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Bob Dylan

Reviewed on this page:
Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan - In Concert: Brandeis 1963 - The Times They Are A-Changin' - Another Side Of Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home - Highway 61 Revisited - Blonde On Blonde - The Basement Tapes - John Wesley Harding - Nashville Skyline - New Morning - Self Portrait - Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid - Dylan - Planet Waves - Before The Flood - Blood On The Tracks - Desire - Street Legal - Bob Dylan At Budokan - Empire Burlesque - Biograph - Oh Mercy - Under The Red Sky - The Bootleg Series - Good As I Been To You - World Gone Wrong - Love And Theft - Modern Times

I assume you already know who this guy is. Dylan's contribution is first and foremost as a lyricist. Able to communicate tenderness, bitterness, melancholy, anger, detachment, even confusion - he brought a range of emotional expression never before seen in popular music. Most of his songs are built on standard rock or folk chord changes and simple but effective melodies, designed to deliver the payload: his words.

Dylan's Never-Ending Tour has been going on since 1990, and I finally caught it and wrote a review on our concert review page. I also slogged all the way through a Dylan sessionography, which I've reviewed on our book reviews page.

There is a lot of Dylan stuff out there on the Web. There's a newsgroup (rec.music.dylan). Here's a page with a zillion links. But this is the most thorough Dylan page I've found. (DBW)

I'm not a big Dylan fan, but the man's impact on rock music is immeasurable, and he may rank as the most popular songwriter of the 60s - in that respect, he's rivalled only by the Beatles. As a tribute, I've worked with DBW to compile a list of Dylan songs covered on albums that we review elsewhere on this web site. (JA)

Bob Dylan (1962)
I don't have this, but I've heard bits and pieces. To be a legit folk singer, Dylan had to prove he could sing other people's songs, so there are only two originals here ("Song To Woody," "Talkin' New York Blues") even though he already had a ton of original material by this point. (See The Bootleg Series for more of these early songs.) (DBW)

Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)
- The best album to come out of the early 60s folk scene; it's full of Dylan classics ("Don't Think Twice," "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Blowin' In The Wind"), and he's as compelling interpreting other people's songs as his own ("Corrina, Corrina"). As usual, filled with hilarious lines underscoring serious points ("Talkin' World War III Blues," "Bob Dylan's Dream"). His energetic good humor is contagious, too: "Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance" is engagingly silly. Some gentle electric guitar and other folk-rock acoutrements, but here Dylan's at his best with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica. (DBW)
- Plenty of classics here, like the plaintive "Girl From The North Country" and the bitter "Masters Of War," that are among my favorite solo acoustic Dylan tunes. Dylan's young voice is strong, his lyrics still earnest and direct, and his guitar playing more attentive and ambitious than on later albums. Except on the gorgeous, understated "Corrina, Corrina," extra instrumentation and cover versions are almost absent, and everything is focused on Dylan's formidable talent. Can't go wrong with this 50 minute set. (JA)

In Concert: Brandeis 1963 (rec. 1963, rel. 2011)
Recorded just before the release of Freewheelin', this serendipitously preserved set captures Dylan at the height of his political phase (apparently inspired by then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo) and just before becoming a household name. So after the opening "Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance," there's one diatribe after another, including three "talking blues" numbers ("Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues"), and everything - even the somber "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" - is performed with the irrepressible joy of a child showing off birthday presents. No breathtaking revelations ("Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" is no more than a curiosity), but as a treat for fans, it's hard to match: "Masters Of War" and "Talkin' World War III Blues" - the two great songs about fear of nuclear war - are performed back to back. (DBW)

The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964)
Today's word is "morose." There's none of the humor or variety of Freewheelin' - just one slow, sad, guitar-and-harmonica number after another. Aside from the title anthem, the protest songs are dirge-like, obvious and painfully repetitive ("The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll," "Only A Pawn In Their Game," "With God On Their Side"), and the love songs are even less energetic ("Boots Of Spanish Leather"), conspicuously lacking his usual kaleidoscopic imagery and ruthless self-examination. But when he's not too caught up in bathos or self-righteousness, he does craft some intriguing tunes ("One Too Many Mornings," "North Country Blues"), and there is that title anthem. Produced by Tom Wilson. (DBW)

Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
- Dylan abruptly left protest music, moving on to introspective ballads ("Ballad In Plain D," "To Ramona"), shaggy-dog humor ("Motorpsycho Nitemare") and not-a-love-song's ("It Ain't Me Babe," "All I Really Want To Do"). It's consistently interesting; a piano crops up here and there ("Black Crow Blues"), but basically it's another guitar-vocal-harmonica album, recorded entirely in one all-night session. (DBW)
- An amazing songwriting effort; Dylan's sense of melody, creative wordplay, and instinct for entertainment were all at a peak ("Spanish Harlem Incident"), and there's a good crop of classics tunes like "It Ain't Me Babe" and "Chimes Of Freedom." Dylan bites the hand that feeds with his renouncement of political self-righteousness on "My Back Pages," but he gets in plenty of pointed social commentary on the comic relief numbers ("I Shall Be Free No. 10"; "Motorpsycho Nightmare"), and his commentaries on relationships are effective ("It Ain't Me Babe"). The only minus is that the arrangements do take only a tentative step forward from the last few albums; the slow honky tonk piano and harmonica on "Black Crow Blues" isn't terribly interesting. And when he slows the pace, even his most crafted verbiage doesn't keep your attention (the eight-minute romance novel "Ballad In Plain D"). Produced by Tom Wilson. (JA)

Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
From the first notes of "Subterranean Homesick Blues," rock and roll was changed forever. The lyrics rush by in double and triple rhymes, puns, and non sequiturs, over an insistent electric blues background: not only is there no bridge, there's no chorus. The rest of side one is electric, and every song is excellent - even the lengthy, rambling "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" holds your interest, like a potboiler you can't put down. He's also far ahead of his contemporaries on the acoustic side, including "Mr. Tambourine Man," probably the best known song here. The tunes are strong ("Outlaw Blues," "Love Minus Zero / No Limit"), and lyrically he moves from offhandedly humorous to deadly earnest, sometimes within a single line ("Maggie's Farm," "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"). Shortly after this album he released the vicious "Positively Fourth Street," which became a huge hit - it's only available on greatest hits and compilation albums. (DBW)
Historically important and packed with great songs, but the execution is faulty: Dylan's chugging electric band is ragged and dull, and he over-emphasizes the stale blues conventions that underlie much of the material ("Outlaw Blues"). (JA)

Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
Here he refines his mid-Sixties electric sound, making effective use of piano and organ as well as stinging guitar (courtesy of Mike Bloomfield). The lyrics are among his most successful ever: "Like A Rolling Stone" was a big hit single, and "Ballad Of A Thin Man" was a countercultural milestone. "Tombstone Blues" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" pushed the limits of rock subject matter still further; the seriocomedy numbers are terrific (title track and "From A Buick 6"), the family-size ballad "Desolation Row" is uncanny, and even the lesser works are fascinating ("Queen Jane Approximately," "It Takes A Lot To Laugh"). (DBW)
The sidemen here included Al Kooper and Harvey Brooks. Produced by Bob Johnston (Tom Wilson handled "Like A Rolling Stone"). (JA)

Blonde On Blonde (1966)
Recorded in Nashville and New York with a horde of backing musicians, the songs aren't quite as sharp as on the two previous albums ("Just Like A Woman" suffers from a none-too-deep chorus, "Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands" just plain drags), which is exacerbated by the fact that there are twice as many of them. (It was the first rock and roll double album, as far as I know.) There are, though, plenty of lyrical gems: "Stuck Inside Of Mobile," "I Want You," "Sooner Or Later One Of Us Must Know," and some terrific comedy numbers (the single "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35," "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat"). Arrangements vary from gentle and acoustic ("Visions Of Johanna") to loud and raucous ("Absolutely Sweet Marie"). (DBW)
The Band plays on several tunes; Al Kooper is in evidence; and one of the Nashville players, drummer Ken Buttrey, went on to join the Stray Gators. (JA)

