Wrapping Up The Dylan Retro Reviews

Well, it’s been a fun ride recounting the albums of Bob Dylan with you. I devoted a lot of time and care to it, mainly because of the reaction of my readers. My favorite part of this blog is the interaction, and these Retro Reviews certainly promoted a lot of that.

I’m taking a little break for a vacation this week, but I promise you the blog will not lie fallow for long. These Retro Reviews are a great way to dive into the work of an artist, so I plan on starting one again up very soon. (Lots of possibilities for artists, but I’ll take suggestions.)

Obviously, I’ll still be promoting the Dylan book as much as possible in the meantime. On that note, I would ask again that, if you have ordered it and have a little time when you finish reading, you write out a little review on Amazon, Barnes &Noble, GoodReads, or whatever online site you choose. I’m not asking for raves unless you think the book deserves it, just your honest assessment. It will help the book get in front of more potential buyers.

For those of you who haven’t ordered and really like the site, I can say that the book is in the same vein as the Retro Reviews, only it goes deeper and much more thorough into Dylan’s songs. I think you’d like it, so I hope you check it out. Remember that it’s available on all major online sites and is available in E-book form as well. (For those relatively new to the site, search my name, Jim Beviglia, on Amazon and you’ll see the trio of E-Books I’ve done on Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, and Radiohead, all available at reasonable prices.) Also, you can check in on my writing at American Songwriter. (I’m reviewing the new Bootleg Series discs; you’re going to love them.)

That will do it for my shameless plugging. For now, I just want to thank everyone who read and participated. Keep the comments coming and I promise to respond when I can. And stay tuned for more very soon from your friendly neighborhood Countdown Kid.

CK Retro Review: Tempest by Bob Dylan

Anyone expecting Bob Dylan to mellow out once he passed the age of 70 had another coming with the release of Tempest in 2012. Full of darkness, grit, and violence, yet leavened by moments of great tenderness, the album was the most ambitious Dylan had attempted in about four decades, and wouldn’t you know he pulled it off stunningly. Here is a song-by-song review.


10. “Soon After Midnight”- There’s not anything resembling a clunker on the album, so this track can hold its head high even as it brings up the rear. Dylan inhabits a musical backing that sounds like its been hijacked from an old Platters single and gets all romantic on us. That is when he’s not talking about the killing floor or threatening to drag people through the mud.

9. “Scarlet Town”- Interweaving lines from Quaker poets and folk ballads with references to his “flat-breasted junkie whore,” Dylan is clearly mixing up the medicine on this intriguingly elusive track. Bob’s piano sneaks through the minor-key instrumentation as if visiting the various people and places within this fascinating tableau, so rich and ruthless that it wouldn’t be surprising if one of the streets in “Scarlet Town” were Desolation Row.

8. “Narrow Way”- Dylan’s band really tears into this forceful blues number, playing with an abandon well-suited to Bob’s gripping, seemingly endless series of couplets that picks up steam as it goes. That catchy refrain suggests that the narrator knows his place in the gutter. He also knows that whomever he’s addressing is bound for that same gutter but doesn’t realize it yet.

7. “Duquesne Whistle”- Robert Hunter gets co-writing credit on this one, and, thankfully, it’s a good deal better than most of the collaborations he and Dylan had on Together Through Life. That Lawrence Welk gentility of the instrumental intro doesn’t give any indication of the ferocity that lies ahead on the album, but it is apropos for the train within the song which chugs along amiably even as it’s dogged by a hint of melancholy. After all, it might be delivering the narrator to the end of the line.


6. “Early Roman Kings”- Taking the music from Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” and adding some of David Hidalgo’s accordion to the mix, Dylan has a simple framework on which to hang his observations about the titular dandies. Bob spits out the lyrics with demented glee even as the Kings run roughshod over everyone in their path. I’m not sure whether Dylan is targeting politicians, CEO’s, or financial bigwigs, but it seems from the way that he sticks with the first person perspective for the most of the second half of the song that he’s sardonically suggesting that you should join ‘em if you can’t beat ‘em.

5. “Tin Angel”- This is a Dylanolgist’s dream in terms of the hidden meanings and lyrical mysteries just begging to be uncovered. It’s up to each individual listener how far you want to dig. For me, I focus on the grace notes on the surface, such as how Bob subtly switches the tone of his voice as he sings, from sly and suggestive when he’s being the narrator to a gravelly, disdainful bark when he’s portraying the members of the love triangle in their final confrontation. Shakespeare would be proud of the body pile Dylan leaves behind in his wake, and I look back to a quote from an older Bob parable for the best way to explain the mixture of passion and brutality on display in “Tin Angel”: “Nothing is revealed.”

4. “Long And Wasted Years”- People like to make fun of the condition of Dylan’s voice, but it’s hard to think of anyone pulling more emotion from his songs than Bob has, even with the limited range and ravaged quality of his vocals. Listen to his brilliant phrasing in “Long And Wasted Years,” as he soulfully emotes over a descending guitar riff and makes you feel every one of those years in his rear-view. He could be singing gibberish in that manner and make it sound affecting. Luckily, the lyrics are equally strong, recriminations and unhealed wounds giving way to self-examination and regret.

