Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shot Of Dylan

I've been reading the recently-published Cambridge Companion To Bob Dylan, a collection of 17 interesting if unimaginative essays about the Harp-Blowin' Hibbingsman. The prevalence of statements like "obviously his unparalleled body of work will live on forever" lead me to reflect on my own relationship with Dylan, one of the first musicians I fell in love with. While much of the praise offered up in the Companion is deeply unnecessary (the above quote being the best example), I nevertheless throw my voice into the fray and cherry-pick my ten favorite albums by the man. Not included is this year's dirge-filled Together Through Life, a pretty big disappointment.

Aaron's 10 Favorite Bob Dylan Albums

1. Blonde On Blonde

Every song creates its own sound-world, wicked mixes of crooked blues and over-enunciated wisdom.
2. Blood On The Tracks
As unguarded as Bob got, a real, beating heart revealed amongst lush and gorgeous instrumentation.
3. Nashville Skyline
Dylan's late 60's/early 70's country albums are his most underrated, and this is the finest among them. Modest in ambition but lovely in exectution, it even proved that Dylan could croon like a cowboy.
4. The Basement Tapes
Lo-fi transmissions from a vividly imagined, fictional America. Like if you and your buddies got drunk in the basement and recorded some of the best, murkiest and most eccentric Americana ever.
5. Bringing It All Back Home
The split between the jumpy, amphetamine-laced electric blues of side one and the paranoid, surreal folk of side two captured a messed-up songwriter torn between two worlds.
6. John Wesley Harding
A tight, unpretentious set of country-rock totally at odds with the swaths of psychedelia Dylan had wrought.
7. Highway 61 Revisited
Dylan snarls for 35 minutes before his despairing yowl takes over. An album with the force (and subtlety) of a lead weight.
8. Desire
An album-length duet between Dylan's furious, resigned and garbled (again!) vocals and Scarlet Rivera's nimble violin.
9. Modern Times
The best of Bob's late 90's/00's discs, an old man's honest and often spirited look backwards. Jack Frost lays on too much studio sheen, but the songs still sparkle in that heavy way.
10. Another Side Of Bob Dylan
Not even my tenth favorite Dylan album, merely an acknowledgment that of the folk albums, this is tops. Without the deadly serious folk puritanism, Bob's sense of humor, for once, shines through.


  1. Fine, mainly ubiquitous choices. Major agreements:
    -Blonde on Blonde at #1. A doctrinaire Dylanite choice, but an essentially correct one nonetheless. A canny takedown of some very emotional material, with imperishable lyrical delivery, backed by his best band (because it had Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel), and filled with weird sounds.

    -The Basement Tapes, if it counts, for roughly the same reason. Everything the Band did was tops (up to '76-ish), and everything they did with Dylan has the virtue of at least being obviously played by craftsmen (even Planet Waves).

    -Modern Times: This album is pure horseshit. I don't get any of the Rolling Stone fascination with Dylan's recent albums, which are often deadly boring (the cool song from Wonder Boys notwithstanding). I thought this album was a con.

  2. Yeah, a couple places longer and Planet Waves would've snuck on there. Perhaps even the top 10 if I'd been sipping on this:

    Also, Modern Times is excellent, and that's the honest to god truth.