The Basement Tapes (rec 1967, released 1975)
- A bunch of demos recorded with the Band, this became the biggest selling bootleg in rock history (at least until Prince's Black Album), and was finally released officially on the principle that if someone's going to make money off of it, it might as well be the record company. Most rock critics adore the record; to me, it's no mystery why Dylan & the boys didn't want to release it: the tunes are rambling, sloppily performed ("Odds And Ends"), and built on blues and country clichés ("Don't Ya Tell Henry," I don't think I could write a melody and lyric as banal as "Long Distance Operator" if I tried); the lyrics are improvised, incoherent and frequently dull ("Million Dollar Bash," "Goin' To Acapulco"); and the few good tunes have been already released in professional versions ("You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," "Tears Of Rage"). A third of the tracks have no Dylan involvement, and these are trivial at best ("Katie's Been Gone" by Robertson and Manuel); only a serious Band fan or masochist needs this record. (DBW)
- I disagree so strongly it's hard to believe Wilson even heard the same record. I am a Band fan, and although the collection isn't as good as their own, later albums - there's bad sound quality and off-key vocals ("Tears Of Rage") - it's thoughtful and irresistably sincere ("Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread"). Despite Dylan's penchant for dull blues changes, I hear plenty of variety; even when really loose ("Apple Sucking Tree"), almost nothing sounds improvised; and almost everything is short and to the point. The eight tunes without Dylan are mostly substantial, and apart from "Long Distance Operator" would have been candidates for the group's own albums ("Katie's Been Gone"; "Ain't No More Cane"). (JA)

John Wesley Harding (1967)
Reacting against the drug-fueled experimentation of the Summer Of Love, Dylan retreated to minimal arrangements and religious themes here; many find the atmosphere hypnotic but I tend to wonder "What the hell is this man talking about?" (DBW)
I've had trouble getting into this, but some of the material is strong: the rambling "Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest"; the gently rocking "Wicked Messenger"; the straight-up country number "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" (complete with steel guitar, courtesy of Nashville legend Pete Drake); and, of course, "All Along The Watchtower." The two-man rhythm section of Buttrey and McCoy, held over from Blonde On Blonde, is indeed minimal, but never intrusive; and Dylan's voice is in good shape here ("Drifter's Escape"). (JA)

Nashville Skyline (1969)
- Another huge change for him, straightforward country & western songs with his most direct lyrics ever. Also, his voice is clearer and warmer than any record before or since, thanks to taking a break from cigarettes. The crack session band keeps things moving, and the tunes are always entertaining if not always profound. He had a big hit here with "Lay Lady Lay," and other oustanding tracks include "One More Night," "I'll Be Staying Here With You," and the comedy number "Country Pie." Country singers continue to record these songs to this day, with good reason. (DBW)
- I'm no country fan, but somehow Dylan manages to wring a gallon of emotional sincerity out of this concoction. The aching remake of "Girl From The North Country" is a great example; Johnny Cash usually does nothing for me, but the effect of Dylan's wispy tenor trading off with Cash's croaking baritone is magical. The solid backing band helps; Drake, McCoy, and Buttrey were all held over from John Wesley Harding, and there are a few other guests like Charlie Daniels (I've read that he actually plays bass here). (JA)

Self Portrait (1970)
This record was slammed on release, and I figured the critics must've been exaggerating. But there's almost nothing (except for a few examples of his nicotine-free singing voice) to recommend this record: there aren't many originals, and most of them are almost comically clichéd ("Living The Blues"). To make matters worse, a couple of the tunes are presented in two equally weak versions: "Little Sadie" and "Alberta." The instrumental "Woogie Boogie" is dull, and the recordings (mostly with country-rock arrangements) are slipshod and unrehearsed, in stark contrast to the previous record. The female chorus on "All The Tired Horses" and the abundance of lyrical clichés are a foreshadowing of the weakest moments of New Morning. He covers some good songs (Paul Simon's "The Boxer," the Bryant's "Take A Message To Mary") and some terrible ones (C. Null's "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know"), but either way the performances are flat. Even the live versions of "Like A Rolling Stone" and "She Belongs To Me," with the Band, pale next to their studio cousins. (DBW)
The credits here are endless, including all the last record's sidemen, the Band, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, and a pile of people I've never heard of. (JA)

New Morning (1970)
This is one weird record. It starts off with another simple, pretty country tune that would have fit on Nashville Skyline ("If Not For You"), then heads for new territory: a couple of great, spare new songs ("Day Of The Locusts," "Time Passes Slowly"), a really weak love song ("Winterlude"), a couple of lame attempts at beat poetry ("If Dogs Run Free" featuring Maeretha Stewart doing some wild scat singing, "Three Angels") and a religious number presaging his later "born again" work ("Father Of Night"). The instrumentation is unusual - spotlighting his piano playing, which is surprisingly effective - with female backup singers, and an uncharacteristically professional and well-rehearsed band. (DBW)
Kooper, Brooks, Daniels, and Bromberg all reappeared, joined by Russ Kunkel, Billy Mundi, and others. (JA)