3. “Roll On John”- Dylan waited a good 32 years to assemble his thoughts for a John Lennon tribute. It was worth the wait. In typically idiosyncratic fashion, Dylan pulls Beatles song lyrics together and benevolent wishes with fantastical visions of Lennon in shackles and sailing into an ambush. Bob may be projecting his own feelings about the pitfalls of fame onto his old buddy, but what really jumps out at you on this elegiac track is the empathy. Lennon and Dylan may have had a complicated relationship, but this closes the book on it, and this amazing album, in the most heartfelt way possible.


2. “Tempest”- Like that dude who climbed the mountain just because it was there, so too did Dylan have to write about a song about the Titanic simply because it loomed before him as the ultimate in songwriter’s subject matter. In Bob’s retelling, the great ship’s destination, with the emphasis on destiny, was always the ocean floor; the passengers simply weren’t privy to that info. Those passengers react in ways ranging from heroic to heinous, while Dylan gilds their sad fates with effortlessly elegant wordplay. The watchman, lulled to sleep by David Hidalgo’s mournful violin, dreams away so as not to interfere with “the judgment of God’s hand.” Not a second of those twelve-plus minutes is wasted.

1. “Pay In Blood”- Some of Bob’s greatest angry songs, like “Idiot Wind,” “Positively 4th Street,” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” have an undercurrent of hurt running beneath them. Not “Pay In Blood,” as the narrator revels in the hurt he is about to inflict on the target of his unrelenting scorn. You would think such harshness would yield diminishing returns, but this is a triumph. It’s good to hear Dylan in a modern idiom for a change, even if modern means Tattoo You-era Stones. I can’t think of a better couplet to end this series of reviews than this: “I got something in my pocket make your eyeballs swim/I got dogs could tear you limb from limb.” Says it all, doesn’t it?

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, available now at all major online booksellers.)


CK Retro Review: Together Through Life by Bob Dylan

When it arrived in 2009, Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life was met with almost universal praise from reviewers (yours truly included, I must admit.) And yet…. The album, which features Dylan co-writing with Robert Hunter and getting instrumental support from Heartbreaker Mike Campbell and accordionist David Hidalgo, hasn’t blossomed with the passing of time like other late-period Dylan albums tend to do. I would wager that it’s not too high on any Bob fanatic’s playlist these days, burdened by a few too many generic blues tracks and a dearth of thunderbolt moments. Here is a song-by-song review.


10. “Jolene”- This song is as generic as it gets both lyrically and musically. Even Bob’s crack band fails to provide it a jolt, leaving it at bar-band material at best. I’ll take Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” over this one any day of the week.

9. “My Wife’s Home Town”- Maybe Dylan and Hunter made each other chuckle with the lyrics here, but for the listener, well, I guess you had to be there. Dylan’s vocals are uncomfortably serrated on the track and the pace is sludgy. Take the semi-funny punch line of the refrain away, and even that loses its luster after its repeated a few times, and there’s not much left here.

8. “Shake Shake Mama”- This one has an effective enough groove, but the repetitiveness of it begs for lyrics to provide some spice and variety. Alas, there is little life in them besides some worn over blues cliches which are hung together without any regard for how they fit into the song.


7. “If You Ever Go To Houston”- This exercise in Tex-Mex balladry is understated enough to be charming. Dylan sets the song in an Old West full of gunslingers and barrooms, but you can tell all that the second Hidalgo’s accordion strolls across the dusty trail. Nothing too fancy, but welcome nonetheless.

6. “Life Is Hard”- Melodies are usually not what one discusses when dealing with Dylan’s later work, but “Life Is Hard” has a subtly affecting tune. Even if Bob can’t quite grab the higher notes, the strain is emblematic of his character’s woeful plight. This dude is seriously messed up over the departure of his love, so much so that he feels a “chilly breeze/In place of memories.” He can’t even muster up some trademark Dylanesque black humor to leaven his plight. As a result, the song teeters on the edge of being too maudlin, but Dylan’s vocal keeps on the right side of the line.

5. “I Feel A Change Comin’ On”- This song has the feel of one of The Band’s more soulful tracks, which means Hidalgo plays the Garth Hudson role here and plays it well. When the album came out, everybody jumped on the lines about Billie Joe Shaver and James Joyce as emblematic of Dylan’s unique songwriting perspective. For me, I prefer the other bridge, where Bob opines about the futility of dreams in simple but stinging words. There’s a good vibe to this one on the whole, even if it’s not quite the definitive statement it aspires to be.

4. “It’s All Good”- Maybe this one should have had a subtitle for the sake of accuracy: “It’s All Good (But Not Really)”. Dylan seems to be saying that the title phrase is not only wrong-headed but dangerous. His narrator has his eyes wide open about the world’s ills, but he’s also ready to take advantage of the chaos where he can. Even if the lyrics are a bit too obvious, the song gets by on the maniacal joy that Dylan seems to be having throughout.

