Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bob Dylan 1: Bob Dylan

As with many debut albums, Bob Dylan’s first full-length doesn’t necessarily have the same sound that made him famous. However, nearly half a century on, it fits squarely within the big picture as described by the rest of his catalog. Bob Dylan tries to cover a lot of ground, ending up something of a hodgepodge of blues and folk standards. It probably wasn’t too different from what the other Greenwich Village rats were up to, so whatever made him stand out so much doesn’t quite translate to wax.
“You’re No Good” starts the album on a jaunty note, with a harmonica solo in a different key; it must have been a crowd-pleaser and succeeds here. “Talkin’ New York” is his own composition, but that’s pushing it. The talking blues is fairly public domain as it is, the only difference being the words the singer adds—and many of these were taken from other songs. The best song on the album is “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”. He may well have first heard it from Ric Von Schmidt, but it’s the freshest thing here. The obvious debt is made clear in “Song To Woody”, which takes a familiar Woody Guthrie motif and turns it into a tribute to his mentor.
Barely twenty years old when the album was recorded, he had already adopted a husky tone to his voice that belied his youth rock ‘n roll adolescence. The smooth face on the album cover is an odd contrast to the man singing “Fixin’ To Die”, “In My Time Of Dyin’” (later covered by Led Zeppelin), “House Of The Risin’ Sun” (soon to be covered by the Animals) and “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”. More successful are the more traditional “Man Of Constant Sorrow” and “Pretty Peggy-O”, and for a good example of his control before too many cigarettes, check out the held yodel note in “Freight Train Blues”.
If you’re looking for surreal wordplay, Bob Dylan isn’t the place to start. However, if you’ve enjoyed his folk and blues explorations, the likes of which have featured regularly in his live performances since the early ‘90s, it will make a lot more sense.

Bob Dylan Bob Dylan (1962)—3

1 comment:

  1. Weesh..this album is so so underrated. I've been into Dylan and folk music for over 25yrs now and I can't find anything, nothing, zero, that compares to this first album. Probably the thing you have to have is a sense of history, specifically folk music history. The voice, the strength and committment of Dylan is shown throughout the disc. I think understanding how he interprets covers is a key to understanding the art in his own songs. Song to Woody is a reworking of a folk song, used by Woody too, but put Dylan's up against Woody's. Two way different things. Dylan's has legs, where Woody's is more historical, as great as he is. Each song you could go on like this. The other "Village rats" didn't sound this strong. As committed as Van Ronk was I can't get through a whole album of his anymore in one listen. No aspiring songwriter should skip Dylan's first album to get to surreal stuff. You are only gonna sound like you are trying to put someone on.