Posted in Album Reviews

Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline (1969)

Following up John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan continues to move in a country direction with Nashville Skyline. This is shown right away on the remake of his own song, “Girl From The North Country” with the man in black himself, Johnny Cash. The track shows Dylan’s country voice that he will use throughout the album. “One More Night” may be the most straight up country sounding song on the album, a lonesome and spiritual song taking place under the moon and stars.

50’s rockers influence the sound on “Peggy Day” and “To Be Alone With You” where Dylan sings, “they say the nighttime is the right time/to be with the one you love”. There are two standouts on Nashville Skyline, that don’t include Johnny Cash, the first is “I Threw It All Away”. A beautiful, melancholy melody carries the song, with organ tones just below the surface. Dylan sings “I must have been mad/I never knew what I had/Until I threw it all away”. 

The second classic is one of his most popular, “Lay Lady Lay”. The almost mournful tune, sees Dylan use the lower register of his voice, creating a distinctly new sound. Drummer Kenny Buttrey uses both bongos and a cowbell for a unique drum pattern on the verses.  The track has been covered numerous times and has a lot in common with the alt country sound of the 90s, including R.E.M’s Out of Time album. The song would be his last top ten hit.

Nashville Skyline is a unique album (thus far) in Bob Dylan’s catalogue.  It sounds like he’s strumming out songs on a porch with producer Bob Johnston, guitarist Charlie McCoy, and Charlie Daniels on bass among others.  Here he sounds free from being the voice of his generation which produces a lighter batch of songs, ones that sound effortless like closing track “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. At just 27 minutes, Nashville Skyline breezes along the country roads.


Posted in Album Reviews

Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding

Released just over 55 years ago, Bob Dylan more or less keeps his extraordinary string of albums going with the country tinged John Wesley Harding.  The album cuts back on Dylan’s epic songs and instead sees most tracks clocking in at the 3-minute mark. The title track has a great bit of drumming from Kenneth A. Buttrey.  Along with Charlie McCoy on bass, the album has a minimal feel than the last few records Dylan had released with just “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” stretching out over 11 verses. The haunting, “As I went Out One Morning” where the protagonist gets taken by the arm by a woman in chains is more typical of the songs Dylan released here.

The most famous song on the album is the original version of “All Along the Watch Tower”, later made more popular by Jimi Hendrix’s stunning version.  The driving acoustic guitar and impassioned vocal are as powerful as the lyric, “there are many here among us/Who feel that life is but a joke”.  “Down Along the Cove” sees Dylan move to piano on a jaunty track before the pedal steel guitar of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” closes out the set. 

This set of Dylan songs does not quite reach the heights of his mid 60s period albums.  The cracked vocals on “Drifter’s Escape” and the bluesy “Dear Landlord” are fine songs that feel like a more laid back Dylan.  In all, this makes John Wesley Harding a little less awe inspiring than what listeners had become used to but one in which Dylan stays ahead of most in the musical pack of that time.


Posted in Album Reviews

Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966)

By the time he was 25 years old, the former Robert Zimmerman had already released at least 2 classic albums and several more stellar ones.  A few weeks after his birthday in 1966, he released yet another classic with the double album Blonde on Blonde. The famous album cover shows a slightly out of focus Bob Dylan wearing a checkered brown scarf. The 14 tracks contain several of his most loved songs plus a slew of stellar album tracks to boot.

The album starts with the ruckus marching band sound of single “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” with its hollering and laughing where “everyone must get stoned”. “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” has the really nice organ sound of Al Kooper and the chorus that gets punctuated by the smart drumming of Kenneth Buttrey. The upbeat “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” is powered by the military drumming of Buttrey and further organ theatrics on a track about an end of a relationship and wondering who comes out better for it. “Absolutely Sweet Marie” sees Dylan pen the oft quoted line – “to live outside the law, you must be honest” while “I Want You” takes things a bit slower with a direct chorus on a song that hit the top 20 in the US.

Dylan takes pop music to its zenith several times on Blonde on Blonde.  The seven minutes of “Visions of Johanna’ are stunning with the bass groove of Joe South and Dylan complaining that “it’s so hard to get on/And these visions of Johanna kept me up past dawn”.  The piano and organ work to a dazzling effect on “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” where Dylan tells a lover, “I didn’t know that you were sayin’ goodbye for good”.

A couple comes together from different worlds on “Just Like a Woman” that delivers the devasting line, “she aches just like a woman/but she breaks like a little girl”.  “4th Time Around” brings Dylan to The Beatles by way of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” that borrows liberally from that song’s tune. On the original album, the eleven-minute country harmonica of “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” about his first wife takes up all of side 4.  Another stunning track on an album full of them, it’s a heartbreaking song about the woman who would give Dylan four children. 

The towering achievements of Bob Dylan albums from the sixties cannot be understated with Blonde on Blonde arguably being the most impressive.  It expertly mixes folk, rock, pop, and poetry on an album head and shoulders above his peers. The album would go top ten in the US and hit #3 in the UK.  It’s a record that has been passed down from generation to generation and is one that even non-Dylan fans would find much to like.


Posted in Album Reviews

Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

Released mere months after his last album, Bringing It All Back Home, 1965 saw Bob Dylan issue one of his seminal albums in Highway 61 Revisited. Though the album is not chock-a-block with Dylan hits, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest records ever made.  Recording took place in two blocks with the first being in mid June and the second in late July.  In between recordings is the infamous electric set that took place at that year’s Newport Folk Festival which was a signal of what was to come.

Recording with a band on virtually every track for the first time in his career, Hwy 61 often has the feeling of a great band swinging behind Dylan with their heads down while he presents his vignettes. With six verses in six minutes, “Tombstone Blues” is a sped up number where “mama’s in the factory, she ain’t got no shoes”. The mysterious and atmospheric “Ballad of a Thin Man” questions that, “something is happening here/but ya don’t know what it is/do you, Mr. Jones?”

With the accompanying band, organ and piano play a key role on several tracks. “Queen Jane Approximately” has great piano/organ lines courtesy of Al Kooper and Paul Griffin. While Hwy 61 references the road that travels from his old home in Minnesota through to New Orleans, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” first line, “When you’re lost in the rain in Jarez” shows we’re not in Duluth anymore. The album is bookended by two epic tracks, the last being “Desolation Road”.  The eleven minute song is the only one delivered here acoustically and touches on historical figures of Einstein and Cinderella among a cavalcade of others. 

The most famous song on the album is the first track, “Like a Rolling Stone”. Introduced by it’s instantly recognizable drum shot from Bobby Gregg. The song is also musically notable for it’s improvised organ riff courtesy of Al Kooper. The celebratory chorus sees Dylan ask several times, “How does it feel?”.  It’s a song that is near impossible not to get swept away in. By 1965, Bob Dylan had already released a couple classic albums but in Highway 61 Revisited, he released an album that blasted him past rock and roll luminaries who had to quickly accelerate just to keep up.


Posted in Album Reviews

Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

Bringing It All Back Home by Bob Dylan

Bringing It All Back Home is the fifth Bob Dylan album and continues his departure away from focusing on mainly protest songs.  Another Side of Bob Dylan released in 1964 presented more personal lyrics, here Dylan explores surreal imagery along with a touch of psychedelia thrown in.  Controversially, the first side is devoted to electric songs played with a band while the second side is where longtime fans would find the mainly acoustic songs. 

Dylan gives a nod to the beat poets with a blast of bluesy rock and roll on the opener “Subterranean Homesick Blues”.  His first charting single in the US saw Dylan film a highly influential video for the track where he holds up cardboard cue cards with the lyrics written on them including the classic line, “Johnny’s in the basement, mixin’ up the medicine/I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ about the government”. “Maggie’s Farm” is a furious blast that was recorded in just one take as Dylan spits out the lyrics of working for little pay and no respect while you drive yourself insane.

The pace is slowed down on the love song “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and the midtempo “She Belongs to Me” that speaks of a bohemian who is “an artist, she don’t look back/she can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black”. Side one closes with the six plus minutes of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” that breaks down into guffaws before the surreal track talks of the discovery of America. 

Side two opens with one of Dylan’s most beloved songs in “Mr. Tambourine Man” that was later taken to #1 in the US by The Byrds. Originally intended for the previous year’s Another Side of Bob Dylan, the song regularly features on best of lists and countless Dylan compilations. The acoustic side closes with two very different tracks – the first being the seven minute “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”. The intense song is one that demands attention as Dylan tells us that “he not busy being born is busy dying” and that “I got nothing, Ma, to live up to”.  Side two closes with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, another track that is widely covered by other artists. Accompanied by the bass of Bill Lee, Dylan’s voice rises and falls with the music as he speaks about a love that is over or perhaps a goodbye to his younger self.

Dylan’s world was expanding during this time period as he met The Beatles for the first time, tried LSD, and in the summer of 1965 of would famously be booed at the Newport Folk Festival. Refusing to be just one type of songwriter that some want him to stay as, Dylan keeps growing and expanding his sound and lyrical inspiration. Bringing It All Back Home is another extraordinary album just three years and five albums into his then brief recording career.