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973)
Soundtrack to the Sam Peckinpaugh film of the same name, which Dylan appeared in. There are only a couple of vocal numbers, including the classic "Knocking On Heaven's Door" and three versions of "Billy," which basically retells the movie's plot. Some of the instrumentals are interesting, particularly "Bunkhouse Theme" and the haunting "Final Theme," with the melody stated on a recorder, but overall this hardly ranks among Dylan's most enduring work. Guests include Booker T. Jones and Priscilla, and Roger McGuinn, plus Brenda Patterson, a background vocalist who appears courtesy of Playboy Records. (DBW)
A lot of other random sidemen also showed up, including Russ Kunkel, Jim Keltner, and Byron Berline. (JA)

Dylan (1974)
When Dylan temporarily left Columbia Records, they rushed out this collection of outtakes from Self Portrait and New Morning. Often there's a guilty pleasure in listening to recordings that an artist didn't want issued, but not this time: none of the tunes are Dylan originals, and they're uniformly less interesting than the cuts that made Self Portrait, which was lousy to begin with. There are no high points; the only possible point of interest is his version of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi," which he does up in stereotypical Dylan style, singsong whine, rapidly-strummed acoustic, female backup singers, and all. Everything else, from "Mr. Bojangles" to "Can't Help Falling In Love" to "Spanish Is The Loving Tongue" is embarrassing and unlistenable - the sole exception is "A Fool Such As I," with a snappy, crisp country arrangement that sounds straight out of the Nashville Skyline sessions. (DBW)
Since the material is so diverse, it includes an immense list of sidemen, e.g., the Band; Bloomfield, Bromberg, and Kooper; future Dire Strait Mark Knopfler; Nashville guys like Buttrey, Daniels, Drake, McCoy, and Tim Drummond; session veterans like Keltner, Kunkel, and Jerry Scheff; and even Mick Taylor. (JA)

Planet Waves (1974)
- Bob's reunion with the Band sounds unrehearsed and half-finished. There are good songs here ("Tough Mama," "Hazel," two versions of "Forever Young"), but apparently not much thought went into the performances: the Band members indulge in their usual clichés (the descending bass line from "The Weight" is resurrected over and over again - hey guys, some of us never liked the song in the first place). Dylan's first #1 album. (DBW)
- Recorded in three days, and it sounds like it. The sloppiness and cacophonous overplaying is ironic, because the Band's own studio work was always immaculately rehearsed and complexly, but economically arranged - which explains why such tunes as "The Weight" are important and eminently likeable classics. But here Robertson won't shut up, and the lack of overdubs cuts them off from the horn arrangements that make their best albums great. The slow, five-minute "Forever Young" is a stately bore, and the fast, electrified hillbilly version is a joke; "Dirge" is like an unfinished rewrite of "This Wheel's On Fire," sans chorus; Dylan's acoustic solo spotlight ("Wedding Song") has a routine, but unresolved sea chantey melody; the most thought-out attempts would have been album filler on a Band LP ("You Angel You"). Harumph. (JA)

Before The Flood (1974)
- A live double album, recorded with the Band. All the Band's biggest hits are here ("The Weight," "Stage Fright," "The Shape I'm In," "Up On Cripple Creek"), along with many of Dylan's 60s hits ("Lay Lady Lay," "Rainy Day Women"), and everything's transformed into the Band's ragged country-rock. For Band fans, that's probably a good thing; for me it's monotonous, as all the different Dylan periods are processed into one shoddy sound. Dylan himself is thoroughly unremarkable, shouting out his lines without much feeling, even on the short solo acoustic set. Don't pick this up unless you're already a Band fan. Easily Dylan's biggest-selling live record, as it went gold and shot up to #3 on the charts. (DBW)
- A surprising disappointment. The Band's own live records are far more energetic and practiced; here their vocals are shockingly bad, literally almost always off key. And Hudson's mid-70s synth mania drowns several tunes in washes of electronic ooze. They get in only seven of their songs, and of those only "Endless Highway" and the classic "When You Awake" aren't available on other live albums. That said, Wilson's right that Band fans like myself will be curious to hear their take on Dylan's big hits - if only once or twice. (JA)

