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
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
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
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.
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