CK Retro Review: Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan

While it may have confused a lot of people at the time of its release, 1969’s Nashville Skyline turned out to be anything but a novelty record from Bob Dylan. Sporting a voice that made him sound like Engelbert Humperdinck’s slightly soused cousin and flaunting a crack studio band that could make even the simplest compositions come to life, Dylan made country music filled with energy and warmth. The album became one of the most popular of his career and includes a few stone-cold classics for good measure. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

10. “Nashville Skyline Rag”- It’s an in-depth examination of the insidious effects of smog on a typical Southeastern American city and …. Just checking to see if your paying attention. It’s actually a peppy instrumental with a dueling instruments motif.

THREE STARS

9. “Peggy Day”- I made light of Bob’s voice in the intro, but, in truth, he really did develop quite an affecting croon for the album. Listen to the way he flitters through the bridge of this light-hearted song and you’ll see what I mean.

8. “Country Pie”- The recording is a bit of a wild scramble, but that’s what makes it so much fun. At under two minutes, the song leaves just enough time for some of Dylan’s most bizarre lyrics, which, with their food-centric theme, could be seen as a country cousin to The Beatles’ “Savoy Truffle.”

7. “To Be Alone With You”- This one is far more rhythm and blues than country, and benefits from an excellent band performance. The lyrics are a pretty straightforward ode to intimacy, even quoting Ray Charles at one point. An understated but effective number.

6. “One More Night”- The contrast between light and dark has always been an important theme in Dylan’s music. It’s utilized here by the narrator of this acoustic shuffle, who finds the light constantly eluding him since his estrangement from his former love. Bob’s respect for the meter of the lyrics, something he never worried about in past years but is integral to the country material, helps make this one memorable.

FOUR STARS

5. “Girl From The North Country” (with Johnny Cash)- So what if the harmonies are wonky and the pair aren’t always singing the same lyrics? The song itself is unassailable and lends itself well to the duet format, while the emotion that both men bring to the table makes it clear that this wasn’t just a pair of stars mailing in a duet. This was Dylan and Cash, a mutual admiration society, bringing out the best in each other.

4. “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”- Much like the narrator who is longer in a hurry to get out of town, this closing track takes its musical time, with Pete Drake’s pedal steel washing languorously over everything. It was a sentiment that must have resonated with Dylan, who had slowed his recording schedule down to a crawl compared to his mid-60’s frenzy. That ease could be detected in winning tracks like this one.

3. “Tell Me That Isn’t True”- The protagonist of this song just wants verbal confirmation from his girl that the rumors of her wayward behavior are untrue. There are really only two ways this can go down: Either she confirms that she’s been cheating or his mistrust wrecks a good thing. It’s a bad outcome either way, and that inevitability hangs heavy over this perfectly-executed, downbeat tune.

FIVE STARS

2. “Lay Lady Lay”- Never before has Dylan been so direct with his declarations of ardor as on this big hit song. As a result, “Lay Lady Lay” casts a sensual ambiance that is embellished by the music. Kenny Buttrey’s bongo-and-cowbell combination works in spite of itself, and the hazy organ is the audio equivalent of candlelight. Bob’s vocal is as charming as it is randy. The urgency of the melody in the bridge makes plain the intensity of his desire. Maybe Dylan’s sexiest song ever.

1. “I Threw It All Away”- If Nashville Skyline is Dylan’s ultimate homage to Hank Williams, then consider this song his “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” as both are majestically woeful. As if it isn’t bad enough that he has lost the love of his life, the narrator here has to spend his weary days knowing that he himself was to blame for her departure. The simple yet moving tune is set up by the nifty little guitar riff that opens and closes the song. Dylan doesn’t overdo the vocal, coming off as a man made wiser by his mistakes and wishing to pass that wisdom on because it’s no use to him now. When they list Bob’s all-time heartbreakers, “I Threw It All Away” can stake a pretty good place for its status.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)

http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0810888238

 

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CK Retro Review: John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan

After a year-and-a-half of silence, Bob Dylan returned to action in the winter after the Summer of Love with 1967’s John Wesley Harding. In typical Dylan fashion, his music zigged while the rest of the world zagged, as the album featured a bunch of hushed, mysterious parables and an earthy sound, far removed from the prevailing psychedelic music of the counterculture. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

12. “Down Along The Cove”- The instrumentalists come alive a bit at the end of this penultimate song on the album, but it’s not enough to save it from relative insignificance.

