Huge thanks to Danica for the inspiration and for coordinating this project, and to Bruce for the art work. I’m super-excited to participate in this one day blogosphere Bob Dylan extravaganza, wonderfully-titled BLOG DYLAN.
THIS LINK is both the introductory post to the collaborative effort, and the place you can find links for everyone’s Blog Dylan posts!
For my entry, I was tempted to write about many points of interest along the way in this man’s incredible (storied) career. But ultimately, I chose to go back to the very beginning. 1962. The debut album, simply titled Bob Dylan.
Recording 17 tracks in three short afternoon sessions in November of 1961, the final result of the first-ever Dylan album gives us 11 folk standards and traditionals, as well as 2 originals. 13 tracks in an economical 36:54.
Now, you can read all about it right here. I recommend that you do. That link has all the info on the whole history of this record, and on the four tracks that didn’t make the record, and how things were done, etc etc.
Instead of re-typing all of that and making it sound like I know more than I do, I am (instead) going to tell you about what I hear in the songs…
The first notes of recorded Bob Dylan are on Jesse Fuller’s You’re No Good, a quick-strum shouter that can’t help but make you smile. Dylan’s rapid-fire harmonica work is also damn sweet on this one. Next up is one of the two Dylan originals, Talkin’ New York. This ode to the city that never sleeps keeps the tempo up, but it’s pure Dylan as we know him now. Funny how we take so much of him for granted now, but back in ’62 this must’ve hit like a truck. “People going down to the ground, buildings going up to the sky.” Hell yes.
The next two are traditionals arranged by Dylan. In My Time Of Dyin drips blues, oh I loved it. I think he really nailed the howl in the vocals too. Definitely a highlight track, only three songs in! And Man Of Constant Sorrow somehow comes out sounding like it’s a Dylan original. Amazing how he does that…
Then it’s Bukka White’s Fixin’ To Die, which Dylan seems to turn into a race. Man, he’s really pounding this one out, like he’s barrelling head-long into death instead of trying to slow it up. Wow. I checked out the White original, and it’s got a good pace to it, but not this fast. Another traditional (arranged by Dylan) is Pretty Peggy-O, another Dylan sing/talker with that quick strum and harmonica work. And rounding off side A of the LP is Curtis Jones’ Highway 51, a raunchy fast blues with that great soulful shout again. He really goes for broke on the vocals, here.
Flipping over to side B, we get three more traditional tunes. Gospel Plow (arranged by Dylan) lets us know we’re in for another round of rapid-fire strumming and harmonica work. Love the growl in the vocals, even with his young voice when he goes from the shout to the growl it’s very powerful. Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (arranged by Eric von Schmidt) is a sweetly picked blues that we all know well. What a tune, and this version is a killer. House Of The Rising Sun (aaranged by Dave van Ronk), the tune we all learn to play early on in our guitar learning, is turned into mournful blues as (I think) it should be. This could be a definitive version for me. Gorgeous.
John Laird’s Freight Train Blues (arranged by Dylan) is aptly-titled, as once again we’re off down the tracks, chugging with speed while Dylan emulates a train whistle with his voice (and what a held note, there on the second round, ye gods!), and the harmonica glues the verses together and the whole thing crashes to a close and it takes a moment for you to decelerate from the momentum. The penultimate track is the second Dylan original, Song To Woody, a picked blues masterpiece. Since Dylan had Guthrie in his blood from the get-go, this track is pretty bold for him, too, placing his idols and influences right in front of him as if to say ‘here they are, now let’s go.’ It’s a nod to those influences, and a signal of what’s to come. Glory. And the album draws to a close with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s See That My Grave Is Kept Clean. Holy hell, what a track. It’s like a punch to the gut, buried down here at the bottom of the album. Just… wow.
This album is incredible, honestly. It makes you sit up and listen. This is not a passive experience – you’re drawn in and made part of the immersive, engaging proceedings. It’s a fun exercise to try to wrap your head around how this release started off a lifetime (and varied) career of one of the most iconic singer/songwriters ever. As for the tracks, I loved the freight-train breakneck folk and traditional stuff, but for me the real hits here are the bluesier numbers. This is protest Dylan, this is country Dylan, and it’s blues Dylan. And it’s one helluva record.
I mentioned (ages ago) this when I bought it, but my copy has this different cover. It’s probably a remaster of a re-release of a re-release of a re-release, but I don’t care. It sounds good to me!
