It perhaps would not be everybody's choice for a favourite ten inclusion, however.

Modern Times (2006)

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. 

Together Through Life (2009)

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. 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.

Tempest (2012)

Like most of Bob Dylan’s “later period” albums - Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life, Tempest 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.

Rough And Rowdy Ways (2020)

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'm a man of contradictions, I'm a man of many moods..." he tells us - I think we knew that, Bob.

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