3. “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”- The dynamic music pushes this one a long way, with the accordion hook and Campbell’s powerful licks playing off each other and the flamenco rhythm nicely. The lyrics may not be the most evocative set in Bob’s career (although “boulevards of broken cars” is quite a potent phrase), but the words fit the meter tight to make it prime sing-along material. Basically, it’s an airtight single, and that’s no easy feat.

2. “Forgetful Heart”- A suitably moody recording with lyrics just suggestive enough to make this sound maybe more profound that it is. Dylan has had conversations with his ticker before (“Heart Of Mine”), but none so ominous as this. That last couplet is a doozy (“The door has closed forevermore/If indeed there ever was a door”) and the song sustains its central conceit well all the way through. It’s more of a triumph of songwriting technique than an example of inspired profundity, but it’s still fine.


1. “This Dream Of You”- While it’s probably not fair to cast aspersions on the contributions of Robert Hunter based on the fact that the lone song which Dylan wrote alone is by far the best on the album, it is probably fair to say that it’s not a coincidence. Like other songs on the album, Dylan doesn’t try to fling his lyrics too far afield of the music, which in this case is a lovely South-of-the-border tune with fiddles and accordion in perfect conjunction. Yet this is the one Together Through Life song that has a little of the old Dylan mystery and magic. What seems on the surface like a simple broken-hearted lament actually goes much deeper and darker than that, until the very existence of the narrator’s dream girl comes into question. It’s haunting stuff, and it’s miles and away the best song here.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, available now at all major online booksellers.)


CK Retro Review: Modern Times by Bob Dylan

It took Bob Dylan nearly five years to follow up on “Love And Theft,” but 2006’s Modern Times was well worth the wait. Once again self-produced and featuring members of his touring band, the album continued Dylan’s amazing late-period hot streak. It has jumping blues tracks, romantic crooner-type material, and a moody, magnificent closing track to send us all off the bed with the covers pulled tight over our eyes. Here is a song-by-song review.


10. “Beyond The Horizon”- The music has a sleepy, island lilt to it, making the heaven Dylan promises in the song sound a lot like Honolulu. That soporific music and the song’s deeper themes of eternal love might be at cross purposes though, so this one is a near-miss.


9. “Spirit On The Water”- That jaunty little riff that anchors the song has an entrancing effect, which might make listeners feel like they’re in gentle territory here. Indeed, “Spirit On The Water” starts down that road, only to veer into darker territory down the line. The narrator seems a bit possessive of the woman he’s addressing, perhaps because he can feel his grip on her slipping. When he admits to killing a man in Paradise toward the song’s end against that supper club musical backing, this dreamy little track turns fascinatingly nightmarish in a hurry.

8. “Rollin’ And Tumblin’”- It’s a bit one-note lyrically, Dylan railing against the “lazy slut” who has beguiled him to the point of exasperation. What makes up for it is the kicking beat of George Receli and the band’s breathless performance, which gives extra oomph to every one of Bob’s ornery observations. Nothing new here, but well-executed.

7. “Someday Baby”- Dylan was right to choose this as the song which introduced the album to the world in promos and TV ads, because it’s got a rhythm that grabs and holds you throughout the entirety of the track. The lyrics are as accessible as Bob gets as well, a kiss-off to a lover who’s more trouble than she’s worth. The fact that the song was never played in live leads me to believe that Dylan wrote it for that mercenary purpose of hooking potential buyers, and it fills the bill effectively. Who knows? In a time when such things were possible for artists like Dylan, it might have been a hit single.


6. “The Levee’s Gonna Break”- As in “High Water (For Charley Patton)”, the waters roiling in Dylan’s narrative are of the figurative variety. Yet his protagonist in the song seems ready and prepared for the threat of the song’s title. His rough-and-ready attitude isn’t tempered one bit, as a matter of fact, and that spirit keeps this one from being a downer. With the band grinding it out behind him, Bob sounds as if he can ride the flood right to salvation.

5. “Nettie Moore”- Dylan the producer created an interesting arrangement for this song that doesn’t sound like it should work but does in spades. The creeping rhythm in the verses, like a tentative heartbeat, opens up into a gorgeously melancholy chorus. The lyrics work in much the same manner. Dylan’s narrator talks tough in the verses for the most part, at least until the end when the strong sunlight reveals his misery. That was made plain anyway in the refrains, when the title character’s memory haunts him and the whole world darkens before him.


4. “When The Deal Goes Down”- These ballads that Bob usually drops on every album are essential to his winning formula. In a way, they humanize him, showing the warm feelings that the gruff, bluesy songs sometimes eschew. In the case of “When The Deal Goes Down,” Dylan takes an old Bing Crosby song and does his own version of crooning that may not be as smooth as Der Bingle but certainly fits the open-hearted content of the lyric. There are a lot of things wrong with the world and with the narrator, but the love of his life redeems and rejuvenates him to deal with all that. To reciprocate, he offers to be there for her at the time in her life when she needs it most.

