Quick Review (LP): John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
John Wesley Harding
Columbia; 1967

My Rating: B (68/100)

Best Tracks: "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight", "All Along The Watchtower", "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"

How does the righteous rebel rebel against rebellion?

NOTES
– He certainly sounds different. That accident must have shook him up.
– According to Wikipedia, recorded in 12 hours over 3 days in Nashville. That’s a quick turnaround.
– Almost had Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson on it.
– "Don’t go mistaking paradise for that home across the road…"
– Stripped down, low key, warm yet shaded.
– It’s interesting how subdued the arrangements are here, especially considering he made Blonde On Blonde, the biggest sounding rock record up to that point, a year earlier.
– Many of the songs feel like he’s pulling up short, like they are sketches. It’s a nice move against his former tendency to almost wear out his welcome.
– This one is steeped in Christian tradition – St. Augustine, the Parable of the Thief, Judas, etc.
– Best track is the closer, "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight." Love that pedal steel work, and the warmth of the track is simply wonderful.
– I love the fact that Dylan released such a simple folk rock record in the year of the flower people.
– Less verbose and grand, no less eccentric.
– Eh – not sure if this one is as great as everyone seems to think. It’s a nice little record, don’t get me wrong, but I suspect it received such rave reviews because it was Dylan reversing course once more. An anti-hype record. A rebellion against the "Summer of Love" and psychedelia. An agrarian manifesto against the age of Aquarius. Or maybe Bob just wanted to make some country music his own way.

see my other Dylan reviews

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

List: My Top 10 Dylan Tracks

Well, everyone else is paying tribute to Robbie Z. on the occasion of his 70th birthday, so I thought I might do so as well. Here it goes…

My Top 10 Bob Dylan Tracks

“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” – 1965 – This is one of the greatest album closers ever. It’s a classic kiss-off in one sense, but what makes it remarkable is the apocalyptic imagery Dylan throws in. Love that noodly guitar too.

”Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” – 1966 – Everything about this song is simply amazing, from the lyrics to the drumming. It just sort of sweeps you up and carries you along on a wave for six or seven minutes.

”Tangled Up In Blue” – 1975 – One of the most beautiful songs ever. I love the way you feel like you’ve completed a journey with Dylan by the time the last verse ends, and then that harmonica kicks in and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Awe inspiring.

”If Not For You” – 1970 – What a great little love song. You gotta dig the arrangement – so 70’s.

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Greatest Hits Vol. 2 version)” – 1970 – This is Dylan’s goofed-out performance of an already silly song. Roger McGuinn of The Byrds went and butchered the lyrics a few years earlier, and so Dylan sends him up in the first verse. “Oooo-eeee/Ride me high/Tomorrow’s the day my bride’s a-gonna come/Oooo-eeee/Are we gonna fly/Down into the easy chair…”

“She Belongs To Me” – 1965 – “She’s got everything she needs/She’s an artist/She don’t look back…” Absolutely sublime lyrics on this one, the kind of stuff that “stones me to my soul” as Van Morrison would say. The arrangement is so wonderful too. An incontrovertible proof of Dylan’s greatness.

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” – 1965 – “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez/When it’s Easter time too…” The ragtime riff on that piano is pure genius.

”The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo) (live)” – 1969 – This is Dylan’s performance with The Band at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969. Most people know this song from the Manfred Mann “oldies” version, but Dylan & The Band make this sound  like a blast. It’s sloppy and joyful, almost like a lost take from The Basement Tapes.

“Buckets of Rain” – 1975 – This one brings me to tears just about every time. Again, it’s such a simple song, but the lyric is vintage Dylan – soulful with a little bit of silly thrown in. I can’t help but think of the heartbreak that Dylan was going through at the time.

“Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” – 1962 – I’m generally not a big fan of Dylan’s work prior to Bringing It All Back Home, but this was one of his great early tracks. It’s not a protest song, not even faintly political, but it’s a showcase for the sort of wit that would become a centerpiece of Dylan’s work on later albums. Great finger-picking too. An underrated early pop-folk song.

