FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bob Dylan: “Reaching Back for Yesterday”

by

In the past five months, Bob Dylan has released 39 discs of music, which is more than his studio albums combined, not counting the Bootleg Series and other compilations. Last November, Dylan released the 36 disc Live 1966 Recordings a rather astounding document of his world tour that year. It was a very good way to temporarily escape from the election results three days before it release. March 31st marks the release of Triplicate, Dylan’s third album of American standards which also is a three disc set.

Dylan kept his fans waiting for more than 30 years for a live 1966 show with the lone exception of an incredible version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” recorded in Liverpool that was the B-side of “I Want You.” A few years later a mislabeled bootleg of the Manchester concert that year wrongly thought to be one of the London Royal Albert Hall concerts appeared Over the years other concerts or parts of concerts surfaced.

Backing Dylan, then known as The Hawks, was the group that later would become The Band, minus drummer Levon Helm, who quit the tour late the previous year, Robbie Robertson, guitar, Rick Danko, bass, Richard Manuel, piano, and Garth Hudson on organ. Playing drums was Mickey Jones, who was working with Johnny Rivers and before that Trini Lopez. At that point in time the group was steeped in R&B, blues and rockabilly. An early indication of the sound they would achieve with Dylan blues singer John Hammond Jr’s So Many Roads recorded in 1964.

The shows were what Dylan’s management referred to as half and half, the first set, Dylan solo on acoustic, the second set electric. The set list was the same every night with the exception of an occasional “Positively Fourth Street.” The recordings for the most part are sound boards recorded by Richard Alderson, a sound engineer who built the system used on the tour. The London shows, Manchester, and parts of others were recorded by Columbia Records. One of the interesting things is noting the Triplicate - coveradjustments Alderson would make each night, some to accommodate whatever hall they were performing in, and others based on listening to the previous shows. Sometimes these adjustments take place during the show and mid-song. So on some shows Manuel’s piano stands out more than others, or Danko’s bass is at the forefront. Not all the shows are complete, and there are a few songs that are incomplete, which gets a bit frustrating if you forget to look at the cover of the disc, and you’re thinking this is the greatest “Desolation Row” or “Visions Of Johanna” ever and all of a sudden it ends.

So why would someone want 36 shows of the same songs?  The easy answer, in addition to the fact that these are some of Dylan’s all-time greatest performances of what well may be his greatest songs is that none of the shows are the same especially in terms of feel. Some, especially the acoustic performances may be close, but there’s always something different. For all of Dylan’s supposed indifference to the audience, each night during the acoustic set where there was no booing or shouting, you can feel him gauging the audience trying to see how they’ll react to what is to come. Both sets featured brand new songs from then then unreleased Blonde On Blonde, “Fourth Time Around,” “Visions Of Johanna” and “Just Like A Woman” on the first set and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” on the second set. As a whole, the concerts featured songs from all of Dylan’s previous albums except for Freewheelin’. Three of those songs, a rewritten “Baby Let Me Follow You Down,” “One Too Many Mornings” and “I Don’t Believe You” were dramatically rocked up.

The vocals on the acoustic sets are often incredibly gentle punctuated by intense out there harmonica solos that go to another planet, especially on “Desolation Row” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  One the best of these is the Sheffield show where the “Tambourine Man” harp solo was featured in Dylan’s rarely seen film, Eat The Document.

Each night the electric sets were a battle, particularly in England, where the cat calls and boos and slow claps seemed in increase on each stop of the tour, with Newcastle being one of the more contentious audiences. The response of Dylan and his band was to play louder and harder, with Dylan’s onstage comments becoming increasingly sarcastic. For the most part, he saved his anger for the songs, especially “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” where snarls out the lines in a manner that is deliciously vicious, often changing lines: “You know something is happening and it’s happening to you, isn’t it Mr. Jones?”

As for the music, Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson never take the same solo twice! Sometimes they hit it more than others though on each version of “Thin Man,” Hudson is never less than astounding, sometimes changing the sound of his organ entirely as he snakes around Dylan’s lines and both Robertson and Hudson use their instruments to answer Dylan’s lyrics.

On a technical note, Alderson’s soundboards sound just as good if not better than the recordings the Columbia engineers did.

As Al Kooper told me in 1994 when I interviewed him in anticipation of the original Live 66 Bootleg Series, “What’s really interesting is they’re putting out the stuff from England from the ’66 tour with the Hawks, and that’s some of the greatest rock and roll ever made in the history of rock and roll and that will vindicate probably Dylan to this generation that has no idea why people think he’s great. It’s scary how good that stuff is.”

51 years later and the same guy is still doing what he wants to, often to the consternation of his fans, exploring songs that were all recorded by Frank Sinatra. Many of the songs were also done by other singers, but the arrangements are based on Sinatra’s.

Once again Dylan is using his band, minus guitarist Stu Kimball with the addition of session guitarist Dean Parks. There are more horns this time around, arranged and conducted by James Harper. The album was recorded live in the studio.

Each disc starts with an upbeat swinging number, though the majority of songs are slower ballads of longing and regret. The upbeat numbers are often fun, especially “Braggin’” (which reminds me of Bobby Darin, though he apparently never did it) and “The Best Is Yet To Come.”  “Braggin’” also has the funkiest guitar solo on the entire set.

Instrumentally it’s fine, though on some of the slower ballads the arrangements and mood are at times too similar to the earlier releases, Shadows Of The Night and Fallen Angels.

The album is packaged like an old 78 rpm album, and each disc contains ten songs like early LPs, and in fact most country albums until Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson came along. For why three discs and ten songs, check out the interview by one-time Musician magazine editor Bill Flanagan on Dylan’s web site.

I think Dylan genuinely likes these songs. They are what he grew up on, but there are several times on these recordings that you can tell he is getting off on the word play of the lyrics. Also some of the sentiments in these songs may express as he once wrote in one of his innumerable rewrites of “Tangled Up In Blue,”, “…the things I never learned to say.”

A musician friend of mine named Mike Hansen has a different theory: “I feel like he is genuinely re-animating some of America’s greatest treasures. I think he knows he killed the whole art form and I think these 50 songs are some kind of penance. But they are also a sort of proposal. Nothing has to sound like it did before, nothing, not his songs or anyone else’s. Keys and tempos, the mood, the instrumentation, everything changed to suit the singer. I’m really proud of him!”

On one level, Dylan has always been in his own way part teacher. He’s pretty much explored every genre of American music from traditional folk to rock and roll, blues, country and jazz. He knows that by simply performing or recording a song, a good portion of his audience is going to check out where it came from. I also think that Dylan knows in order to stay alive, he needs to keep challenging himself. These songs melodically and structurally are not the ballads and blues he sang for most of his life. Melodically, they are far more intricate.

For the most part he succeeds. The best of these songs have a way of coming back into your mind hours after you heard them. For me the standout is “Once Upon A Time,” but it’s followed closely by “As Time Goes By,” “September Of My Years,” “Sentimental Journey,” and “It’s Funny To Everyone But Me.”

More articles by:

Peter Stone Brown is a freelance writer and singer-songwriter.  

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail