I met the contagion and sank to the tomb…

There’s a place for Dylan stripped down to guitar and vocals.

It always feels like the two acoustic albums in the 90s were the antidote he needed to the excesses of the 80s. He often seemed to be lost in the production of his own records and the guests on stage and on record. It’s kind of like a palate cleanser before heading off on the second or third course.

The back of the record is a good read as well. So that’s double the value, a great record and informative reading on the back.

oh I’ll give the land a little shock…

Dylan in the 80s and early 90s.

For awhile I’ve been wanting to revisit Dylan’s 80s output which is often justifiably derided. I think this came to me after the Springtime in New York collection came out and I was reminded of how many great songs Dylan wrote in the 80s and also how inexplicably many of them never ended up on a record.

So I’m going to be easy on myself and begin with Good As I Been To You. On which Dylan delves into his record collection and plays the songs he likes way back in the pre Internet times of 1992.

Yes it’s a collection of folk and blues songs heading back into the distant past with subjects often covered in his owns songs. Oppression, infidelity, love, pain, loss, revolution and joy. What’s not to like. It’s also good to point out the strength of Dylan’s playing throughout.

So if your struggling writing a good song get on your guitar and play a good song someone else wrote. Seems a plan and it worked out. This is the most consistently engaged Dylan managed to sound in the 80s and early 90s. Let’s face it the cover photo has him looking a little bemused and lost as well.

wiggle, wiggle wiggle ‘til you turn green…

Day 24.

Do It.

Satisfying on so many levels.

I am still not convinced that Wiggle Wiggle belongs on any record.

One of my self imposed tasks this year is to revisit Dylan’s 80s.

On to the Elbow boys latest offering. There’s always a warm fuzzy glow to their albums perfect for Christmas Eve.

There’s also something endearing about the mid 70s boxing kids in the yard.

I’ve managed to avoid all Christmas music so far.

it was in another lifetime…

More of everything on this 6th day of the month. It’s kind of the blogging advent calendar if you like.

There used to be a question asked in the early hours of the morning. “Do you Dylan?” This was usually followed by an attempt to play something obscure by the master. Dave always won with a battered copy of the New York sessions for Blood On The Tracks. We listened intently for Dylan’s buttons scratching the guitar as he played.

The Bootleg series version allegedly has some of these moments but I am not such a Dylan student that I can tell you were they are except during Simple Twist of Fate because I just now heard it.

With the advent of the bootleg series though the mystery of those hidden away recordings is over. Now everybody can Dylan. You don’t have to try too hard it’s readily available either officially released in those beautifully curated albums or on some download site.

It’s great to hear it all and it would still be good to have to hunt just a little. it is however fascinating to hear how these songs have developed over the years. Even when they were being written.

I wonder if Dave still has that copy of the old bootleg? It’s probably just about unplayable now.

There was also the occasional foray of “I don’t Dylan but I do Dead.” This would result in an endless discussion of which version of Scarlet Begonias should be played resulting the appearance of a box of cassettes from the closet many of which had been sent by mail from the USA. Those pre-Internet bootleg trading groups were a marvel. Dave got an address of someone in the USA from a hippy sitting on the stoop outside Probe sent off some C90s and waited and several months later the cassettes came back with the immortal Dead bootlegs on them. These became objects of wonder for many weeks.

And then there was this. One of the great lost albums reconstructed by Jerry Donahue.

this land that I live in has god on it’s side…

I just finally bought the first and third Dylan albums. There is some sort of sacrilege involved in that admission. I had the second and fourth. Go figure.

I have greater more shameful admissions in Dylan purchases this week. That may be for a different day though.

On that first album Dylan looks like the fresh faced school boy new to the big city. It’s a slight album. Full of naïveté and cover versions and a couple of Dylan songs. There’s a certain arrogance in the eyes though which is a little unsettling amongst all that baby fat.

Then we get to the third album which is a much more world weary exhausted and bleak album.

Dylan sneers down from the cover and looks like he’s seen the world and is not so sure about things anymore. The baby fat is gone and the half smile is a sneer.

The songs are all here protest, love, politics, self righteous anger and tenderness.

When the ship comes in is also here. One of the greatest songs Dylan ever wrote go non prove me wrong.

21st Century Dylan…I carry four pistols and two large knives…

Somewhere in the intervening years Dylan delved into the Christian Christmas songbook and what is generally considered the Great American Songbook.

I have listened to and thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas album, I have however avoided the Sinatra years. These are critically acclaimed albums and I should probably get to but I have to admit I come over all funny when I think about Dylan crooning his way through Sinatra classics. It feels a bit like watching your dad drunkenly warbling The Lady Is A Tramp during a holiday family party.

Rough and Rowdy Ways will be the soundtrack to the pandemic as far as I am concerned. There was a moment in March that coincided with the release of Murder Most Foul when I realized that shit was getting serious. I fought with Asda in the UK to set up online shopping for my mum. I had to convince Boots that I was in the UK so she could get her prescriptions delivered and connected with family members to ensure that someone was checking in with her, all to the soundtrack of Murder Most Foul, a litany of pop culture references a history lesson in popular music and conspiracy theories.