Check out what else I’ve had to say about Dylan (plenty)…

Honorable Mention:
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
Goin’ To Acapulco
I Shall Be Released (Greatest Hits Vol. 2 version)
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight
Tomorrow Is A Long Time (live)
Tryin’ To Get To Heaven
Thunder On The Mountain
Tonight, I’ll Be Staying Here With You

Quick Review (LP): The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan & The Band

Bob Dylan & The Band
The Basement Tapes
Columbia; 1975

My Rating: A (90/100)

Best Tracks: "Orange Juice Blues", "Million Dollar Bash", "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Goin’ to Acapulco", "Ain’t No More Cane", "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere", "Don’t Ya Tell Henry", "Open The Door, Homer", "Wheel’s On Fire"

It’s all so weird, so gloriously weird…

NOTES
– Though released in 1975, most of these recordings occurred in 1967, before Dylan recorded John Wesley Harding and leading up to The Band’s release of Music From Big Pink. It’s a pivotal set of tracks, a secret document of some recording sessions that changed rock and roll forever. It’s also a nice excuse to start reviewing The Band’s records.
– By the way, Garth Hudson is a genius. Just sayin’, because he doesn’t get a lot of credit in general.
– The beautiful moments abound: "Goin’ to Acapulco", "Orange Juice Blues", "Katie’s Been Gone", "Nothing Was Delivered"
– The cross-eyed and funky moments abound too: "Yazoo Street Scandal", "Lo and Behold", "Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread"
– Love the piano on "A Bottle of Bread." Brilliant. And then the insanely low vocals at the end. What a bunch of goofballs.
– OK, I know "Ain’t No More Cane" wasn’t recorded in 1967, but it’s great nonetheless, and it sounds like it fits in those sessions.
– I love "You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere", but Dylan’s solo acoustic version, released on Greatest Hits Vol. II, is superior to the version here in terms of sheer hilarious fun.
– Again, I love "Don’t Ya Tell Henry", but it’s not a basement tape track.
– I prefer this version of "Wheel’s On Fire" to Danko’s on Music From Big Pink. This one really captures the ominous feel of the song (the feel is similar to "Ballad of a Thin Man"), which is especially fitting because it was apparently an expression of Dylan’s mortal fear after his motorcycle accident. The version on Big Pink always seemed like a bit of filler, honestly. I love the way this one ends in a sing-along fashion.
– This is truly one of the great moments in rock and roll history. Lay aside those who were obviously influences for a moment. Could this be the birth of the whole DIY ethic that produced the underground music of the last 40 years? Seriously, I can’t imagine that Malkmus wasn’t hugely influenced, at least indirectly, by this.
Wikipedia has an excellent article on this one. Covers a lot, from the sessions themselves, to critical responses to the collection. It’s a nice guide to the record.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Concept (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Blonde On Blonde
Columbia; 1966

My Rating: A (90/100)

Best Tracks: "Visions of Johanna", "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)", "I Want You", "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again", "Just Like A Woman", "Absolutely Sweet Marie"

Return of the Jedi to Highway 61‘s Empire Strikes Back to Bringing It All Back Home‘s A New Hope

NOTES:
– Alternate album title: Bobby’s Bad Hair Day.
– "Rainy Day Women" may be a bit of a novelty, but in terms of arrangement, it’s a pretty awesome novelty.
– Sounds very similiar to Highway 61 Revisited, but the key difference is thematic. Highway 61 was a road record, this one is a broken hearts record.
– I question whether it was necessary to include "Pledging My Time" and "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat". Then again, the record might be a little too sweet if he hadn’t, and they are both pretty solid tracks.
– Love the piano on "Sooner or Later." Huge song!
– Read somewhere that "Visions of Johanna" is about the devil. I can see that.
– "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" is one of the greatest tracks ever. Period. The drums, the circus organ, the noodly guitar in the left speaker, Dylan’s lyrics, and especially that chorus. Oh Bobby!
– I’ve read somewhere that unreleased versions of most of these songs exist that include guitar from Robbie Robertson. Hopefully a deluxe edition will bring those to light one of these days.
– Anyone know what the meaning of the album title is? I’ve never been able to figure it out, except in a sort of really wooden, non-subtle way.
– He sure has a thing for beginning his songs with adverbs: "Obviously 5 Believers", "Absolutely Sweet Marie", "Temporary Like Achilles"
– Good grief, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" is laaaaaaawwwwwng. "Desolation Row" was one (great) thing, but given that "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" sounds quite a bit like a few other tracks here, it’s nowhere near as affecting. Although I do like it well enough I suppose.
– You know what? This would be a great album to perform live. Dylan is probably past his prime on it, but a good tribute record with a follow-up might be in order.
– Just listened to a Sound Opinions podcast where they interview Al Kooper, who played organ on this record and was sort of Bob’s band leader. It was pretty revelatory. Al’s favorite song? "I Want You." Why? Because of the sixteenth notes that the guitar player runs at the bottom of every line of the chorus. You gotta listen close, but he’s got a point. It’s the little things like that that are the icing on the cake of this brilliant album.

Be sure to check out my other Dylan reviews

ATTRIBUTES
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Cohesion (5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): How To Become Clairvoyant by Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson
How To Become Clairvoyant
429 Records; 2011

My Rating: C (48/100)

Best Tracks: "When the Night Was Young", "He Don’t Live Here No More"

Is Clapton a verb? As in, “He totally Clapton’d this record?”