THREE STARS

11. “I Am A Lonesome Hobo”- You might expect from that title a somber musical number, but this one has a surprising bit of kick to it. That helps to make up for the fact that the message here, a simple reap-what-you-sow message, is not only easily discernible but also a bit trite.

10. “The Wicked Messenger”- One of the most quizzical songs on an album full of puzzles, “The Wicked Messenger” defies easy interpretation other than to quote the old cliché that says the person who brings the bad news is often the one who gets shot. The image of the messenger’s burning feet casts a pretty harrowing pall over the proceedings.

9. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”- With Pete Drake’s pedal steel clearing the path, it feels like the closing track of John Wesley Harding is pointed in the direction of the album that would follow, Nashville Skyline. It’s all about simplicity here, with Dylan charmingly playing the eager lover and rhyming “moon” and “spoon” to take some of the air out of all the heavy stuff that preceded.

8. “Drifter’s Escape”- Dylan’s tale of justice gone awry and a lightning bolt that delivers the hero from his predicament is given a repetitive melody that seems just a bit odd at first but soon becomes one of the song’s most interesting features. That, along with the kicky rhythm, turns what could have been a moldy parable into a suspenseful tale.

7. “As I Went Out One Morning”- John Wesley Harding gets a reputation sometimes as being musically simple, but it’s only really simple in terms of the instrumentation used. The trio Dylan leads acctually works up interesting variations throughout. On this one, bassist Charlie McCoy and drummer Kenny Buttrey work a subtly funky rhythm into a song that, on paper, looks impenetrable. So you can try and figure out what went down and who’s to blame among the narrator, Tom Paine, and the girl in chains, or you can simply groove to it.

6. “Dear Landlord”- In the interim between Blonde On Blonde and John Wesley Harding, Dylan made a little music with The Band in Woodstock that would go on to have a life of its own as years passed. “Dear Landlord” is the one song on this album that sounds like a Basement Tapes track, with its meandering melody and Dylan’s drunken piano. Many people read the lyrics as a dig at Bob’s manager Albert Grossman, but it could also be a simple message about the folly and ignorance of treating people poorly only because of their status as underlings.

FOUR STARS

5. “John Wesley Harding”- Dylan appropriated the name of a real-life outlaw for this song, but, as usual, his creation is untethered by any historical accuracy. His “John Wesley Harding” seems to be a Robin Hood character of sorts, yet the implication is also there that this is a dangerous guy with the skills (and “a gun in ev’ry hand”) to take care of any “situation” that crosses his path. As the album’s opening and title track, it sets the tone for the rest of the record in how Dylan paints all around the center of the story, leaving a gap for our imaginations to fill.

4. “I Pity The Poor Immigrant”- There is a Biblical beauty to the wordplay Dylan uses on this track, singing in a voice so woeful that it’s practically unrecognizable from the firebrand that burned his way through the electric albums. The message seems to be that we should hate the sin but not the sinner, as the narrator finds empathy for someone who cares not a whit for anyone but himself and acts only for his personal gain. “Immigrant” is an interesting term used to describe this character. It seems to imply that, no matter how much wealth or power he has accrued, he cannot truly gain entry to the one location that matters most.

3. “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine”- Dylan has talked in interviews about how he tried to have every line and every word mean something on this record. While I would argue that is the case with most of his albums, you can see what he means on a song like this one, when every utterance he makes seems to have some sort of import behind it. It’s one of the most tender melodies on the record, and Bob’s vocal captures the wonder and regret of the narrator as he recalls a dream that seems to reveal something about the flaws in his own character.

2. “All Along The Watchtower”- Jimi Hendrix turned this song into something violent and cathartic, and stole its identity in the process. The fact that Dylan has always played Hendrix’ version seems to indicate that he knew that Jimi found the untapped potential in the song. Yet the take on John Wesley Harding, while less impactful, is still a fascinating and beguiling mystery, all hints and clues and anticipation of some sort of approaching metaphorical storm. Hendrix brought that storm with his electric guitar, but the set-up for it is all there in Bob’s original take.