This was a show that almost didn’t happen. I mean, for me. Which is essentially the same as it not happening at all, right? I mean, you likely weren’t there either. I didn’t see you there, anyway. If Bob Dylan performs a concert and several thousand people see it but they aren’t you or me, did it really happen?
This review also nearly didn’t happen because I’ve spent all of my computer time downloading wrestlers for Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, but that’s an understandable thing. You all know what it’s like when people are waiting for you to talk about concert-adjacent nonsense and you’re torn, trying to decide which Brutus Beefcake is the right Brutus Beefcake for you.
But yeah. I saw Dylan once before, back in 2002. While I enjoyed that show, I wasn’t sure that I needed to see him again. I’ve passed up his concerts here in town before, in fact. But Bob’s getting up there – coincidentally, we’re both 15 years older now – and I do like the guy, so as this show drew closer, it started to feel more and more like something I’d like to see. A week out, I checked tickets and I was able to get fifth row, dead centre. I don’t know if I just got lucky or if they repriced some unsold tickets from premium tiers. Either way, good deal for me.
Before I bought my ticket, I texted Mika to see if she wanted to come along. She said she didn’t but would go if I wanted the company. And I love her company, but I didn’t feel like paying an extra $100 to drag her to something that she wouldn’t enjoy. I told her this and she sent me the saddest gif of a crying cartoon rabbit.
Fun fact: you can tell how work is going by how many concert tickets I buy. When work is dead, I get bored and browse the internet and buy concert tickets. When work is crazy, I decide I need to treat myself. There’s a sweet spot in between where I’m busy but not TOO busy where I shop a lot less. That’s as stupid as it is true.
After Mika and I had dinner, I headed out to Moose Jaw, bravely battling my own dumb tendency to show up several hours early. I timed things well and got there with ten minutes to spare. Fine work, me. I picked up my ticket at the Will Call window and walked in past dozens of signs warning us to not record anything or take pictures of anything or use our phones at all. I had to show my ticket to get to my floor seat and got this spiel directly from one of the ushers, who asked me to just turn my phone all the way off entirely. I did not do this. But I also didn’t record anything or take any pictures; it’s 2017 and all but if someone cares that much, whatever. Instagram will survive without my blurry snaps and we all know what Bob Dylan looks like anyway.
My seat was great, apart from its proximity to the rest of them. Whoever laid out the floor seats at Mosaic Place once sat in the middle seat on an airplane, loved it, and wanted to share his joy with others. I’d like him to contract dick cancer.
A nice thing about Dylan’s obsessive fan base is that within minutes of the show ending, a complete setlist was up on the internet:
Things Have Changed
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
Highway 61 Revisited
Why Try to Change Me Now (Cy Coleman cover)
Make You Feel My Love
Melancholy Mood (Frank Sinatra cover)
Stormy Weather (Harold Arlen cover)
Pay in Blood
Once Upon a Time (Tony Bennett cover)
Tangled Up in Blue
Early Roman Kings
Soon After Midnight
That Old Black Magic (Johnny Mercer cover)
Long and Wasted Years
Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)
Blowin’ in the Wind
Ballad of a Thin Man
A solid lineup of tunes, though a relatively short night – done in just over 90 minutes – and from looking online, it looks like he’s playing mostly the same show every night. I can see where this would be disappointing to some people; part of the appeal of going to multiple shows on the same tour was that you never knew how he’d mix things up, or when he’d play some song for the first time since 1974 because he felt like it.
So I said earlier that “I wasn’t sure that I needed to see him again.” And this show got a bad review in the local paper, much to the delight of my Dylan-hating father. And the two people sitting to my left took off about five songs in, with one person (who didn’t seem to care much in the first place) saying to the other, “yeah, I can see why you’d be disappointed if it wasn’t what you were expecting.” I’m sorry they had a bad time but I enjoyed their shoulder room and butt room.
The thing is, Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan and a Bob Dylan concert is its own thing. The ticket said the show was going to start at 8:00 and it did, right down to the second. Last time I saw Dylan, the only words he said to the audience all night were “Ladies and gentlemen, here’s my band!” This time, not even that. He sang and we may as well have not been there. Bob Dylan isn’t real interested in you and you’re okay with that or you’re not. Some of the arrangements were very different from the recordings, to the point that it took quite a while to recognize some songs, even familiar ones. And his voice – you might love it, you might hate it (this seems to be much more likely, outside of a small but vocal group of my internet pals), but it is what it is. It may have become rougher over the years, but I can’t see where you’d have liked it 20 years ago and hated it now.
