(March 19, 1962)
Overall Rating: ++++
His first 'have-at-it' try; it's got only two of his own compositions ('Talkin' New York', a funny spoken commentary on his being received in Big Apple, and 'Song To Woody' which could be regarded as a kinda 'dedication' of his entire creativity to that ol' man folker), but you even hardly notice - they sound oh so derivative from the rest of the folk stuff he's covering on here. In fact, this album is not very significant musically, but it sure provides a lot of insight into Bob's roots: after listening to it a few times you begin to understand all those incessant country and folk cliches of which his early acoustic albums are chock-full. Songs like 'Highway 51 Blues' were certainly the inspiration for 'Highway 61 Revisited', and I've always thought the melody of 'It's Alright Ma' was pure Dylan until I've heard its origins on this LP.
But then again, all of this material is quite listenable. Not essential, but nice. Actually, at that point Bob had already penned quite a few compositions of his own; however, as a humble beginner, he had to prove that he was qualified enough for singing his own material by recording all those covers. I do not think, though, that he took it as a heavy burden: the songs are all lively and fresh and almost breathing, and Bob has really great taste, as most of the numbers have something to them. (The most amazing thing, of course, is that there were tons of similar or even better stuff left unreleased, as amply demonstrated by The Bootleg Series). Thus, his rendition of 'House Of The Rising Sun' is not an ounce worse than The Animals' version, even if it's played with just an acoustic, without those organs and all - perhaps the generated feeling is just not as ecstatic and cathartic as in the Beasts' case, but then again, you will never want to accuse the Dylan version of being 'pretentious'. Note also that Bob sings the song with the original lyrics - daring not to change lines like 'it's been the ruin of many a poor girl/And me, oh God, I'm one'. So in this here case it ain't metaphoric and gives the listener a clear picture of what 'the house' really is, which makes the song all the more poignant. As far as I understand, the legend that the Animals learned the song from Dylan's version turns out to be, well, just another legend in the endless series of rock legends, but it's still nice to have both hanging around to do the comparisons. The funny thing is that Dylan's debut also includes his rendition of Ric Von Schmidt's 'Baby Let Me Follow You Down' - a song that was later reworked by Burdon, Price and Co. as 'Baby Let Me Take You Home' and was something like the band's first single or the band's first hit single, whatever. Again, though, I far prefer Dylan's version (though the Animals' is by no means bad); later on, he made the grotesque move of rearranging it as a rip-roarin' live electric number in order to piss off his braindead folkish fans. Check it out on Live 1966, it's groovy.
There are also faster songs on here - like
'She's No Good' and 'Freight Train Blues' that make you want
to boogie with a minimum effort, even if essentially they're just
'whizzed-up' generic blues numbers. However, on 'She's No Good' Bob
arrives on the scene with all his might - squirming and squealing out the
lyrics all the while furiously beating the shite out of his acoustic, and,
while the uninitiated may vomit on the spot and go throw on some Engelbert
Humperdinck instead ('anything but THAT rusty engine hum!'), I find it to be
an exuberant, enthusiastic statement of youth, force and good clean fun.
Later on, Bob would become much too serious for these tricks. And
'Freight Train Blues'? In his review, Brian Burks called
his vocal efforts on that one the equivalent of a 'hoarse vocal feedback',
and I couldn't agree more. 'I got the freight train blue-oo-OOOOOOOOOS...'
Personally, I laughed my pants off first time I heard that wheeze, and
apparently, Bob felt inclined to laugh as well - noticed these funny 'whoa-hoo-hoos'
after each verse? Hah!
The funny and gloomy songs are interspersed in a very, very bizarre way, so that you're really left puzzled as to what old Bob's real emploi is, but get used to it: this is just the first of the cute little mystifications that Bob would soon start throwing at us in bunches. As for the songs themselves, 'In My Time Of Dyin' is a great deal more effective than that horrendous eleven-minute hard-rockin' Led Zep version on Physical Graffitti: Dylan never tries to transform the song into a lengthy self-indulgent dirge full of crappy vocal and instrumental noises, just sticking to the essence, and his passionate vocal delivery is one of the best on record. 'Man Of Constant Sorrow' is supposed to give us the creeps, and 'See That My Grave Is Kept Clean' ends the record on a gloomy, dreary note - just like 'She's No Good' started it on an upbeat note, despite the endless 'wanna lay down and die' refrain.
Still, even if he intended to make this album really depressing, he failed. The songs are good, but they're not really Dylan: see, no generic folkish lyrics are gonna depress me any more than your average death metal song. Except for 'House Of The Risin' Sun', which is truly scary due to the 'grounded' character of the lyrics and its being based on a true or, at least, a realistic story, I personally just don't feel any real darkness here, at least, it's not more dark than Freewheelin', an' dat 'un shoah ain't dahk wo'th a penny!
Bob Dylan (homepage)
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