FIVE STARS

1. “The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest”- Even in a song where Dylan gives us the moral, there are enough nooks and crannies in this one to keep you guessing. While I don’t doubt that Frankie Lee’s ravenous appetites lead to his downfall, there is something pitiable in the way he lacks control of his impulses and actions. Meanwhile, Judas Priest may have all the answers, but he also comes off as a bit of a condescending jerk. Maybe the neighbor boy’s warning that “Nothing is revealed” is the ultimate takeaway from this song and, for that matter, from the album that contains it. Still, thanks to the jaunty acoustic accompaniment, this song is damn catchy nothingness that will keep you coming back until you find something and long after that.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)

http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0810888238


CK Retro Review: Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan

Blonde On Blonde was the culmination of Bob Dylan’s super-dynamic mid-60’s period of album-making and non-stop touring. His music would take a radical turn in the aftermath of both the album’s release and Bob’s retreat from the touring merry-go-round, but what he left behind on this incredible double-album, which is on the short list not just of Dylan’s finest discs but but also on the list of greatest albums ever, is enough to satiate music fans for a lifetime. Here is a track-by-track review.

THREE STARS

14. “Obviously Five Believers”- Robbie Robertson’s stinging licks emerge from the murk of this feisty track. Still, the song suffers when compared with some of the other up-tempo songs on the album, which retain this song’s momentum while adding much more nuanced playing.

13. “Pledging My Time”- Dylan slows this one down to a Chicago-style, deep-dish blues, which allows him to sink into his harmonica solos with grit and gusto. Yet his vocal delivery is unfazed and bemused, as if the trials his narrator is enduring are something to be shrugged off.

12. “Temporary Like Achilles”- Harold “Pig” Robbins stands out here with some saloon-like piano, milking every bit of sorrow from Dylan’s sad-sack narrator in the process. Only Bob would embellish an otherwise straightforward blues song by giving the name of a hero from Greek mythology to his romantic rival, but it’s that kind of touch that elevates the song above the mundane.

FOUR STARS

11. “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”- Dylan takes lead guitar in the early part of the song before Robertson takes the reins the rest of the way to add commentary to Bob’s vocals. The society girl who wears the titular chapeau clearly has reached a social status far outside the narrator’s reach. The beauty of Dylan’s lyric is the way this guy demonstrates his disgust while still betraying some frustration at being left behind.

10. “4th Time Around”- Was Dylan acknowledging The Beatles’ attempts to enter his folky domain or was he poking fun at them? Probably a little bit of both, since he borrows the basic chord pattern and episodic nature of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” for this hypnotic track. Even when the satire/parody/homage is undetectable, the song works thanks to the quirky humor of the story.

9. “Absolutely Sweet Marie”- The Blonde On Blonde band’s locomotive churn is fantastically alluring here, as is Dylan’s laconic delivery. Frustrations, sexual and emotional, are expressed with bonkers imagery by Bob, and then he punctuates it all with a searing harmonica solo that expresses all of the hurt and anguish that the laid-back vocal tries to hide.

8. “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”- The general chaos of the recording carries this one a long way even if it’s impossible to know just how far Dylan’s tongue was embedded in his cheek. Maybe it’s a straightforward ode to pot as the answer to life’s hassles, or maybe it’s a sly lament about Bob’s own status as a pin-cushion for the press. Whatever it is, it’s a blast every time it hits the speakers.

7. “Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine”- Every line in this testament to the benefits of breaking off a crumbling relationship is both ingenious in the choice of words and inevitable in that’s it hard to imagine any other words to replace them. That’s Dylan’s singular skill, turning a light-hearted, trumpet-fueled romp into something more profound and enduring.

FIVE STARS

6. “I Want You”- It’s one of Dylan’s most welcoming songs, with it’s sunbeam melody inviting even the most skeptical to appreciate its charms. Once he’s got them hooked, Bob can let loose an entire army of secondary characters in the verses as examples of the distractions that the narrator must endure to get to the object of his desire. It all boils down to that lovely chorus, wherein the world’s greatest songwriter sums it all up with striking three-word simplicity.

5. “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again”- First of all, the irresistibly jaunty music is sturdy and surprising enough to withstand the song’s length, and that’s a crucial factor. It allows the listener to stay focused on the haphazard exploits of our hero. who bounces from goofy situation to goofy situation and comes out on the wrong end of every one of them. The refrain is a brilliant way of expressing this guy’s malaise, because you know you’re in bad shape when even your blues feel out of place.