I guess I’m saying it all comes down to your expectations. I got pretty much exactly the show I thought I’d get and I liked it a lot. I can see why someone else might not, though. Which makes them wrong. But that’s okay.
Can we at least all agree that the band was really good? And Dylan spent much of the time playing piano and he seemed really into that. I even saw him smiling a few times, which was weird and didn’t fit with my mental image of him. No wonder we weren’t allowed to take pictures.
• July Talk (August 3)
• I Mother Earth and The Watchmen (August 4)
• Crash Test Dummies & the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (August 7)
• Beck (August 20)
• kd lang w/Kacy & Clayton (August 26)
• Guns N’ Roses w/Our Lady Peace (August 27)
• The Sadies (September 14)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (September 27)
• The New Pornographers w/Born Ruffians (October 6)
• Whitehorse w/Terra Lightfoot (October 13)
• Sarah Slean (October 14)
• Martha Wainwright (October 22)
• David Myles (October 24)
• Tanya Tagaq & the Regina Symphony Orchestra (November 25)
Calexico – A Feast Of Wire
hot clear southern nights
majestic shuffle waltz sound
last call came and went
Blitzen Trapper – Furr
whipsmart folk rock tunes
Beck and The Band all in one
much on offer here
Rheostatics – Double Live
superb live Rheos
so much talent it boggles
I miss this great group
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life
the master is back
ballsy bluesy gritty strong
so sweet and so real
Pearl Jam – Ten Redux
a mind-blowing first record
you have to own this
n.b. I bought the 3-disc deluxe edition of the Ten re-release, not the glorious mega-box that (to this day) I frequently see in my dreams. Still, this set is so yummy it makes me tingly just knowing it’s sitting there, waiting for me to play it again. And again.
Here’s the next batch of your favourites!
05 IRWIN: Bob Dylan – Oh Mercy
Irwin is the biggest Bob Dylan fan I know (and I know several). His response came back to the Favourites query immediately, with Oh Mercy. I trust he’s heard most of the Dylan catalogue by now and, of them all, this is the one for him.
I’ve already reviewed this record in these pages, and it is indeed a brilliant collection from a peerless artist. It is another of Dylan’s generous efforts to wake us up, to shake us out of our complacency and do something about the world and our lives. Dylan knows his role perfectly well. Do you?
06 SHENA: Belle And Sebastian – Tigermilk
Our great friend Shena from the mighty Mint Records chimed in with Belle and Sebastian as her favourite, and I was so glad she did. I remember loving this album the first time I heard it, and it sent me running to find everything else they’d recorded, but to be honest I haven’t played it in so long, which is a real shame… however, here was the perfect opportunity to strap back in!
Few bands can offer up a debut album this infectious, this excellent, this delicious. Every note is perfectly placed, every song is delivered with a clever wink and a knowing smile, and their playful, clear sound reigns supreme. Thank you, Shena, for reminding me that this gem of an album belongs in my playlist!
07 MY MOM: Carole King – Tapestry
My Mom selected this as her favourite record, which surprised me a bit, at first. I would have lost money by betting on sure shots like the Beatles or Elvis.
Well, I played this record and my childhood came flooding back. I knew every song, and it’s because that beat up copy of this record got a lot of play. It’s probably still somewhere in the house we grew up in. Funny how you can associate songs and albums with people and places. Mom had the jukebox full of 45s, hence my sure bets that lost, but this LP was always present too.
And what did I think of it now? Well, my memory didn’t do it much justice. There’s more here than I remembered, smarter songs and power unremembered. Yes, a lot of these songs get played as background music in malls now, and that’s pretty sad. There’s plenty more to it than that. Way to go, Mom.
08 MY DAD: Beatles – Hey Jude
My Dad knows what he likes when it comes to music, but not always the names of the artists or albums. That kind of information doesn’t interest him at all. After seeing Forrest Gump, he said, “There was music?” And so on.
This song and artist, however (of course), he knows. It’s his favourite song of all time. It was on my Mom’s jukebox all those years, and the one he liked to hear best. Of course, when we were kids we liked it well enough, but it just went on and on (and it really does, especially at the end). “Great song in need of editing. Apply within.” And it is a great song, with an interesting history that you should look up on Wikipedia, some time (especially the bit about Lennon swearing during it).