Blood On The Tracks (1975)
Sadness and loss permeate this record; spare arrangements and his gripping delivery add up to what is perhaps his most powerful and coherent statement. "Tangled Up In Blue" was inspired by Joni Mitchell's Blue, although I can't quite see the relationship - it is one of his finest story-songs. "Simple Twist of Fate," "You're A Big Girl Now" and "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" are strikingly different takes on the fragility of love; "Idiot Wind" is Dylan at his angriest and most cutting. The melodies aren't too complex but they're always captivating. (DBW)
There are two bands here, but the players are mostly new and mostly obscure. Dylan's second #1 album, and it went platinum to boot. (JA)

Desire (1976)
This album, mostly written with novelist Jacques Levy, is well worth listening to, but I can't really say why I like it, aside from the brilliant protest story-song "Hurricane." It's not as focused as its predecessor; it contains the 11 minute celebration of a gangster, "Joey"; it features Scarlet Rivera's monotonous violin on too many tracks; and most of the time I have no idea what it's about. But somehow it works - one of life's little mysteries. Two other standout tracks, though, are "Mozambique," with strange, wonderful harmony vocals, and the brooding "One More Cup Of Coffee." (DBW)
Guests included Eric Clapton and Emmylou Harris. "Hurricane" just cracked the Top 40, the last time Dylan did that well for a while. (JA)

Hard Rain (1976)
Another live record. (DBW)
The band here, loosely based on the Desire lineup, included Mick Ronson and T-Bone Burnett; the short track listing includes "Lay Lady Lay," "Idiot Wind," and "Maggie's Farm." This marked the beginning of Dylan's commercial decline in the late 70s, peaking in the middle of the Top 40. (JA)

Street Legal (1978)
By now the band is Ian Wallace on drums, Bobbye Hall on percussion, Jerry Scheff on bass, Billy Cross on guitar, and Alan Pasqua on keys, with David Mansfield replacing Rivera on violin and prominent backing vocals by Carolyn Dennis, Jo Ann Harris and Helena Springs. The band sounds like it's on cruise control, heading through each track at an unvarying pace and minimal effort - for once on a Dylan album, different tracks don't set different moods. Bob himself seems pensive and inert, with his lyrics either rambling and obscure ("No Time To Think"), appallingly crude ("New Pony") or baldly straightforward ("We Better Talk This Over"). There may be something brilliant about the lyrics that I'm not picking up on, but musically and performance-wise, there's not much to recommend this disc. Produced by Don De Vito; it was a commercial flop, stalling at #11 and failing to go platinum. (DBW)
There are no real high points here, I can't vouch for the lyrics, and it's truly monotonous, with an early-70s big band sound that emphasizes the female chorus, lazy sax, and simple organ. But Dylan's voice, often in a low register, retains some emotional power; and at least there are no disco or pop influences. (JA)

Bob Dylan At Budokan (1978)
At least Dylan sounds comfortable here, backed by the same well-practiced Rolling Thunder Revue band that appeared on the last record - Hall, Wallace, Pasqua, etc. - and produced by Don DeVito. Everyone seems perfectly capable as they run through the double album's combination of 60s classics and occasional 70s numbers ("Forever Young"; "Simple Twist Of Fate"; "One More Cup Of Coffee"). Problem is, the big-band approach gives everything a sluggish, amiable, glitzy sound that smooths over almost every song's emotional core. Steven Soles' pointless doubling of Dylan's acoustic guitar and vocals, Steve Douglas' sprawling, bloozy sax, Cross' generic rock guitar, Mansfield's breezy flute, mandolin and violin lines, and the trio of female singers all help to completely disconnect Dylan from his folk and country-western roots, landing him solidly in mid-70s dinosaur rock territory - even on rootsy tunes like "I Shall Be Released." Dylan's vocals are actually strong, and all the instrumentation at least always gives you something to listen to. But there's no acoustic set and nobody seems to know when to shut up, so songs often drag out for five or six minutes and the dynamics are terrible. And it's only vaguely interesting to hear over-recorded stuff like "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Blowin' In The Wind," "Like A Rolling Stone," "All Along The Watchtower," or "All I Really Want To Do" given updated, zillion-track arrangements. Inoffensive, but boring and entirely unenlightening. (JA)

Slow Train Coming (1979)
Known as the beginning of his "born again" period, this was his biggest seller since Desire. Contains the singles "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "Man Gave Names To All The Animals." (Hear that, women?) (DBW)
Tim Drummond is back here, along with Mark Knopfler and other members of Dire Straits. (JA)

Saved (1980)
The commercial comeback marked by Slow Train ended abruptly, with this one failing to even go gold, much less platinum; Dylan's success with the Top 40 charts also came to a complete halt after "Serve Somebody." The rhythm section is Drummond and Jim Keltner. (JA)