3. “Thunder On The Mountain”- After a couple crashing chords open up the song and the album, Dylan’s band takes a Chuck Berry groove and slows it down ever so slightly to squeeze all the juice out of it. The lyrics present Bob at his feistiest and most fun as he inhabits a fearless, strutting character that, one might hypothesize, might be the songwriter’s id cut loose. He’s got an army of orphans, a belly full of cow milk, and an expanding soul. You can delve into those lyrics for hidden clues, or you can just rock out with the band. Either way, “Thunder On The Mountain” goes down as one of Dylan’s finest album-opening salvos.

2. “Workingman’s Blues”- So how does Dylan make salient points about the problems of labor in America without making it sound like a sociology lesson? By letting those views emanate from a character who is no saint, who’s hounded by heartbreak, but whose biggest problem may be the dignity stolen from him when he lost his job. Thus Bob can get away with lines about competing abroad and the “buying power of the proletariat” because he puts a human face on the problem. After the elegant interplay between guitar, piano, and violin, the martial beat in the refrains is a sad call to arms for those singing those same blues.

1.”Ain’t Talkin’”- Dylan’s later work is notable for the songs’ refusal to be pinned down to a single emotion, as Bob often takes many detours and backtracks before reaching his ultimate destination. Yet “Ain’t Talkin’” is powered by its single-mindedness, as the narrator is bent on revenge of the most violent kind before a fast-approaching apocalypse occurs to settle all debts. His only deviation from his quest is to catalog his many ills and woes (for a guy who says he’s not talking, he sure goes on a while), and the only bright side you get is the oddly apropos heavenly flourish at song’s end. Maybe Dylan doesn’t create a warm and cuddly character here, but he certainly seems like the ideal spokesman for modern times and Modern Times, since both seem to be teetering on the edge of sanity right along with him.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, now available from all major online booksellers in both print and e-book editions.)


Counting Down Bob Dylan E-Book Now Available

For those of you who prefer e-books, Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs is now available via Amazon for Kindle readers. I also know that in many areas, the book is listed as temporarily out of stock, so this is a way for everyone to get their hands on it immediately. The links below are, respectively, to the US and UK Amazon pages for the E-book versions.



CK Retro Review: “Love And Theft” by Bob Dylan

Time Out Of Mind got the Grammy love, but 2001’s “Love And Theft” is the album that cemented Bob Dylan’s resurgence to musical heights he previously scaled in the 60’s and 70’s. Whereas on the previous record he sounded wounded, bereft, and near the end of the line, Dylan’s various narrators on “Love And Theft” are ribald, fierce, funny, and generally unapologetic about the way they live their rough-and-tumble lives. The musical settings, ranging from bruising blues to vintage torch songs, are also perfectly tuned to Bob’s vibrant words. Here is a song-by-song review.


12. “Bye And Bye”- There are no weak moments on “Love And Theft” really and, as on previous masterpieces like Blood On The Tracks, every song is essential in its way. So there is no shame in this ranking for “Bye And Bye,” which it occupies only because it’s a tad on the slight and frivolous side, even as it’s a genuine joy to hear.

11. “Floater (Too Much To Ask)”- It’s a bit of an odd bird of a song, bouncing amiably along before being interrupted by Larry Campbell’s violin which sounds as if it’s the from the soundtrack of an old serial cliffhanger. There’s a lot going on in the lyrics, and bits and pieces rise to the surface to shine, like the narrator’s surprisingly moving descriptions of his grandparents. The real highlight is hearing Dylan finesse those wordy lines while staying in character.

10. “Cry Awhile”- Dylan’s protagonist here is no softie; he lives in the “fringes of the night” and deals with unsavory characters and situations that aren’t for the timid. Yet he gets twisted and turned by the girl who penetrates his rough exterior and brings tears. Nothing penetrates the exterior of the music, however; it stays thunderous and nasty all the way home.

9. “Honest With Me”- Dylan took over production duties on his albums starting with “Love And Theft”, and he has generally favored pre-rock sounds for his songs. “Honest With Me” is as close as it gets to modern music on the album, churning along with brawny guitars at a pretty good tempo. It seems to set him free as a lyricist to absolutely lose his mind, as nudity, baseball bats, crashed cars, and Siamese twins all make appearances. It’s a wild ride, but a thrilling one.

8. “Po’ Boy”- This is one of those songs that would seem like a terrible idea if someone described it to you, yet it ends up being irresistibly charming. On the musical surface, it’s a gentle stroll of a song with a hint of melancholy in the melody. Yet the lyrics are full of hammy, eye-rolling humor, jokes that are older than Dylan himself. Still, you can’t help but laugh. Credit goes to Bob’s comic timing and the warm spirit that he exudes.


