For some time I’ve toyed with the notion of doing a thorough sequential review of all my Bob Dylan albums. I initially pictured it as a day-long project, possibly on my birthday, and definitely involving several cases of beer. That vision lost its luster when I stopped drinking (21 months last week, by the by!), but it never quite went away. It’s occurred to me recently that I don’t have to do it all in one day, and instead of involving drinking maybe it can involve the compulsive activity I still merrily engage in, writing. I could listen to all the albums sequentially, record my ruminations, and post them here. And instead of all in one day, maybe over a month or two. Why? I’m not sure exactly. Maybe reengaging with one of my four muses (the other three being Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cobain) will kick-start my poetic voice, which has been stalled of late. At the very least, it will exorcise the years-long idea from my head. So here, without further ado, launches Project Dylan…
For a long time, I didn’t consider his first album, the eponymous Bob Dylan, to even be in the canon, properly speaking. After all, it’s mostly interpretations of traditional songs, with only two originals. Over the years though, I got older, which means that I got less snooty, more appreciative of the influence of blues, folk and country on rock, and more hip in particular to their influence on the development of Dylan’s vision. The real final straw though, was when the Sci-Fi Channel’s multi-generational alien abduction miniseries, Taken, made excellent use of a Dylan song I’d never heard before being played in the background on a record player in a scene in which some nasty shit was going down.
Said song turned out to be Dylan’s haunting version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” from this album. On this song and many others here you’ll hear Dylan’s voice come across with a rawness and power that he rarely matches later. I think he was just too young to know any better- this is the sound of a young musician in his first recording laying it all on the line for the music that he loves. So, while his compositions here are interesting glimpses into proto-Dylan, it is definitely the covers that he pours his heart into. He got to a great “In My Time of Dyin'” thirteen years before Led Zeppelin, and “Man of Constant Sorrow” 38 years before the Cohen Brothers and George Clooney resurrected it. Another particular standout is “House of the Risin’ Sun”, which is made all the more arresting by the fact that Dylan sings it from the point of view of the young female prostitute who works there, rather than the dissolute young man who frequents it that Eric Burdon came at it from in the Animals’ version.
All in all, if you’re in the mood for a powerful, spare tour of Americana a la Dylan, Bob Dylan is a ride worth taking.