4. “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)”- On an album full of excellent instrumental contributions, it’s hard to top the work of pianist Paul Griffin here. His thrilling playing captures the lyrics’ fascinating mixture of resignation and anguish, as the narrator tries to make sense of how he coughed up this valuable relationship. Dylan plays it cool often on Blonde On Blonde, but his vocals here are all-out emotional on what proves to be one of the best mid-tempo ballads of his career.

3. “Just Like A Woman”- The music flutters about like an elusive butterfly, elegantly rising and falling before soaring off into the furthest reaches with Dylan’s final harmonica solo. The lyrics are part salute and part putdown, but, seeing as how the narrator is the one coming from the position of weakness throughout, the girl/woman can likely withstand whatever he dishes out. The final scene of the guy anticipating a bittersweet future meeting between the ex-lovers is a real heartbreaker.

2. “Visions Of Johanna”- There are just so many ways to admire this song. The music is beautifully-restrained (much love to Joe South’s tender bassline) and cleverly-structured, with Dylan’s harmonica moan serving the purpose of putting in bold-face the emotions quietly suggested by the band. The lyrics are just stunning, a series of escapades that take Bob’s surreality to more cutting levels than ever before; the narrator can’t laugh this stuff this off. That’s because he is separated from Johanna, and that’s what makes “Visions Of Johanna” one of Dylan’s ultimate love songs. After all, if Johanna can make the netherworld inhabited by the narrator bearable, she must be something else.

1. “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”- Dylan coaxes one of the most striking performances of any rock ballad in history from the band, with Kenny Buttrey’s high-hat brilliance keeping the whole thing afloat for all 11-plus minutes as the song stirringly surges and recedes. The object of Bob’s affection is honored with some of his most beautiful poetry, but she is also humanized by the imperfections that he describes. What ultimately separates her is her indomitable nature, which none of the other suitors with questionable motives who darken her door can pierce. Dylan, meanwhile, stands out there still with his Arabian drum, waiting for her signal to enter. What a way to close out the album and the electric period.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)

http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/0810888238

 


Happy Memorial Day! More Dylan tomorrow

Because of the holiday, we’ll be taking a break in our excavation of Dylan albums today, but we’ll be back with three more this week (on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday), starting tomorrow with Blonde On Blonde. Have a good one, everybody.


CK Retro Review: Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan

Anyone thinking that Bob Dylan was just dabbling in electric music with Bringing It All Back Home in 1965 had another thing coming when he returned, just five months later, with Highway 61 Revisited. It was more bluesy and ballsy then the record that preceded it, shuttering gentle acoustics almost altogether in favor of the raw and the ragged. The constant was Dylan’s continued lyrical brilliance. Here is a song-by-song review.

THREE STARS

9. “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”- Dylan hung one of his most enigmatic titles on this one, maybe in an effort to project some kind of significance on it that really isn’t there. It’s mostly just a lot of warmed-over blues lines, but the loping piano of Paul Griffin and Dylan’s woeful harmonica solo get this one by in the end.

8. “From A Buick 6”- A chunky rocker that celebrates a woman who keeps saving the narrator from his various predicaments, “From A Buick 6” may not be the most inspired set of lyrics Bob has ever delivered, but that’s all right, because Highway 61 Revisited was the album on which the music was finally able to do some of the heavy lifting.

FOUR STARS

7. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”- The dueling pianos of Al Kooper and Paul Griffin dictate the sound for this gentle ramble. It’s the right accompaniment the hard-luck story of Dylan’s narrator, who undergoes all sorts of humiliations and victimizations in Juarez, Mexico at the hands of deviant women and scheming authority figures. At least he makes it back to New York City in one piece, though his nervous system might never be the same.

6. “Queen Jane Approximately”- Much of Highway 61 Revisited is sung with a barely concealed sneer by Dylan, but he delivers an open-hearted vocal of a great melody on this song. It’s also one of the best performances by the outstanding band he recruited for the album, as there are enough often spaces in the mix to let each instrumentalist be heard. In many of his songs, Dylan plays the character in need of saving by the love of a good woman, but he reverses the role here, promising to be the one sure thing in her world of uncertainty.