It fitted in with the mood of the times, it was apocalyptic and steeped in the history of the country and name dropped like a fool. It managed to distract and inspire, the internet fired up with explanations of what it all meant, it sounded to me like the ramblings of an old drunk sitting at the end of the bar as he philosophized and rambled his way through the crannies of his memory. It was simultaneously the most profound and ridiculous song ever. A nonsense poem for the times.

It was also long and lock down meant people could actually listen again for awhile it seemed. That time has past with the urge to get back to normalcy, as if we will ever experience that again.

Then from nowhere came I Contain Multitudes with seemed to offer another view of who Dylan was. The pandemic was beginning to rage and I wanted Dylan to take his guns and knives to the establishment and make them pay attention. It was a life all lived in song out there for all to hear. Then came False Prophet basically reminding us to doubt the man, or maybe acknowledge that he maybe knows who he is, he’s just not willing to show us.

Like all of the other 21st Century Dylan it’s an album addressing mortality and life and all the the other bits and things that go along with humanity. Lyrically Dylan steals happily from anywhere he feels like, warping meanings and twisting pre-conceptions, self referential at times and disdainful of what the fan wants it to be.

So now we are over six months into the most significant historical event I have lived through. It has shone a spotlight on my suspicion that profit is more important than people and that public health is not a priority in the country I chose to live in. This is a time when the truth is stretched beyond the boundaries of any form of belief, when opinion is more important than fact. It is a time that working people are more actively than any other time in my memory making decisions that are so obviously contrary to their best interests. It is a time when racism is praised and actively promoted by our leaders and lies more than ever are the currency of politics. A time of despair, fear and loathing.

Mother of Muses sounds like some alternative anthem to forgotten history:

“Sing of Sherman, Montgomery and Scott
And of Zhukov, and Patton, and the battles they fought
Who cleared the path for Presley to sing
Who carved the path for Martin Luther King
Who did what they did and they went on their way
Man, I could tell their stories all day”

When Dylan crosses the rubicon with us we realize that this is the end of something, a changing a time for renewal and rebirth, the old heroes are leaving and we need to find our own courage now.

It’s been a trying year and we are just over half way through it all. It would be easy to fall in line with the conspiracists that this is all about control. Life is simpler if there’s a conspiracy to believe in, we can then blame someone or something else for all our troubles. That way lies authoritarianism, racism, bigotry and hate.

Rough and Rowdy Ways grounds us in the pithy world of the shadows and doubts and hope that we can keep going.

It really is the soundtrack to the apocalypse, good luck people and be good humans.

At least the scoundrels in the songs are honest ones.

Because at the end of the day as Zimmy might say:

“I’ve never lived in the land of Oz 
Or wasted my time with an unworthy cause 
It’s hot down here, and you can’t be overdressed”

21st Century Dylan…I’ve got a date with a fairy queen…

Tempest was the album by Dylan I first streamed on Spotify. It felt like a betrayal to physical medium. I had already moved to an iPod and spent the best part of a year ripping CD’s and downloading album after album to hard drives and flash drives. I had a connector for the iPod on my stereo in the green 4-Runner. Everything in our lives was becoming digital and less fun it seems on reflection.

I struggled with Tempest in 2012, it seemed almost like Neil Young in the 90’s Dylan could pee on a snare drum and the critics would fall in line to praise. I was looking for new sounds in my listening and in reality finding more of the same. I was also heading towards fifty and struggling with that so did I really want another album being frank about age, mortality and the world at large.

It also has possibly the worst album cover ever, some badly photoshopped picture of a statue, I know this was all supposed to be dreadfully symbolic and meaningful. To me though it looked like some bad art project one of my children may have done at school.

Eight years later the album doesn’t sound so bad. Yes the title track is the weakest because it is dealing with a real life event and not really that well. The voice is beat, phlegmy and raspy and evil sounding at times. David Hidalgo is there with the accordion to underpin the melody and keep time. The songs are mean and brooding and heading for the underworld of life, violence, decay and righteous anger at the state of the world. The music occupies the some territory as earlier albums, rootsy and based in every Americana style available.

This was to be Dylans last original work for a long time, he was about to dive into Sinatra world in the same way as 20 years earlier he had jumped headlong into the Blues and Folk music of previous decades. Dylan it seems needed to replenish the creative juices by wallowing in the music of his childhood/youth, who knows really. In twenty years he’ll probably dive into disco or hip hop to get his shit together

Really I am overthinking this now.

trying to prove your conclusions should be more drastic…

So if you were going to historically make a great Dylan covers album there is in my opinion a formula.

It goes this way:

1 part jingly jangly guitars

1 part laid back swinging band

Refuse to be to reverent with the material and choose the hard tracks.

