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BOB DYLAN Dylan Columbia Legacy 88697 10954 2 (2007)

Dylan

45 years on from his humble folk singing coffee house origins, suddenly everything is Dylan again. Recently he's been touring again and filling the radio airwaves on both sides of the Atlantic with the 'Theme Time Radio Hour' on Radio 2 and XM radio in the US. And ten years on from the last double 'Best of Bob Dylan' release, here we are again with a slightly updated triple CD release.

So what's new? To be honest for Dylan aficionados not much, other than an updated third CD which displays the infuriating highs and lows of this essential enigmatic figure. What remains clear is that although Bob Dylan's career has ebbed and flowed down the years in parallel with the fickle transience of the music industry, he has remained an undiminished creative source at core of the contemporary rock scene. He's ridden the now well trodden paths of recycled popularity and retains his importance in contemporary music as simply the greatest song writer of our times.

And given this unassailable position project producer Jeff Rosen has had to tip toe through Bob's back pages to satisfy both his hard core audience, and to take on the formidable task of generating new sales from a potential new audience.

And it soon becomes readily apparent that the people behind the project must have been aware of the pitfalls because while the album is simply titled 'Dylan', Bob's 07 web site adds 'His Greatest Songs' on his home page and that opens a veritable can of worms. For aside from obvious subjective preferences, and the historical schism between the early career acoustic and electric periods represented here by the first 9 acoustic tracks, there is a wealth of Dylan academia that threatens to explode all over again with the release of this project.

On the other hand perhaps Bob is now passť like a lot of his contemporaries and given that this triple CD set offers nothing new to the Dylan die-hards, it might just be dismissed as another 'Best Of' and pass without great comment.

Ultimately you feel 'Dylan' might just be judged on Bob's later stuff that populates disc three. But to begin at the beginning, disc one opens with Dylan the folk and protest singer with 'Masters of War' and 'A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall' retaining every ounce of their biting malevolence,. Then there's the epoch defining 'The Times They Are A Changing', the magnificent stream of consciousness 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' and the visceral 'Like A Rollin Stone' which are matched by the original version of the Hendrix appropriated 'All Along the watchtower'

CD 2 takes us though some of Bob's most contentious stuff, firstly dipping into the main stream 'Desire' album for 'Hurricane' and the very underrated 'Changing of the Guard' from 'Street Legal', before focussing on his 'born again' phase with the surprisingly impressive 'Gotta Serve Somebody' and the commercially successful single 'Jokerman'. Long time fans will plough wearily through the familiar recycled product, but potential new converts will surely be impressed by a career progression at play that links each period and album highlight.

And so to the clincher, as the updated stuff offers both good and bad evidence as to the shape Dylan is in. The criminally overlooked 'Blind Willie McTell' which was originally meant to be on 1983's 'Infidels' and ended up on the 1991 'The Bootleg Series', is a great start. But the following 'Brownsville Girl' which is one of the better cuts from 1986's lamentable 'Knocked Out Loaded' takes an eternity to find a groove with Dylan's vocals being far from convincing. He is not helped by a stodgy production which can make little of a scratchy sax, and is generally far too shrill and trebly and hardly the kind of stuff to attract new fans.

Yet as is often the case with Dylan you have to persevere and in between the above track and the equally poor and dirgy 'Under The Red Sky', he pops up with handful of crackers, most notably the superb Daniel Lanois produced 'Everything is Broken', the equally mesmerising 'Not Dark Yet', and the dark and brooding 'Things Have Changed'. The final three cuts almost represent a return to his (shuffle based) blues roots. And given his deteriorating vocals it is Dylan's lyrics and musical structures that carry the day. New converts might flinch at some of the laid back arrangements and down home vocal style. But as you sift your way through the bare bones of the closing country tinged waltz 'When the Deal Goes Down', you quickly realise that the dense metaphors and word weary phrasing could only be Bob Dylan.

In sum 'Dylan' offers loyal fans nothing new, but with the updated third disc it reaffirms a vibrant creative source, an enduring career progression and so offers an almost cyclical perspective of an enduring artist in the middle of his fifth decade as a unique wordsmith.

****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly


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