7. “Moonlight”- This song succeeds if for no other reason that it gives Dylan a chance to flex his poetic muscles over a lilting melody. His descriptions of his surroundings bring every sight, sound, and smell vividly forth, and he sings those tongue-twisters beautifully. Once he has the listener in awe, he goes for the heart with the sweetly direct refrain: “Won’t you meet me out in the moonlight alone?” This guy is such a sweet-talker, she’d be a fool not to.

6. “Summer Days”- Dylan lets his band, one of the best he ever assembled for an album, do much of the heavy lifting here. The dueling guitars of Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell cut loose on a 50’s-style blues, while the rhythm section of Tony Garnier and David Kemper keep things hopping. Bob has a blast with the strutting, braggadocious tone of the lyrics; the guy he portrays here definitely sounds like he knows “where there’s still somethin’ going on.” You get the idea that “somethin'” might be a lot of fun even if it’s ultimately not good for you.

5. “Lonesome Day Blues”- His voice raw and powerful behind a grinding blues-rock backdrop, Dylan sinks his teeth into a meaty set of hard-hearted lyrics. Bob has always taken advantage of the blues template rather than having his songwriting be restricted by it. On a song like “Lonesome Day Blues,” the anticipation builds up each time the first line of the stanza is repeated, because the completing line is always a killer. He’s done so many songs in his late-period Renaissance like this that they can be taken for granted. When they’re this good, they shouldn’t be.

4. “Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum”- Lewis Carroll likely never envisioned his pesky pair being rendered quite like this. As written by Dylan, these two troublemakers seem even more dangerous because of the incompetence and ignorance they seem to possess. Bongos and twisting guitars help make for a thrilling recording, as Bob barks out his couplets with forceful menace. Are they old friends? Rival politicians? Twin poles of the songwriter’s psyche? That’s for the listener to decide and Bob to know, but we can all agree that this dastardly duo make fascinating subject matter.


3. “High Water (For Charley Patton)”- The flood here is metaphorical, which makes it harder to spot but no less devastating once it washes over you. People made connections to 9/11 based on some of the lyrics (the album was released on that infamous day), but Bob’s focus here seems to be on some of the traditions and tragedies that make up the history of the American South, making this a companion piece in a way to “Blind Willie McTell.” Campbell’s banjo walks hand-in-hand with Bob’s haunting imagery. The songwriting, the singing, the instrumental work: Everything here is absolutely in the pocket for a dark beauty of a song.

2. “Mississippi”- After numerous failed attempts to record the song with Daniel Lanois for Time Out Of Mind (several of those can be heard on Tell Tale Signs), Dylan took the song back and put it inside of an elegant, acoustic arrangement. That arrangement allowed Dylan’s stirring melody and lovely lyrics to come to the fore. For much of the song, the narrator is haunted by regrets and the circumstances that have pulled him and his love apart. Yet the final verses admit some light into the picture, as Dylan expresses the hope and gratitude that make an already wonderful song even more profound.

1. “Sugar Baby”- It’s the perfect closing song for the album because it’s the antithesis of all that has come before it. After an album’s worth of threats, jokes, and devil-may-care attitude, the bill comes due on “Sugar Baby.” Droning acoustic guitars pick out a chord pattern that sounds alternately heartbroken and resigned to its fate. The narrator makes woefully wise observations and shoos the title character away because he can’t bear to see her dragged down into the abyss with him. Considering the overall top-to-bottom quality of the album, saying that Dylan saved the best for last on “Love And Theft” is all you need to know about the greatness of “Sugar Baby.”

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, available now at all major online booksellers.)


CK Retro Review: Time Out Of Mind by Bob Dylan

He went through writer’s block, damn near died, and came out on the other end of a seven-year hiatus from songwriting with the Grammy Album of the Year. There are arguably better Bob Dylan albums than 1997’s Time Out Of Mind, but perhaps none more important in his winding road of a career. Hooking up again with producer Daniel Lanois, Dylan stopped worrying about sounding even remotely modern, wrote direct lyrics that revealed his alienation from the world around him and dug deeper than they had in years, and found the basic template that he would use for a string of late-career triumphs. Here is a song-by-song review.


11. “Million Miles”- Some critics retroactively snipe at Lanois for his proactive production style, but I would argue that the only song which he hinders on the collection is this one. The lounge act from hell vibe is better suited to Tom Waits. Dylan bears some of the blame too, because this is also his least memorable set of lyrics on the album.


10. “Dirt Road Blues”- Once again with blood in his eyes, Dylan finds himself on an unending thoroughfare in the middle of all manner of precipitation still “looking for the sunny side of love.” It’s not the most original blues he’s ever written, but it has the hazy, ancient ambience of an old 45 unearthed from some time capsule. Heck, he could have released it on World Gone Wrong under some generic blues alias and no one would have been the wiser.

9. “’Til I Fell In Love With You”- Musically, this is a little cheekier than some of the others, with trebly guitar playing off the jaunty piano rolls. Dylan finds himself in the midst of that age-old paradox of needing the one thing that causes him the most pain, which is the love of the woman he’s addressing here. Some great lines throughout, such as his deadpan assessment of his agenda in the final verse: “If I’m still among the living, I’ll be Dixie bound.”