FIVE STARS

5. “Ballad Of A Thin Man”- That’s Dylan handling the piano on this song, pounding out those foreboding chords as if he’s trying to penetrate the skull of the unfortunate character who serves as the target for this legendary diatribe. Mr. Jones is the worst kind of poseur in Bob’s eyes, a quasi-respectable member of society who doesn’t have the guts to live the deviant life but still wishes to breathe its fumes. Once Dylan eradicates him with withering putdowns, it’s unlikely he’ll want to stick around. I’m sure any similarities between Mr. Jones and members of the press were purely coincidental. (And by purely coincidental, I mean totally intended.)

4. “Tombstone Blues”- You really can’t blame the sun for being chicken, nor can you castigate the “sweet pretty things” for hitting the sack early, because the world Dylan conjures here isn’t for the meek or mild. It’s ruthless and relentless, traits which are expertly suggested by the driving music with its double-time beat and Mike Bloomfield’s electric guitar flickering in all directions at unsuspecting passersby. Blues characters, Biblical folk, and historical figures all traipse through Dylan’s landscape and get buffeted about by his thrilling poetics. Mama and Daddy might make an appearance in the chorus, but this is by no means your parents blues.

3. “Highway 61 Revisited”- If the crazed slide whistle doesn’t tell you that this isn’t going to be an ordinary track, than the sly title does, as it implies that you’ll be seeing anything but the familiar sights on that legendary blues highway. The ticking drumbeat keeps the tension alive on a song where violence and mayhem abound at every turn. Threatening deities, unmerciful welfare departments, gamblers with bellicose promotions: It’s all fair game on this stretch of road, and wouldn’t you know it that Dylan sounds right at home in the middle of it as the emcee.

2. “Like A Rolling Stone”- It’s importance in rock history is undeniable, and that importance somewhat clouds objective judgment of the song. Many people hear it as an attack, but there are some subtler elements at play, including the narrator’s genuine concern for the girl as well as the curiosity involved in the “How does it feel?” refrain. The music, with Al Kooper’s crazy organ fills and one of Dylan’s all-time vocal performances, creates the catharsis that has made this song such a durable classic-rock and oldies staple. It’s not even the best song on the album, but it might indeed be the greatest rock song ever. I don’t think there’s a contradiction in those two statements.

1. “Desolation Row”- The lyrics are justly celebrated as the quintessence of Dylan’s surrealistic period, but the musical element of the song is just as important to its success. The alchemy between Bob’s acoustic strumming and the inventive guitar commentary of Charlie McCoy creates one of the most hypnotic recordings ever, one that leaves you wanting more even after 11 minutes. Bob once again places bold-faced names in unflattering situations, but the wonder in his vocal casts a romantic glow on the whole sorry lot. I can’t write anymore, ’cause I want to go listen to this thing again now.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238


CK Retro Review: Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan

He could have sung acoustic folk-based songs for time immemorial and he would have been just fine. But that wouldn’t have been Bob Dylan, right? His 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home was the first of many 180-degree turn he made in his career as he shifted into electric-based blues music and trippy surrealistic lyrics and came out with a stunning triumph. Here is a track-by-track review.

THREE STARS

11. “Outlaw Blues”- Being the weakest song on this album holds no shame whatsoever. Something had to be at the bottom, and this well-executed blues, probably the hardest-rocking cut on the whole disc, suffers only in comparison to the rest of this outstanding bunch of songs.

10. “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”- Dylan intersperses heroes fictional (Captain Ahab, or, in Bob’s telling, “Captain Arab”) and non-fictional (Columbus) as a way of framing this bizarre story, but otherwise it’s just one of his typical surreal comedies, which is to say there is nothing typical about it. From the false start at the beginning to the jumbled electric mess accompanying the wild action, this is inspired lunacy.

9. “On The Road Again”- Out of the three outlying electric-based songs at the end of Side 1 featuring material meant more to amuse rather than to amaze, this one is probably the tightest musically and the catchiest of the group. Give credit to a strutting bass line that seems straight out of a 50’s cop show. When you add in the narrator’s hilarious descriptions of his girlfriend’s horrendous family, you’ve got a track that makes you laugh and groove all at once.

FOUR STARS

8. “Maggie’s Farm”- As a personal statement of purpose, it ranks among Dylan’s very best, as he suggests that doing what people expect him to do is essentially manual labor. You can apply that to where he was in his career, but the song works as a rallying cry for anyone who feels marginalized by expectations. As music, it tiptoes the line between joyously unkempt and downright sloppy, but it lands on the right side more often than not.

