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Bob Dylan
Dylan
Columbia Records
www.bobdylan.com


Columbia Records has released the Definitive Dylan Collection which is available in three formats: 1) a 3-CD Box Set containing 51 tracks, a 40 page booklet, rare photos, and 10 limited edition postcards, 2) a 3-CD Digipak, and 3) a Single Disc Song Overview with 18 of Bob Dylan's most popular songs. The single disc is for those who desire a brief look at Dylan's catalog, which extends into his fifth decade as a recording artist. Every track has its own descriptive tale colored in Dylan's hoarse-textured timbres with its own mixture of Americana, blues-folk, and roots rock. His narratives are candid, perceptive, and sometimes illusionary. His harmonica playing has a rough edge as the arrangements vary from a blasé gait to a rabble-rousing romp. But whichever form the music takes it is the lyrics which he made sure had the strongest appeal.

The single disc opens with "Blowin' In The Wind," a slow burning acoustic-country melody with verses that speak like a riddle: "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man…How many times must the cannon balls fly before they're forever banned/ The answer, my friend is blowin' in the wind." Dylan's vocals and harmonica phrases drift at a leisurely pace through his folk musings which people identified as his laid-back style. His song "The Times They Are A Changin'" invoked more conviction from his words, like "Come mothers and fathers throughout the land/ And don't criticize what you can't understand/ Your songs and daughters are beyond your control/ Your old road is rapidly aging." He was witnessing a change and documented it. Dylan is reputed to be a rebel but his songs chiefly document the rebellious spirit that was brewing in the early '60s and his agreement with those changes.

The freight-train rhythm of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is echoed in modern day bands like Two Gallants and Trainwreck Riders. And the soft pop psychedelics of "Like A Rolling Stone" remain an anthem for anyone who has fallen from grace relating to words like: "How does it feel to be on your own with no direction home/ Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone." The hallucinatory images in the folk ditty "Mr. Tambourine Man" continue to resonate with dreamers as Dylan muses, "Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship…Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free/ Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands/ With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves/ Let me forget about today until tomorrow"

The jangle-pop intonations of "Maggie's Farm" have a dance-folk rhythm and the softly cosseted harmonies on "Just Like A Woman" act as a perch for Dylan's gentle vocal expressions, "She takes just like a woman/ She makes love just like a woman/ She aches just like a woman/ But she breaks just like a little girl." The carnival-like keys in the piano, horns, and harmonica verses on "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" make light of the tense mood, "They'll stone ya when you are young and able/ They'll stone ya when you're trying to make a buck/ They'll stone ya and then they'll say 'good luck'/ Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone/ Everybody must get stoned." It is something you would expect to hear from a smart-mouth Robert De Niro.

The album cruises into some wispy blues-folk numbers like "All Along The Watchtower," "Lay Lady Lay," and "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" which have all been re-recorded by several artists over the years, a tribute to their lasting relevance. The free-wheeling folk tempo of "Tangled Up In Blue" from Dylan's album Blood On The Tracks has vocal inflections reminiscent of Ian Hunter as Dylan ponders, "When finally the bottom fell out/ I became withdrawn/ The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keeping' on/ Like a bird that flew/ Tangled up in blue."

One of Dylan's most potent tracks "Hurricane" carries a light funky bongo beat and winding strings as a backdrop for the real life tale of the boxer Rubin Carter who was framed for a robbery and murder that took place in a bar in New Jersey. The song is an account of the accusation, trial, and imprisonment of the boxer, "All of Rubin's cards were marked in advance/ The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance/ The judge made Rubin's witnesses drunkards from the slums/ To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum…No one doubted that he pulled the trigger/ And though they could not produce the gun/ The DA said he was the one who did the deed/ And the all-white jury agreed/ Rubin Carter was falsely tried."

The album cools down with the loving ballad "Make You Feel My Love" originally from Dylan's 1997 disc Time Out Of Mind which won him a Grammy Award for Album Of The Year. The lyrical phrases ring like a love sonnet, "When the evening shadows and the stars appear/ And there's no one there to dry your tears/ I could hold you for a million years." The finger-snapping beats of his tune "Things Have Changed" have a cool-blues momentum. The song won Dylan an Academy Award in 2001 for Best Song in a Motion Picture having been featured in Curtis Hansen's film Wonder Boys.

The jumping blues-rock registers of "Someday Baby" from his 2006 album Modern Times has a modern pop bling as the words deliver a message of payback to its recipient, "I don't want to brag but I'm going to wring your neck/ When all else fails I'll make It a matter of self-respect." The single disc concludes with the empyreal acoustics of "Forever Young" which contrasts "Someday Baby" by delivering a very generous blessing: "May God bless and keep you always/ May your wishes all come true/ May you always do for others/ And let others do for you/ May you build a ladder to the stars/ And climb on every rung/ May you stay forever young."

Dylan's Single Disc Song Overview shows Bob Dylan's staying power not only in the recording industry but also in the way he inspires other songwriters to write music from an honest place. For Dylan, the music is made to match what his words are saying. It is the words which take precedence in his songs, maybe something else that he adopted from the poet Dylan Thomas. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, the aspiring musician changed his surname to Dylan while in college at the University of Minnesota. He performed in local coffeehouses in Minneapolis before relocating to Greenwich Village in New York City during the early '60s where his songwriting took off. Bob Dylan would agree that some changes "blowin' in the wind" are just for the best.

-Susan Frances


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