8. “Can’t Wait”- Polyrhythms are usually associated with something jazzy and uptempo, but here they serve a tepid pace that ratchets up the tension that bedevils the narrator. “The lonely graveyard of my mind” is quite the evocative phrase that captures the miserable limbo the narrator inhabits. Dylan never says what it is that his protagonist can’t wait to do, but, judging by the ornery growl in his voice, it’s not going to be a Candygram delivery.


7. “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven”- “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” was allegedly the jumping-off point for the arrangement here, and you can hear a bit of that in the high hat-heavy patter kept up by whichever of the multiple drummers for the Time Out Of Mind sessions happened to be miked up that day. What ends up standing out on the recording is Dylan’s see-sawing harmonica that moans its way through the instrumental parts. “When you think that you’ve lost everything/You find out you can always lose a little more,” Dylan sings, but he could have wailed on that harmonica for six minutes in place of the lyrics and we would have caught his drift just fine.

6. “Cold Irons Bound”- A sly bass line, distorted flashes of guitar, Augie Meyers’ horror-movie organ: It all adds up to one surprisingly funky rendering of a dude in a metaphorical prison. Dylan’s lines don’t seem like much on the page, but when he sings them against that rhythmic backdrop, every rhyme carries undeniable force. Again, if we’re going to hammer Lanois for the missteps, and there really are only a few on the two albums he helmed, we should acknowledge when he brings something special to the table. “Cold Irons Bound” is definitely one of those times.

5. “Standing In The Doorway”- Time Out Of Mind has the reputation as being a mournful album, yet that doesn’t hold water when you listen to it; the music, especially, is a bit feistier than all that for the most part. That said, “Standing In The Doorway” is definitely a wallow, all sighing guitars that seem barely energetic enough to propel Dylan along. The lyrics speak of the narrator’s profound disorientation within his environment, yet you get the feeling it would be bearable to him if his woman hadn’t left him behind. It may not be a happy song, but it’s an exquisite downer for sure.

4. “Make You Feel My Love”- Many critics have their way with the surface simplicity of this song. I will defend it with a two-pronged attack. First, if there is a slight, overarching problem with Time Out Of Mind, it’s that it can feel at times like one long first-person lament of a song with changing tempos. “Make You Feel My Love” breaks that up, both in terms of its optimistic lyrics and its unassuming music, which gets a boon from Bob’s charming piano work. Second, there is no sin in valuing songcraft over complexity every now and again, and this song shows Dylan mastering adult contemporary without losing a bit of his songwriting spirit in the process.

3. “Love Sick”- “I’m walking through streets that are dead.” That’s a pretty ominous introduction to an album, and it effectively sums up the landscape that Dylan’s various doppelgangers traverse for the rest of the album. The sound isn’t vintage or modern; it’s like a slow dance in purgatory. Staccato stabs of organ and guitar eventually make enough room for Jim Dickinson to stroll through the carnage with his electric piano. Dylan’s lyrics are spare but every single word hits home. An unused lyric found on his official website says, “Sometimes I feel like I’m being plowed under.” That a succinct summation of the narrator’s plight on this striking opening track.


2. “Highlands”- Autobiographical? Maybe. It certainly sounds Bob had a tape recorder playing in his head and recorded his thoughts on a 16-minute stretch of a random day. His musings run from hilarious to heartbreaking, he name-drops Erika Jong and Neil Young, he verbally spars with a snappy waitress, but mostly he just ambles, “drifting from scene to scene” as he puts it. The music barely rises above a low rumble, which seems right considering the narrator’s poor hearing. For all his trivial travails and inner longing, he still finds comfort in the thought of the Highlands, a kind of happy place where he see himself ending up. Maybe this song meanders, but it eventually makes its way to the heart.

1. “Not Dark Yet”- First of all, it’s a gorgeous piece of music, a march that wends its way wearily, the acoustic guitars striving for transcendence while the slide sighs as if resigned to its fate. The context of the song’s release, in the wake of Dylan’s illness, made it seem like it was about death, but I’ve never read it that way. To me, it’s about reaching an end of expectations, of hopes, of the kind of positive energy that makes like enjoyable. The narrator is heartbroken by his own indifference to his surroundings, wondering how it all came to this, how even prayers don’t reach him anymore. Not just the best song on the album, but one of the crowning achievements of Dylan’s career.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out my the link below to my book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, now available at all major online booksellers and at a bookstore near you.)



Publication Date is Here

I just wanted to let all my loyal readers that publication date for Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs is today. Bob has a lot of nerve stealing my thunder with the announcement of the release of the next Bootleg Series discs, but I’ll let it slide this time.

Anyway, those of you who pre-ordered the book should expect its delivery in the near future. Those of you who were maybe waiting until the book came out can check it out now. Hopefully it will be in bookstores near you as well.