RANDOM NOTES:

– He was rarely The Band’s voice, but he was its chief songwriter, and a darn good one at that.
– A bit smooth and suave, and sort of bland in a Clapton-ish sort of way.
– Honestly, I was hoping for a record of big Americana pop songs, much like his solo debut.
– And then Clapton shows up on Track 6. It had to happen, right?
– It all sounds a little bit too good times-ish. I’d love to hear something with a little more bite.
– "Madame X" rocks it Weather Channel style.
– There’s no stamp here, nothing that screams at me "This is the new Robbie Robertson record!" Other than the fact that it is the new Robbie Robertson record, but you know what I mean.
– Is it just me, or does he sound like a less talented John Mayer knockoff?
– "He Don’t Live Here No More" recalls some of the pop brilliance of his eponymous solo offering, which is a far superior record.
– I do like "When the Night Was Young", but it does seem a bit pathetic lyrically.
– "She’s Not Mine" sounds a bit like something U2 might produce today, which unfortunately is not a compliment.
– In my mind, the ability of old rock stars to age gracefully has a gold standard represented best by Mark Knopfler, with the last 10 years of Bob Dylan recordings as a close silver.
James Leven (Paste) gets it right: "Still, Clairvoyant feels a bit underpowered when you consider the sheer tonnage of talent surrounding it." "With Peter Wolf and Robert Plant out making records that push the needle in the revered oldster lane, Robertson and his famous friends could easily have taken more names."
– Queue us all wishing that he’d get back together with Levon so that he could get re-inspired by a little southern badassery.
– As far as aging rock stars go, you have a spectrum that ranges from Eric Clapton to Bob Dylan. This clearly leans heavily to the Eric Clapton side of things.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Songs (3/5)

Quick Review (LP): Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Highway 61 Revisited
Columbia; 1965

My Rating: A+ (100/100)

Best Tracks: "Like A Rolling Stone", "Tombstone Blues", "Ballad Of A Thin Man", "Queen Jane Approximately", "Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues", "Desolation Row"

“I wanna to be your lover baby, I don’t wanna be your boss…”

NOTES
– The ultimate road record. Dylan was a master at thematically unifying a record. Is it the first road record?
– Is "Like A Rolling Stone" the greatest rock and roll track of all time? All things considered, definitely maybe. It represents both a convergence and pinnacle of Dylan’s styles up to that point, it sounds like everything the 60’s supposedly was, and, to be clear, it is epic in all the right ways.
– "Tombstone Blues" is lyrically great, and the lead guitar is fantastic. Wow.
– It’s all about the drunken ragtime piano, esp. on "Tom Thumb" and "It Takes A Lot to Laugh"
– My favorite lyric: "When you’re stuck in Juarez/And it’s Christmastime too."
– The record sounds so lush and brilliant, colorful and tuneful throughout. The opening piano riff on "Tom Thumb", Al Kooper’s organ on "Rolling Stone", the brooding throb of "Thin Man" – Highway 61 is packed with memorable moment after memorable moment.
– Undoubtedly one of the greatest rock records ever. Entirely deserving of your intention.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter
Self-Released; 1999

My Rating: C (49/100)

Best Tracks: "Leaves and Kings", "Beautiful Night", "Potter’s Wheel", "Letter from Omaha"

A shaky debut that holds more interest as an historical document than an enjoyable record.

NOTES
– Well, it sounds amateur-ish, but it’s certainly above average amateur work.
– Three names always get thrown around with Ritter: Dylan, Prine, and Cohen. They are perhaps most typified here, where he seems as if he’s imitating them distinctively on specific tracks.
– I wonder what this collection of songs would sound like re-recorded with Ritter’s current band? Could be an interesting experiment.
– I think Ritter took the Dylan route more than the Prine route, and I think that was a good thing for him. Witness "Angels On Her Shoulders."
– Like the cello on "Potter’s Wheel."
– Does Ritter ever play these songs live anymore? He didn’t when I saw him last year.
– Overall, there are some promising tunes here, but as I said before, this certainly sounds like a (talented) kid discovering his guitar and voice for the first time. Greener pastures awaited him.

ATTRIBUTES
Concept (3/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Cohesion (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Bringing It All Back Home
Columbia; 1965

My Rating: A (95/100)

Best Tracks: "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "She Belongs to Me", "Mr. Tambourine Man", "Gates of Eden", "It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding", "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue"

This is Dylan’s first truly great album. Sure, he’d written lots of great songs before now, but this one feels crafted to please from start to finish.

