Thursday, February 15, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1712: Bob Dylan

Back from the stressful experience of taking the cat to the vet for a check up. Stressful for him and me both but over now, and ready to write a review. The last album in the Bob Dylan collection – at least for now. It is…

Disc 1712 is…The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Artist: Bob Dylan

Year of Release: 1963

What’s up with the Cover? Bob and a lady (artist and then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo) walkin’ in the snow. As you can see from the way Bob is hunched over, his jacket is not sufficient for a New York winter. Layers, Bob, layers!

How I Came To Know It: I don’t recall. I’ve always liked Bob Dylan and I would’ve bought this remastered copy of the record on CD back in 2003 when it was released.

How It Stacks Up: I have 19 Bob Dylan albums, which is around half of them. Of those 19, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” comes in at #2. Yes, second best in a list of amazing records. This is the last of my Bob Dylan’s awaiting review, so here’s the full accounting:

  1. Blood on the Tracks: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 233)
  2. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan: 5 stars (reviewed right here)
  3. Highway 61 Revisited: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 367)
  4. The Times They Are A-Changin’: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 399)
  5. Oh Mercy: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 843)
  6. Blonde on Blonde: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 306)
  7. Another Side of Bob Dylan: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 414)
  8. Infidels: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 908)
  9. Slow Train Coming: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1480)
  10. Bringing it All Back Home: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 159)
  11. Time Out of Mind: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 334)
  12. Desire: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1495)
  13. Nashville Skyline: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1521)
  14. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 681)
  15. Self-Titled: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 653)
  16. John Wesley Harding: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 650)
  17. Planet Waves: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 69)
  18. Together Through Life: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 404)
  19. Tempest: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 793)

Wow – six 5-star reviews, but this is Bob Dylan we’re talking about, people. There’s Bob, and there’s everyone else.

Rating: 5 stars

In 1962 Bob Dylan released his first record. It was a lovely collection of old blues and folk favourites. Solid, but hardly revolutionary. One year later the artist that would change music forever with a run of six iconic albums that to this day are some of the greatest collections of songs ever written or recorded. That run starts with “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”.

There isn’t much to be said about this record that hasn’t been said before. The Wikipedia page alone is practically a book (I did not read it, because I prefer to confront the art directly).

In the case of Bob Dylan it is the art that confronts you, with difficult ideas and hard questions, structured into thoughtful lyrics that will put a quiver in your bones. The record starts with “Blowin’ In the Wind” a song that speaks to a better future simply through a recurring expression of uncertainty. Bob doesn’t always have all the answers, but he often has the right questions to set you on a journey to get there.

Blowin’ in the Wind” and its sister in protest philosophy, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” doesn’t lead you to a single place, but to a constellation of ideas. On both, Dylan treats us to some brilliant imagery. Consider these lines from “Hard Rain

“I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard”

That’s just plumb perfect.

For all of Dylan’s serious messages, “Freewheelin’” also uses humour to make its points. My favourite on the record is “Talkin World War III Blues” where the protagonist dreams World War Three happens, and he staggers through a post-holocaust world. Turns out, other people are having the same dream, each seeing themselves as the sole survivor. Bob’s humorous, but on-point message at the end is simple, “You can be in my dream, if I can be in yours”. Current world, or post-apocalyptic horror-scape, one thing is certain. We’re all in this together. Dylan turns that reality into an invitation to understanding.

The song will make you laugh, but you’ll also nod and appreciate the message of sharing and mutual love for humanity that cuts a consistent line through Dylan’s music. Even when he’s angry (none more so than on the anti-war song “Masters of War”)  his anger comes from a place of optimism, and the desire to make the world a better place.

Throughout its perfect 50 minutes of music, “Freewheelin’” takes us through personal heartbreak, societal ills, efforts to connect with one another and to a world that can sometimes feel vast and emotionally distant. Dylan consistently connects us through those wild and empty spaces of the heart and mind. Listening to this record will make you pine for a better world, and at the same time show you that you’re already living in it, if you’ll just make it that way.

Best tracks: all tracks 

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