7. “She Belongs To Me”- There is a real sweetness in the music here, with Dylan’s acoustic strumming accompanied by some flickering electric guitars, that helps to get this song across. It’s a beguiling character study of a girl who is clearly beyond the narrator’s grasp, which earns in him equal parts admiration and exasperation, even though Dylan’s vocal plays it cool. In a lot of ways this song is like the girl it depicts: Alluring and elusive.

6. “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”- You can look at this and “She Belongs To Me” as musical and lyrical first cousins, but this one gets the edge because of the melody, one of Dylan’s prettiest. His tribute to this girl is interesting in that the qualities that he values in her are the passive ones, how she seems to be at peace in a world full of scramblers and hustlers. Bob claimed once that the title was meant as a mathematical equation. Let’s just say it all adds up beautifully.

5. “Mr. Tambourine Man”- It certainly has a five-star reputation, but there’s something bloodless about Dylan’s own recording of it, as if it’s too perfect. The poetry is jaw-dropping indeed, and Dylan plays it off Bruce Langhorne’s breezy electric guitar nicely. I’ve always took the simplest route here and assumed that the “Mr. Tambourine Man” is his muse, but it really could be a stand-in for anything that takes you away from the routine and humdrum.

FIVE STARS

4. “Gates Of Eden”- This may be the end-all, be-all of complicated lyrics from Dylan. There are those out there who will follow those lyrics down all of their labyrinthine paths, and each of those probably has his or her own competing interpretation. Maybe it’s better to let the brazenness of Bob’s imagery wash over you and do its work. That imagery is often downright harrowing, making it seem like the titular gates are forever receding from our grasp. Dylan seems to suggest that the first step to living within his apocalyptic vision is accepting its reality.

3. “Subterranean Homesick Blues”- The worldview in this famous album-opener is similar to the one in “Gates Of Eden,” only now the enemies are in plain view and their tactics are laid bare in farcical fashion. This was the world’s introduction to Dylan’s electric sound, and it’s a chaotic jumble that barrels its way forward with brute force past any civility or restraint. Bob would fine-tune this sound for future albums, but those subsequent efforts all owe this invigorating track a debt of gratitude for clearing the way in such anarchic fashion.

2. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”- Most classic Dylan albums have killer closing tracks, and Bringing It All Back Home has a doozy in “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” The tendency is for people to read this as a kiss-off kind of a thing, but I think it’s gentler than that. While the narrator doesn’t pull any punches about the malleable situation Baby Blue in which finds herself (or himself), he also implores her to roll with the changing times. His parting advice: “Strike another match, go start anew.” Again, this one works as a statement on Dylan’s shifting musical focus, but it’s even better as a wistful, one-sided conversation.

1. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”- It tells the truth better than perhaps any song in history by relating in great detail how “all is phony.” Yet it’s never a downer, because it’s somehow perversely thrilling how Dylan lays it all on the line for us. Our jobs, our governments, our relationships: It’s all one big game “that you got to dodge.” The scope of this insane deluge is probably too vast to completely avoid, but Bob seems to be hinting that identifying the deceptions is a victory in itself. Simply a staggering piece of work.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238


CK Retro Review: Another Side Of Bob Dylan

Another Side Of Bob Dylan, released in 1964, owns a bit of an awkward spot in the Dylan catalog, wedged in between the protest folk of his first few albums and the incendiary shift to electric music in the middle of the decade. Yet the album contains several indisputable classics and a few more that probably deserve a better shake than they’ve been given over the years. Here is a song-by-song review.

TWO STARS

11. “I Shall Be Free No. 10”- Dylan comes off a little thin-skinned in the opening verse as he seems to be trying to shrug off the impact that his music makes on people. Things don’t really get a whole lot better from there, leaving this one as little more than a footnote in the man’s career.

THREE STARS

10. “Black Crow Blues”- As we progress throughout Bob’s catalog, we’ll see a number of instances where his off-kilter, intuitive piano style adds great value to his songs. This is one of the first examples of that phenomenon, as an otherwise nondescript blues vamp is brought to life by the saloon-like stomp he conjures on the ivories.

9. “Motorsycho Nightmare”- Dylan plays a smart-mouthed rake in this comic escapade  with such aplomb that you get the feeling that it wasn’t too out of character for him. The jokes about taking showers with a girl who looks like actor Tony Perkins were topical enough at the time; the jokes about Fidel Castro and his beard show that Bob wasn’t afraid of good-naturedly riling up Middle America.