This has really been a thrill for me, and I know I owe it all to my blog readers who encouraged me from Day One. (If you buy the book, you’ll see yourselves mentioned prominently in the Acknowledgments section.)

I would ask one more favor of you: Those of you who do read the book and have a second, feel free to write a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, GoodReads, or any of the other sites that collect such things. I’m not asking for raves unless you think they’re deserved; just your honest opinion is fine. The more reviews, the more pages the book shows up on.

So enjoy the book and the continuing Retro Reviews (I’ll be sorry to see them end because it’s been a blast to go through it all again.) Talk to you all soon.


CK Retro Review: World Gone Wrong by Bob Dylan

Never has an album been so accurately titled as World Gone Wrong. Bob Dylan’s second straight excavation of folk, blues, and traditional songs sticks mostly to downbeat tales of death and heartbreak. Dylan renders it all with the weary wisdom of someone who understands that though these songs contain outsized situations, they end up accurately and strikingly portraying the dark hearts and wayward souls that dwell within us all and are waiting for circumstances to unearth them. Here is a song-by-song review.


10. “Ragged & Dirty”- It’s the one song on this fabulous collection that feels inessential, if only because Dylan’s understated vocal, a style which works often on the album, leaves this track feeling a little limp.


9. “Jack-A-Roe”- The one song on the collection that ends happily might have felt out of place had not Bob given it the kind of intensity he summons here. The old cross-dressing ploy at the heart of the plot could have been done with a wink, but Dylan understands that would have been the kiss of death for the song, so he doesn’t even bat an eye at it.

8. “Broke Down Engine”- Dylan does Blind Willie McTell proud with a spirited take of a blues song that has some nifty hidden layers hidden beneath its surface lament. The narrator invokes a higher power but only uses his prayers for his own benefit in his attempts to reclaim his mojo and win back his lost love. There is a lot of innuendo in the lyrics, but, again, Bob just barrels right through it all and respects that his audience will get it without him having to spell it out for them. In that manner, his method of interpreting songs is akin to his method of writing them.

7. “Blood In My Eyes”- Dylan has a knack for delivering a song in such a way that it opens up new meanings to it that might not have even been apparent when it was written. Instead of playing up the orneriness or righteous frustration of the narrator here, he sings as though he is bereft of even the will to put up his feeble arguments. It makes it sound like this single broken promise is emblematic of a greater malaise that afflicts us all.


6. “Stack-A-Lee”- This one has been sung every way possible by all manner of singers, the reason being that the subtexts it contains are practically infinite. Dylan knows this and knows that if he plays it as straight as possible, those subtexts will emerge all on their own. So let it be about that Stetson hat, says Bob, and the rest will fall into place. And it does.

5. “Love Henry”- Here is another example of a song that can sound silly in lesser hands, what with the parrot entering the picture at song’s end. (Maybe this is where Bob got the idea for the parrot in “Simple Twist Of Fate.”) He even handles the overly formal, arcane language with ease (“She murdered mortal he,” being just one awkward example.) Somehow it all comes together, and when Bob sings in the voice of that little bird at the end, it feels like the only sane way it could have concluded.

4. “World Gone Wrong”- The title phrase is simple and potent, and Dylan uses that to his advantage by taking a simple matter of a broken heart and turning it into something representative of much more. You can easily draw a line from the plainspoken yet wired lyrics of this song to the songs that Bob would write on his next several albums. That little guitar lick that punctuates each verse is integral to the song’s success; it’s the aural equivalent of the narrator shrugging his shoulders and moving on to his next moment of misery.

3. “Two Soldiers”- Dylan would go on to write his own song about the Civil War (“’Cross The Green Mountain”) which, although a tad more existential, carries the same creeping dread as “Two Soldiers.” This is a beautifully sad song, and the unknown writer could be accused of contrivance and manipulation but for the fact that the horrible conflict between North and South likely presented countless situations such as this.


2. “Lone Pilgrim”- This lovely closing track has all the nuance and compassion of the very best of Dylan’s own spiritual work, and his performance of it is indelibly touching. In a way, you can read it as one final word on the Born Again period. By the end of the song, it’s hard to tell where the Lone Pilgrim ends and the visitor to his tomb begins, so interwoven are they in the completeness of their faith. With his mesmerizing vocal, Bob inserts himself into that picture as well.

1. “Delia”- Like “Stack A Lee,” it’s been translated and re-translated in so many ways that its essence can easily be lost. Dylan locates that essence in the refrain of “All the friends I ever had are gone.” Every time he sings it, it seems more desolate, and it gives stakes and consequences to the machinations and misdeeds of the song’s characters. It’s more than a case of love gone wrong; it is indeed a case of a world gone wrong, making it the perfect centerpiece of this triumph of an album.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs. It’s available now at all major online booksellers, and will be in bookstores tomorrow.)