Shot Of Love (1981)
Dylan went with a big bunch of players again here, including Drummond and Keltner, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood, Duck Dunn, and Danny Kortchmar among many others. It didn't make much of a difference, at least commercially. (JA)

Infidels (1983)
Other than Biograph, this was Dylan's only record of the 80s to go gold. It marked a sudden swing back to Judaism after several years of born-again Christianity. The band includes reggae greats Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and Mark Knopfler and Mick Taylor on guitars. (JA)

Real Live (1984)
Yet another live record, but this one features an interesting assortment of heavy weight players: Mick Taylor on guitar again, but joined by Carlos Santana; and Faces/Stones vet Ian McLagan on keyboards. (JA)

Empire Burlesque (1985)
This is a carefully-produced, conventional, and not very exciting record. The uptempo numbers sound like a professionalized white-blues bar band ("Clean Cut Kid"), while the slow numbers are so smooth you hardly notice them. Lyrically, he focuses on story songs and love songs, often disappointingly ordinary ("The Real You At Last"). It's not a disaster like Self Portrait, it's just insubstantial. (DBW)
There's an endless list of players here, including Sly and Robbie, Keltner, Taylor, Wood, and even Al Kooper, plus a million lesser lights like CSNY bassist Bob Glaub. (JA)
The same year, Dylan contributed vocals to "We Are The World." (DBW)

Biograph (1985)
A nice place to start with Dylan's career, but you'll want to dig deeper. What makes this collection really worthwhile is the collection of unreleased tunes, alternates and live performances, many of which are magnificent ("Up To Me," the unreleased version of "You're A Big Girl Now"). (DBW)

Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
Apparently this one is pretty lousy; Dylan even used a bunch of material he hadn't written himself. (JA)

Down In The Groove (1988)
Apparently this one is hardly better, again including cover tunes. (JA)

In 1988 Bob appeared on the Traveling Wilburys Vol. I.

Dylan & The Dead (1989)
What you see is what you get. If you really think that either Dylan or the Dead had any excitement to offer two full decades after their respective peaks, well, it's your money... the show was recorded in 1987; there are no guests here, since it's the standard Dead lineup; and the track selection is mostly big Dylan hits from the 70s, except "All Along The Watchtower" and Highway 61's "Queen Jane Approximately." (JA)

Oh Mercy (1989)
Saluted as a return to form after unsuccessful Eighties experiments (which I can't substantiate because I haven't heard them), this Daniel Lanois-produced collection has some excellent blues-rock ("Everything Is Broken") and bitter/touching failed romance numbers ("What Was It You Wanted," "Most Of The Time"), but also has what rock critics call "heavy handed statements" on "Disease of Conceit" and "What Good Am I?" Uneven and far from groundbreaking, but interesting. (DBW)

Under The Red Sky (1990)
This time, Dylan tossed off a whole album of trivial jingles, recorded with an all-star lineup. Most of the lyrics sound like Mother Goose on Quaaludes - "Wiggle Wiggle," "Cat's In The Well," "Handy Dandy," "2 x 2" - and the tunes aren't any more substantial, with basic four-chord changes and wandering melodies (title track, "10,000 Men"). It gets worse when he reaches for a message: the switcheroo ending of "T.V. Talkin' Song" is downright embarrassing. It's hard to believe that a certified lyrical genius could produce such an appallingly bad collection; maybe he was punishing us for buying the Wilburys record. The guests include Bruce Hornsby, Robben Ford, Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash, George Harrison, David Crosby, David Lindley, Al Kooper and Elton John - unfortunately, since they clearly didn't rehearse, everyone just ambles through the tunes without getting a chance to shine. Do not, repeat, do not throw your money away on this. (DBW)
Is he saying he didn't like it? Hmm. (JA)

The Bootleg Series (1991)
This three-CD set covering three decades has a lot of high points for collectors, particularly from the early period ("Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues," "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues," "Let Me Die In My Footsteps"). Many of the later outtakes should probably have remained outtakes ("Catfish"), although there are still some finds ("Nobody 'Cept You"). (DBW)