FOUR STARS

8. “Spanish Harlem Incident”- One of the things that distinguishes Another Side Of Bob Dylan is that the songwriting takes a turn toward the poetic on several songs. This fun, short ode to a captivating “Gypsy gal” is strikingly vivid; Dylan’s expert descriptions allow you to see this girl in your mind’s eye as you listen and be just as entranced as the narrator by her “wildcat charms.” And Bob’s tripping wordplay is effortlessly nimble. Consider, for just one shining example: “The night is pitch black, come an’ make my/Pale face fit into place, ah, please!”

7. “All I Really Want To Do”- Any song that gets taken to the charts by both The Byrds and Cher must be pretty malleable. It’s ironic that the cover versions work so well, since the song seems to be a personal effort by Dylan to advertise his overall lightening up. The protagonist promises to the object of his temporary affection that he’s not looking to simplify or classify her, categorize her or analyze her. It sounds like the treatment that a guy burdened with the label of spokesman for a generation would want for himself.

6. “I Don’t Believe You”- This clever, one-liner-filled complaint about a fickle female feels like a precursor to some of Dylan’s jaded yet wounded anti-love songs that enlivened the tail end of his electric period. Maybe that’s why he was able to resuscitate the song for incendiary performances of it with the Hawks, including the one that can be found on the Live 1966 disc of the Bootleg Series, which turned out to be the definitive version of the song.

FIVE STARS

5. “My Back Pages”- I think people might misread this track sometimes as Dylan’s self-criticism of his earlier work. What I think he’s trying to intimate with this song is that his point of view was changing, and the gray areas of the big picture were suddenly more germane to his writing than the “lies that life is black and white.” He brings that same sort of loose-limbed approach to his wordplay, stretching the syntax of lines well beyond their breaking point and creating words and phrases from out of thin air that end up making perfect sense. Plus, it has one of the most memorable refrains not just in Dylan’s career, but in rock history.

4. “Ballad In Plain D”- Perhaps the most unjustly maligned song in the Dylan catalog, perhaps because Bob himself regretted writing it. It’s my contention that his regret is not due to the song’s quality, which is first-rate, but rather due to the song’s nakedly autobiographical nature as a blow-by-blow retelling of the final hours of his relationship with Suze Rotolo, which included a physical scuffle with her sister Carla. Bob comes off like a jerk at times in the song, but he seems to be aware of that fact and is willing to show the truth warts and all. His regret for his own failings is just as genuine as his animosity toward the sister. It all builds slowly to a towering climax, the “timeless explosion of fantasy’s dream,” before the sad epilogue and one of Dylan’s most cryptically incisive closing lines: “Are birds free from the chains off the skyway?”

3. “To Ramona”- It’s rumored to be about Joan Baez, but Dylan strayed away from specifics so the song could resonate with many. (It provides an interesting compare and contrast with “Ballad In Plain D,” for sure.) This is one of the sadder songs in the Dylan ouevre, simply because it’s hard to imagine Ramona snapping out of this funk in which she is ensconced. It’s a heartbreaking portrait of depression, and Dylan’s weary vocal is perfectly on-point, implying that hes can empathize with this girl and might even join her in the doldrums, but he’s never going to be able to save her.

2. “It Ain’t Me Babe”- When The Turtles turned this one into a hit, they sang the refrain in an almost taunting manner. Dylan’s reading is much more measured and matter-of-fact, as he simply relates all the ways in which he will never be able to live up to the demands of his former lover. The subtle genius of the song is the way that these demands escalate throughout until it becomes clear that “Babe” ain’t ever gonna be satisfied.

1. “Chimes Of Freedom”- Instead of singling out a specific cause to protest, Dylan rounds up practically every wounded soul on the planet and grants them a deux ex machina in the form of the titular bells to wipe away all their hurt. His descriptions of the storm in the verses contain imagery that makes the imaginary tumult seem spectacularly real. Then his roll call of those needing assistance, many of whom might be overlooked by the average person, builds in the refrains ‘til his final plea for the chimes to toll for “every hung-up person in the whole wide universe.” It’s one of the very best moments in Bob’s recorded career, coming in a song that ranks up there with his elite.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs.)

http://www.amazon.com/Counting-Down-Bob-Dylan-Finest/dp/0810888238