My New Favorite Thing
I got into Bob Dylan, not through the old stuff, as so many have, but through the recent stuff - specifically, through Time Out of Mind, the first Dylan album I fell in love with.
Now, I had owned Highway 61 for a while, and had listened to it once or twice, and been pretty non-plussed by it. (I know.) I can't remember what spurred me to buy Time Out of Mind, but I did and was presently blown away. What probably surprised me most, given that the only real Dylan songs I really knew knowledge at that point were "The Times They Are A-Changing," "Blowin' in the Wind," "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35," was how beautiful this music was. How gentle and sweet and pure.
Because of this, my favorite Dylan period is the one he's in right now - the one started by Time Out of Mind. So the release last week of his latest "Bootleg Series" album, which comprised outtakes, live versions, and cut songs from Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times had me giddy with anticipation.
And I was not disappointed. Each of the two discs starts off with a version of "Mississippi," a song off of Love & Theft. And I find it frankly astonishing how different they are from each other and the release version, and of how good each version is on its own. This album is just an embarrassment of riches. We've got wildly different takes on songs I know well, like the almost martial rendition of "Someday Baby," which on Modern Times was a finger-popping 50s-style bluesy rocker. We've got cut songs that could have easily made the album, like the slowly building and sweetly tragic-sounding "Red River Shore." We've got live versions of songs I didn't love so much originally that completely reclaim the song for me, like "High Water (for Charlie Patton)." We've got an authentic and pristine take on a Robert Johnson blues classic, "32-20 Blues." And we've got wonderful soundtrack tunes I've never heard, like "Huck's Tune."
But most of all, we've got a cohesive, album that sounds nothing like the hodge-podge of stuff it in reality is. Others have noted it, but I must as well - this strong a double-album would be a high-water mark or almost any other artist. For Dylan, it's a collection of stuff lying around.
When I am 90 years old, I am going to tell my great-grandkids that I was around when Dylan was still making music, that I saw him sing and play live, and they are going to react exactly as I would if I met someone who saw a Shakespeare play when Shakespeare premiered it. He's that good.