CK Retro Review: Good As I Been To You by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s decision in 1992 to release an album of traditional songs was a signal to some doubters that his creative juices were spent. Yet Good As I Been To You actually shows that Dylan’s interpretive and performing skills were as heightened as ever, even as the songwriting portion of his brain took a hiatus. Bob finds unexpected levels of heart and sorrow in these well-selected evergreens, reminding everyone what a compelling performer he could be with just acoustic guitar, occasional harmonica, and a voice that seems to intuitively understand the material. Here is a song-by-song review.


13. “Pretty Maggie”- There’s a little bit of a rockabilly feel to Dylan’s guitar work here. The song has the disjointed quality of one of Bob’s own narratives in that one verse seems to spring in a completely different direction than the one that preceded it. Yet, unlike one of Bob’s, it doesn’t quite come together as well.


12. “You’re Gonna Quit Me”- It’s got a nice, loping feel to it, suggesting that the threats the narrator makes to his wayward love might not get carried out after all. Certainly one of the simpler songs on the collection, but not without its charms.

11. “Arthur McBride”- The arcane language lends this one a bit of flair, and it’s somewhat interesting how the benign melody contrasts with the pitch-black tale of young ruffians beating the tar out of military recruiters. Maybe it would have worked better in a rousing arrangement, but Dylan’s unruffled version does cast a strange spell.

10. “Blackjack Davey”- It’s a pretty chilling tale in its way, in that the wife coldly leaves her husband and child to follow her passion and the charming titular rogue. We get some Dylan déjà vu when we hear of footwear made of Spanish leather. He pretty much stays out of the way of the song here, letting it work its murky magic. Bob would concoct an even darker version of this scenario, with a few more twists and a lot more death, on Tempest with the song “Tin Angel.”

9. “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”- Some great interplay between Dylan’s woeful harmonica, bluesy guitar, and resilient vocal shows highlight this one. Bob not only nails all the themes effortlessly, he may even lend the song a few more layers than it actually possesses.

8. “Step It Up And Go”- Yeah, man, indeed. Dylan drops into a croaky lower register to bring out all the rough edges in this jumping number that serves as a fun wake-up call after all the somber numbers that precede it. I love the little interjections Bob gives at the start of his rollicking final solo.

7. “Diamond Joe”- These traditional songs really have a way with words, don’t they? When the narrator sings that Diamond Joe “never took much trouble/With the process of the law,” it’s a polite way of saying that he was a degenerate crook. And yet the narrator seems powerless to resist Joe’s entreaties, though it causes him a lifetime of hardship. I like the punch line at the end too, which Dylan delivers without a wink or a nod, the funniest way to do it.


6. “Froggie Went A-Courtin’”- As someone who first heard this song on a Tom & Jerry cartoon, it was revelatory to hear Dylan perform it and lend each of these animal characters dignity. You can practically imagine a bunch of kids sitting at Bob’s feet eagerly awaiting each funny new verse.

5. “Canadee-I-O”- The intriguing thing is how this song sets you up for one of those typical folk-song tragic endings and then happily pulls the rug out from under you with a nifty little twist. Come to think of it, it is a bit of a tragic turn for the sailor boy who gets dumped in favor of the captain, but at least the heroine comes out OK. Dylan soars out of his monotone occasionally here to deliver a strong performance.

4. “Frankie And Albert”- The mistake that an interpreter might make with this age-old tale of a vengeful woman would be to overplay it and make it too melodramatic. Dylan is way too savvy for that, refusing to judge either party in his measured yet still spirited take. The way he sings that matter-of-fact refrain (“He was her man but he done her wrong”) solves all the song’s mysteries and answers any questions about Frankie’s motivation. Attention must also be paid to Bob’s nimble guitar work.

3. “Tomorrow Night”- By stripping away the finesse of this song’s Tin Pan Alley, Big Band-era origins, Dylan makes it somehow lonelier and more haunting. He sings it with just the right amount of doubt in his voice that he’s going to get a positive response to his questions for his temporary lover. The long harmonica notes really bring home the pain of a guy in romantic limbo.

2. “Hard Times”- Dylan is one of the most empathetic songwriters of any era, so it’s easy to hear why he would take to this touching Stephen Foster ballad. Foster never specifies just what ills befall those suffering in the song, but that’s not really the important part. What’s important is that we don’t turn away from the mournful song of the oppressed. Dylan compositions from “Chimes Of Freedom” to “Ring Them Bells” would echo those sentiments in more dazzling fashion, but Foster’s simple plea is potent in its own special way.


1.“Jim Jones”- While the titular prisoner may have delusions of escape from and vengeance on the Australian penal colony to which he is sentenced, Dylan’s tender, vulnerable delivery betrays the fear and desperation of what life in such a brutal environment must have been like. The song is expertly structured, allowing Dylan to seize on its sturdiness and give a humane and moving reading. It’s equal parts beautiful and powerful.

(E-mail me at countdownkid@hotmail.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For a more in-depth look at the songs of Bob Dylan, check out the link below to my upcoming book Counting Down Bob Dylan: His 100 Finest Songs, available now at all major online booksellers.)