NOTES:

– From the outset this sounds fresh and revolutionary.
– The lead guitar throught is excellent.
– The bridge album from his early folk style to his surrealistic Americana.
– All in all, this is a great album full of funny, colorful, thick songs and exceptional playing. There is a dream-like quality throughout.
– "115th Dream" is a lyrical trip.
– "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue" is one of my all time favorite tracks, because it is a break-up song that puts the end of the relationship in apocalyptic terms. Also, I like the noodly guitar that sort of haunts the background of the track. It’s flourishes like these that are signs of what was to come from Dylan over the next several years, both in his solo work and in his collaborations with The Band.
– This is perhaps Dylan’s Rubber Soul or maybe even his Revolver. That is, it’s a bit overlooked, but arguably one of the greatest records of the 60’s. It marks a turning point in music history for sure, and as for personal preference, this begins my favorite Dylan period.
Erlewine of Allmusic makes a good point that the whole Dylan going electric thing makes for good film footage of angry fans, but as an artistic marker, it is overplayed: “…it’s not just that he went electric, either, rocking hard on "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Maggie’s Farm," and "Outlaw Blues"; it’s that he’s exploding with imagination throughout the record. After all, the music on its second side — the nominal folk songs — derive from the same vantage point as the rockers, leaving traditional folk concerns behind and delving deep into the personal.”

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Songs (5/5)

Quick Review (LP): Another Side of Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Another Side Of Bob Dylan
Columbia; 1964

My Rating: B (64/100)

Best Tracks: "All I Really Want To Do", "Chimes of Freedom", "My Back Pages", "It Ain’t Me Babe", "I Don’t Believe You"

Appropriately named, this is the point where Bob Dylan began to recast himself as pop music’s conscientious court jester. 

NOTES:
– "I Shall Be Free No. 10" is stupid, but it’s just absurd enough to hint at where Dylan would be going next. Also, sounds very dated.
– "Chimes of Freedom" is pretty remarkable lyrically, but conceptually it’s quite a bit like "A Hard Rain…" and "The Times They Are A-Changin." It’s a Dylan that would soon be left behind, and it’s not THAT great really.
– He gives us not one, but TWO re-writes of "Hard Rain."
– "My Back Pages" is transcendent and timeless. The chorus is one of Dylan’s greatest turns of phrase.
– "Black Crow Blues" looks forward to the really good stuff he’d get into later on.
– He still sounds very protest-y. The moments where he abandons the sermonizing are the best.
– Here’s where Dylan’s vision begins to expand, where he might have first realized that he could take the transcendent folk ramblings of his early work and infuse it with a sort of loose and absurd Americana melting pot and create something altogether unheard.
– I now realize that I really am not that crazy about Dylan’s first four albums. The next time around, he’d start to get REALLY good.

ATTRIBUTES:
Cohesion (4/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Songs (4/5)

My review of The Times They Are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
My review of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
My review of Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan

Quick Review (LP): Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.

R.E.M.
Collapse Into Now
2011

My Rating: C- (42/100)

Best Tracks: "Uberlin", "Oh My Heart", "Blue"

Let’s just call it: R.E.M. has not been the same, nor ever will be again, without Bill Berry on drums. It’s been 5 albums now, and we can argue that every album released with Berry was good, if not great, if no classic. Every album since his departure has been mediocre if not boring. How do we explain this? Not sure. After all, Berry was only the drummer, and not really known to be the band’s chief songwriter. But I suspect it has to do with band chemistry. R.E.M. was always that 4 man troupe, and it’s arguable that the real R.E.M. ceased to be without him. So that’s what I’m sticking to. Bring back Berry or call it a day. Or just completely reinvent yourselves like Dylan.

NOTES
– Will they ever embrace their pre-major label sound again, or have they decidedly left it behind?
– The problem may be with Stipe, who’s lyrics are a little too poppy, a little too obvious. It’s as if around Document he decided it was time to leave the "murmur" behind.
– It’s true they are borrowing from a lot of old ideas, it’s just that all of the old ideas happened in 1991 or later.
Matt LeMay summarizes the shortcomings of this record well: “This album is host to more such complexity than anything since 1998’s Up– but Collapse Into Now still sounds like the work of a band caught between old habits and new adventures.” Also worth reading is the paragraph where he details the retreaded material on this record.
– His list could go on. "Me, Marlon Brando…" recalls "Monty Got a Raw Deal." 
– It almost sounds as if they are giving up and just saying, "Look, you want the sound of old REM, here’s some old REM for you."  What they really need at this point is a late career version of Fables, a dark and completely otherworldly record, an idiosyncratic and arcane concept album.
– "Blue" is at least interesting, if not really a great song. Honestly, I’d love to hear a completely weird REM album of dark, downtempo tracks like this.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (3.5/5)
Concept (3.5/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Songs (3/5)

My review of R.E.M.’s Murmur|
Career in Brief: REM’s IRS Years