I couldn’t find an album this came from (although it’s long enough to be it’s own album, haha). If you know more than me, I’ll happily be enlightened by your comments. Looks to me like this was only ever on a 45. But we’ll let Dad away with it for this project, because he really, really likes this song.
09 MY SISTER: Black Crowes – The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion
I am totally not surprised that my sister chose this as her favourite record. She’s one of the biggest Crowes fans I know, has been for years. There was a time when I loved the Black Crowes, especially this one and its predecessor. As they progressed, I sort of lost interest in them. They had great songs after that, in my opinion, but they never topped this (sophomore) album.
Every song here is a gem. At many points, the record really rocks with their Stones-inspired bluesy swagger, and then at other times it can be so gentle it hurts. There’s the obvious hits, and hidden masterpieces worthy of every playlist. It’s messily perfect, in every way.
10 RUTH: Guns ‘N Roses – Appetite For Destruction
Some of the responses to this query have surprised me a bit, like this one from Ruth. Not that I’m faulting her for making this choice – this is a fantastic record. But sometimes you think you generally know someone and then they come up with something that doesn’t quite fit what you’d have guessed. This, may I say for the record, rules. I love that things are unpredictable.
Appetite has already been reviewed in these pages, and I stand by what I said. It’s a sweet blast of sweaty rock that is as much raw punk as it is 80’s hair metal. And, even more so, it is all about Slash. That Les Paul guitar dominates this record.
Oh mercy, indeed.
You know, I really like Bob Dylan. I’ve got most of his albums and, like him or hate him, the man has so much to say and he’s so much a part of our culture now that it’s really hard to not pay attention to him. Whatever you may think of him, I’ve heard it all from the fans and the detractors, and I don’t care. I really like him, so there.
For the purposes of this post, it should be noted that this is one of the only albums of his that I indeed did not have until the other day, when our good friend Irwin, co-creator behind the mighty Knox Acoustic Café, was kind enough to lend me his copy so I could give it a spin. Thanks, Irwin!
Now, by the end of the 1980’s Bob Dylan had been through so many political changes and wars and protests, let alone the life he’s lived too, so you’d think he’d be too tired to bother, completely apathetic to the point of being pointless. Well, think again. And don’t forget the heady period from which this came in the career of producer Daniel Lanois, too. This record was part of such an incredible roll. Oh baby!
He starts right off the bat with a damning rocker, and he never looks back as he leads us through blues, country, folk and everything else you’d expect from this man and his band. There’s no trace of getting older, or tired, or of giving in. The iconoclast remains (and choose your own definition of that word here, folks, they all work on one level or another), thank goodness.
And we really couldn’t blame him if he had given it up, even just a bit, could we? How long can the idealism of the 60’s survive in the face of decades destroyed by the power and money-hungry, those who absolutely refuse to learn from history (and are hence doomed to repeat it)? Think about it. Masters Of War is just as true today as it was when it was written, etc etc etc. Could we understand if he just finally said Fuck you? Sure, but he hasn’t. And for that I thank Mr. Dylan profusely. We need him. He’s always shown us the way. I just wish we’d follow it more often.
Of course, looking back at this record now, from the context of knowing what’s happened and come after, none of us are really all that surprised by what’s here, are we? Suffice it to say that I don’t think he’s ever lost his vitality. He’s had some snoozer tracks, sure, but record as often as he has for as many years as he has and try to not have a couple of tracks that suck. Go ahead, just try. Well, I didn’t hear any such songs here, anyway. Each one is a total gem.
This record kicks ass on so many levels. The man has such an incredible ability to pick up the world, turn it in his hands so he can even see the seedy underbelly, and then reflect it back to us so that we, too, may share in his insights. And what about his voice, you say? His voice is what it is, so be it. Nobody ever expected him to learn how to sing. It’s what he has to say here that matters.
I loved it. I’m gonna go play this again. And again.
Own this record.
01 Political World
02 Where Teardrops Fall
03 Everything Is Broken
04 Ring Them Bells
05 Man In The Long Black Coat
06 Most Of The Time
07 What Good Am I?
08 Disease Of Conceit
09 What Was It You Wanted
10 Shooting Star