Plus a girl singer.

In this way you normally get early Fairport Convention.

However in the 21st Century you get Emma Swift and her amazingly glorious album Blonde on the Tracks.

So the new formula may be:

1 part 80’s quirky power pop punk psychedelic maestro.

1 part Nashville session players

Plus 1 Australian girl singer not afraid to do the hard songs.

There’s really only one way to figure out how great this album is and that is to take a listen. Produced by Wilco’s Patrick Sansone and featuring Robyn Hitchcock on guitar, the album covers everything from Byrds influenced jangle to folky strumming and Emma Swift has the temerity to cover Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

I have always enjoyed female singers covering Dylan much more than male singers. Women seem to feel more assured in interpreting the lyrics than men do, they also have it seems enough disdain for the arrogance inherent in the lyrics, women seem comfortable with Dylan’s musicality rather than his lyrical extravagances.

I’m done, pretentious sentence moment completed there. Go listen to the damn song.

21st Century Dylan…Well, life is for love and they say that love is blind…

Together Through Life entered the charts at #1, this is becoming a habit for the crotchety old pop star.

Lyrics largely written along with Robert Hunter lyricist for the Grateful Dead it is maybe the most lightweight of the 21st Century Dylan. Of course not everything has to be heavy man. Dylan’s pronouncement on the album was that his fans would like it, and he was right.

Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos join in with the touring band. The album musically retreads the blues/folk/rock feel of previous albums with less stylistic changes. It’s a pretty uniform album in that way. Dylan produces and the band take direction well so it all works out. It may very well be one of the most consistently sounding Dylan albums in a long time.

This however makes for the fourth good to great album in a run from Dylan. Unheard of consistency in many ways but not unwelcome. the 21st Century was not treating the old codger badly, love songs, songs bemoaning the fate of the world, road songs and feisty songs. Not a bad record in all. Even though it runs to a double album on vinyl it doesn’t feel bloated like some records of the time by his contemporaries.

Apparently it began life as a soundtrack album and then took a different direction becoming a full on album.

The final track is, It’s All Good which stands as a phrase of contempt, denial, anger, frustration and confusion at the state of the world, it is almost as if Vonnegut’s phrase of “so it goes” made it into song. Maybe in a year or two Dylan will write a song called “It is what it is” to memorialize the current state of events and the lack of leadership.

21st Century Dylan…We live and we die, we know not why But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down…

The 21st century revival meeting goes on with Modern Times, this may be my favorite Dylan album for the new century so far in my listening binge. It’s surprising it took me 14 years to getting around to buying it.

I was overcome with the completist bug and found myself late at night purchasing some Dylan gaps and this was one of them. This last few weeks I bought the records Tempest, Modern Times, Together through Life, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, I cannot really bring myself yet to buy Under A Blood Red Sky after the time I bought the cassette. Trauma is real. This was all brought on by the moment when I bought Rough and Rowdy Ways in the Barnes and Noble half price vinyl sale. We will get there eventually.

The album rolled through two sides of enjoyable late period Dylan, lazy blues, rocking blues, ripping off of other writers and that weatherbeaten voice, sometimes cracking an other times hitting a note or two. But always driving the song along.

Then came Side 3. and the knock out kick in the head moment, that Dylan guy can still manage to put out a great song. Working Mans Blues #2. It’s part protest part complaint and all empathy, Beyond the Horizon a song reflecting on age and love and then the closing punch of Nettie More. A song full of grief loss and struggle sung in a plaintive, demanding and consoling voice. During these strange times when empathy is so missing in the public forum in the USA to have Dylan expressing sorrow, love and concern is particularly jarring when interspersed with the news form CNN.

There is also the inevitable hindsight is 20/20 moment in Ain’t Talkin’.

“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Through the world mysterious and vague
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Walkin’ through the cities of the plague”

If there is an argument for Dylans continued relevance as a song writer it is on Side 3. of Modern Times.

Modern Times entered the US charts at Number 1. which for a 65 year old man was no small achievement. It is a truly satisfying album, contemplative in a way early Dylan is not. It is a reflective album even in it’s more raucous songs. If you have time to spare it’s worth reading some of the plagiarism arguments, everything from Ovid to obscure civil war poets and Muddy Waters. They are great songs and obviously there are influences, it’s almost as if Dylan was listening to a standard and then went in his own direction on some stream of consciousness riff of what the song means to him.

Right after Love and Theft I stopped going to see Dylan live, during the pandemic times as I sit in the plague lands I am regretting that decision. I also apparently stopped buying Dylan albums or even listening to the new ones any more. Again I am beginning to regret that decision.

As I gird my loins to head out into the plague lands to visit with my programs and keep staff moving forward I have been accompanied by these later Dylan albums. The sun beating down and the grass and greenery turning brown Dylan has kept me company with his gamblers and rogues along for the ride, his apocalyptic rasp of a voice just seems fitting to the strange times we are in.