Bob Dylan’s 28th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

A black-and-white close-up of Dylan's face looking down

The Times They Are a-Changin’
1964
Grade — B-

With the protest movement in full swing, Dylan released his second, and subsequently last, of that style of rebellion with The Times They Are a-Changin. The title track became a big hit, and one of Dylan’s most popular and celebrated songs, achieving number 9 in 1964 on the UK Charts. The song also was placed as the 59th best song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine.

The rest of the album is good, but like with Slow Train Coming had little variation in sound from song to song. Dylan was certainly delivering strong messages and got people’s attention, but the piece lacked some of his wit, and all of his humor, as it didn’t achieve the success that the previous record The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan achieved.

Most of the pieces are very strong ones, whether with “Ballad of Hollis Brown” being the tale of a struggling farmer killing his wife, five children and himself, or with “Only a Pawn in their Game” focusing on how the poor white men are just as brainwashed and mistreated as the black folks. The odd song out is “Boots of Spanish Leather”, but its a superb love song.

This album is a bit of a step down from some of his other 60’s work, but is mostly brilliant.

The Times They Are a-Changin’ – http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/The+Times+They+Are+A+Changin/4gReT0?src=5

Boots of Spanish Leather – http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Boots+Of+Spanish+Leather/3JqVSP?src=5

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Bob Dylan’s 31st Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

Self Portrait
1970
Grade — C+

This was Dylan’s first negatively reviewed album since his introduction eight years earlier, catching people so off guard that one Rolling Stone writer so elegantly put it as “What is this shit?”.

It’s true that this mostly covers album is fairly bizarre, especially when compared to the levels of excellence that the 60’s brought for fans. Bob however has said himself that it was something of a joke “to get the hippies off my lawn”.

The album was more criticized for its unnecessary over-production more than Dylan’s actual performances, which is why the stripped down versions released in 2013 were so much better received.

Self Portrait is quite an amusing name for a cover album, as is the cover art, showing Dylan’s frightfully stunning artwork. Not to worry, I’m being sarcastic.

The songs? Well the songs that just fall flat are “Alberta #1”, “Alberta #2”, the live performance of “She Belongs to Me”, and of course the Dylan original, “All the Tired Horses”. The last of these is the leadoff track, using the wordplay, “All the Tired Horses in the Sun / How I supposed to get any writing done.” over and over again, not sung by Dylan. Not that it would of added overly much.

However the songs that work are really nice. The biggest works are the covers of “Belle Isle”, “Copper Kettle”, and the traditional “Days of ’49”. All three have Dylan at his covering best — which is to say he belts out the songs like he would one of his own, instead of a straight forward cover.

Overall this album would have been a lot better if it had better production (or just less of it), but as is, its just a curious music artifact that will have new, uninitiated fans scratching their heads.

Days of ’49 — http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Days+Of+49/2CKzfd?src=5

Bob Dylan’s 40th Best Studio/ Bootleg Album

Dylan sitting onstage with a guitar

Down In the Groove
1988
Grade – D+

The mid 80’s were dark times for the Dylan fan base; having to be subjected to an artist having incredible writer’s block and a lack of control over his own product. The classic Dylan ‘one-take’ style was, as Robert Christgau put it, “patented and by now meaningless”. The album was fully panned by critics as his worst work to that point, and looking back, certainly had the least to offer from the collection.

The songs put forth were mostly co-written, or songs he’d decided not to record previously, and a couple of new compositions of his own. Full Force, a popular hip hop group, helped with the sound (as well as the backing vocals on “Death is Not the End”) but it wasn’t any use. Dylan seemed to be running on fumes, running out of the magic that made him great.

Not to say the album was a complete disaster, as no Dylan album fully is. “Silvio” was modestly successful, with backing from the Grateful Dead, it became one of the artist’s greatest hits, and thus becoming popular while on tour.

“Sally Sue Brown” and “Let’s Stick Together” have some charm, but the absence of real song-writing was far too much to handle otherwise.

“When Did You Leave Heaven”, was so obviously not written by Dylan, as instead of his patented “vagueness”, he sings a series of bad pick up lines written by Richard Whitting and Walter Bullock.

“Ugliest Girl in the World” was written by head of the Graterful Dead (Robert Hunter) and Bob. The song is one of the most shallow and irritating ditties in both of their collections, as Dylan sings about how much she loves this woman, even though she’s so damn ugly. One of the few songs I skip on my shuffle.

Overall, this album is pretty awful. The writing isn’t there, the drive of the artist from the 60’s and 70’s isn’t there, and the sound definitely isn’t there. There’s “Silvio” and one or two other decent songs, but not one I recommend for non-Dylan fans.

Silvio – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2tCGRdZ5d8&feature=kp

Have a listen, as this is assuredly one catchy song.