Even though I already had most of the classic 60s and 70s Bob Dylan discs, I couldn’t shake the “need” to own The Complete Album Collection Volume 1 from 2013. I could not continue to ignore all the fawning reviews so about a year ago I plunked down the money for the entire Dylan box of 47 discs. And this week marks my review journey into Dylan that will now take several years to complete.
First up is the s/t album from 1962. Debuts for many classic artists in the 60s were mostly covers and this is no exception. The two songs most likely recognized by rock fans that appear here would be “House of the Risin’ Sun” later made famous by The Animals in 1964 and “Man of Constant Sorrow” popularized by early 2000s movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. The upbeat “Freight Train Blues” features some nice harmonica playing and “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” is a folky love song.
Dylan does a very good job of displaying conviction and emotion when singing “Fixin’ to Die’” written by Bukka White. At just 20 years old when he recorded it, Dylan pulls off the hard-hitting track about a dying man leaving his crying children behind. “In My Time of Dyin’” is a dirty blues track that reportedly Dylan had never sung out loud until this recording. Bob Dylan features two Dylan originals. The first is a semi-autobiographical track “Talkin’ New York” about arriving in the great city and rising through the folk ranks. Possibly the only track from this album that would make it onto a Greatest Hits is his first notable original in “Song To Woody”. A touching lyric in honour of his hero, Dylan gives a nod to the past while looking toward the future.
When reviewing albums like this from major artists, it is hard to separate the work from the legend. Because of this I often think in terms of if the artist had just released this one album and a label re-released it today, what would I think of it. In Dylan’s case, it would certainly be a lost classic. Even though the debut is soon eclipsed by his other work, it still a thrilling ride through the mind of a talented and exuberant young artist. It is easy to see why he quickly rose through the folk scene and then kept moving far beyond it.