Good As I Been To You (1992)
A collection of little-known folk songs, all solo vocal and acoustic guitar. The track selection is interesting, covering a broad swath from slow blues (Howlin' Wolf's "Sittin' On Top Of The World") to love songs happy ("Little Maggie") and unhappy ("You're Gonna Quit Me"), to just plain fun ("Step It Up And Go") - and a number of the story-songs that presumably helped form his own storytelling style ("Frankie & Albert," "Diamond Joe"). So even though he didn't write anything here, the tunes will largely be unfamiliar to you unless you're an ethnologist or something. The mix spotlights his precise, enthusiastic guitar playing, heard better on this disc than any other recording I've heard - the problem with this is that it can be hard to hear his vocals. (DBW)

30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993)
A whole bunch of big deal stars showed up here, including Neil Young and Stevie Wonder. Not surprisingly, the assorted mega-groupies proceeded to dish out a long set of Dylan standards. (JA)
The crowd's merciless, narrow-minded booing of Sinead O'Connor for daring to criticize the Pope didn't make it onto the record, but it became a major media event. (DBW)

World Gone Wrong (1993)
More unaccompanied renditions of folk songs, this time really obscure ones. Dylan's rambling liner notes indicate that he finds all kinds of deep meanings and resonances in the material, which I regret to confess I don't share: there are sombre love songs (title track) and story songs ("Delia"), several of which are hard to follow. There are some undeniable gems, though, including the scary love song "Blood In My Eyes," and the desolate blues "Broke Down Engine." Like Good As I Been, it's carefully recorded and features intense performances on vocals and guitar. (DBW)

Unplugged (1995)
No comment. (DBW)

Time Out Of Mind (1997)
Finally, a set of new Dylan compositions, and the critics fell all over themselves praising it. It debuted at #10, making this his biggest charter since Slow Train, and won three Grammies. (DBW)

In 2000 Dylan won a Grammy award for his tune "Things Have Changed," from the Wonder Boys soundtrack and showed that Dylan knew how to shift tenses as appropriate. (JA)

Love And Theft (2001)
Self-produced (under the alias Jack Frost), and Dylan gives Larry Campbell (guitar, violin), Charlie Sexton (guitar), Tony Garnier (bass), David Kemper (drums) and Augie Meyers (organ) an anonymous bar band sound, usually serving up laid-back country rock ("Floater," "Bye And Bye") and occasionally revving up to produce a sad imitation of Highway 61 ("Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum") - it's easier to fake that album's raggedness than its honesty. The six-minute "Lonesome Day Blues" does recall the alehouse sloppiness of Basement Tapes, if that's your idea of a good time. Meanwhile, Dylan's voice is so hoarse and conversational he gives the proceedings a Leon Redbone quality, and his lyrics often lack focus, strings of cranky commonplaces that don't lead anywhere ("Mississippi"). Most of the record is as mind-blowingly unambitious and inane as Under The Red Sky, but it's elevated by one fun rocker ("Honest With Me") and the occasional trenchant verse ("Last night the wind was whispering something, I was trying to make out what it was/Yeah, I tell myself something's coming, but it never does"). Apparently a bunch of lines were taken from Junichi Saga's novel Confessions of a Yakuza. (DBW)
A new studio album. (JA)

In 2003, Dylan contributed "Cross The Green Mountain" to the soundtrack of Gods And Generals.

Modern Times (2006)
Another "Jack Frost"-produced collection of new tunes, backed by his road band. If possible, this was praised even more highly than Love And Theft - debuted at #1, won a couple of Grammies - and it is better: the band sounds like they actually heard the tunes beforehand, and there are some Bing Crosby-sounding pop ballads ("Spirit On The Water") to balance all the sluggish blues-rock ("Thunder On The Mountain"). Again, though, the songs are endless ("Someday Baby" at 4:55 is the briefest), Dylan's voice is absolutely tuneless, and the lyrics are packed with romantic sentimentality and cliché ("When The Deal Goes Down"). Dylan used to be good about acknowledging influences and traditional material, but no more: "Rollin' And Tumblin'," "The Levee's Gonna Break" and "Nettie Moore" are uncredited covers, "Beyond The Horizon" is a rewrite of the standard "Red Sails In The Sunset," and about a dozen passages are lifted from Civil War poet Henry Timrod. Gee, I thought all that Western imagery ("Workingman's Blues #2") was out of date, but not that far out of date. (DBW)

Together Through Life (2009)
Written with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. (DBW)

Christmas In The Heart (2009)
No joke. "Winter Wonderland," "Little Drummer Boy," and so on. (DBW)

Tempest (2012)

Bring it all back home.

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