Theme Time Radio Hour

One of my many returns to Bob Dylan came not in 2006, but probably 2007, and it was around Theme Time Radio Hour. Even while I skipped out on Modern Times, Dylan’s well-received album from 2006, I was aware of the hype around the launch of his radio program on XM Satellite radio and I was very intrigued. Canada was late to the satellite radio revolution, however, with both Sirius and XM setting up subsidiary companies here late. I’ve never subscribed (I note that my car came pre-equipped with an XM button and a free subscription that I never activated). I spent a week in Ontario a couple of years ago where I was doing a lot of daily driving for work and I listened to the bluegrass channel every day and thought it was great until I started hearing a lot of repetition, and then I lost interest. Radio doesn’t much work for me as a listener.
Dylan radio, on the other hand, very much did. While I never subscribed, sometime after the first season concluded I ran across a website that had about thirty shows available for download, so download them I did. Each one was an hour long, and my walk to campus (if I walk) is about 35 minutes walking up the hill on the way there and about 25 minutes on the way back down – it was a perfect length. I had one of those little tiny iPods with a pathetic amount of memory, but it would hold a one hour show and so for a couple of months in the summer I was listening to Theme Time Radio Hour every day.
TTRH was a fantastic show. If Dylan had done nothing at all in the 2000s except this show I think we would have to count it as a serious contribution to our culture. Recording the shows on the road as he toured, he played a really eclectic mix of music and strung it together with bizarre-o facts and weird observations. It really was the type of thing that should be listened to at 3:00 in the morning as you’re driving a highway to nowhere in the blackness. Dylan’s voice was perfect for this role, and his chatter was astonishing.
One of the key attractions was Dylan finally speaking about music. At this point Dylan wasn’t doing much talking from the stage, maybe a joke here and there, but for the most part he was a taciturn presence. His interviews, like the recent one on 60 Minutes weren’t terribly revealing – he didn’t seem to respond to people putting questions to him. But he did seem to open up on his own terms, and the radio show was all about him.
Each of the 100 shows that he broadcast over three years was organized around a unifying theme – flowers, Tennessee, baseball. The songs were presumably selected by Dylan with the input of producer Eddie Gorodetsky – I can imagine Gorodetsky presenting options to Dylan, but I have no idea if that is how the show was arranged. Each episode was introduced from the fictional Abernathy Building with a moody voice-over, and then Dylan would launch into his spiel. A lot of times it was clear that he was sharing the research of a bunch of interns with internet access – filling in data about avocado production in Fresno or the like – but other times it was clear that Dylan was speaking from the heart, particularly when he spoke about music. You can listen to Dylan talk about the importance of drumming on a Buddy Holly song that you’ve heard a thousand times and realize that you’ve never spent one second thinking about Holly’s drummer, and now it’s the only thing that you can think about. Then there were the bizarre personal anecdotes. One that has stuck with me clearly for no good reason was on the “Cars” episode. Dylan plays Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” – an obvious choice because it’s a great song, and it’s one that he himself recorded on Dylan. When the song ends, Dylan notes that he has ridden in a car driven by Mitchell (on the Rolling Thunder Tour?) and that she’s a very good driver. “I felt very safe,” Dylan tells us. What a bizarre comment, but, at the same time, I think it says a lot more about the Dylan/Mitchell relationship (now fractured, at least on her side) than I ever knew before.
Given where Dylan was musically at this point in his career (excavating that “old, weird American” sound of pre-rock, pre-folk) you’d expect a lot of music from that era. You get it, but you also get things that I, at least, would never have guessed, including hip hop. Listening to Dylan introduce The Streets, for example, was a really unexpected pleasure. There was also a good chance on any episode that you’d be introduced to someone that you didn’t know but that you’d think was great – Laura Cantrell, for instance, is someone that I discovered through TTRH and I’m very pleased that I did.
I will say that I eventually gave up on TTRH, probably after about forty episodes. I probably over-binged on them, so that the repetition of elements became a bit cloying to me. Once per week is probably a better pace than every day for something like this. This site seems to have streaming links to every episode, and I plan to pick them up again and probably over-indulge for a little while. It’s a shame that he let it all go.
Laura Cantrell, from the “Flowers” episode:

Modern Times

I skipped Bob Dylan’s acclaimed 2006 album Modern Times when it was released. Dylan had fallen off my radar again, I had a baby and I just wasn’t in a space where I was listening to any new music. This is another album that I’ve only begun listening to this week as part of the project. I will say that it took me a little bit of time to warm up to it. I listened to it twice on a two hour bike ride last weekend (the album is 63 minutes, which made it excellent for pacing my ride) and didn’t much care for it. On those first listenings nothing leapt out at me – it has a pretty constant tone to it, and lacks the strong ups and downs of some of his other albums. I came home and looked it up, and found myself surprised to see how unbelievably positively it had been received. A new masterpiece, I read. His first #1 album since Desire, I learned. The oldest living person to have the #1 album (at the time). 6.3 million copies sold. Two Grammy awards.
So I re-listened. Actually, I’ve listened to this twice a day (at a minimum) every day this week. On Tuesday and Saturday I had long travel days, and listened to it even more than that. I think that I have listened to this one Dylan album more than any other Dylan album this year. And, yes, now I get it.
Modern Times was not an album that I immediately got. And, indeed, a couple of the songs that I best liked early are the ones that I least like today. It’s an evolving thing for me, and it will probably remain so. I do think that it is worth the fuss.
1. “Thunder on the Mountain”. This opens really well with the piano, guitar, drums starting up as if the album is shutting down. It’s a song that marks Dylan’s new tendency of singing the name of the song as the first line of the song (he does this a lot on Tempest). It also includes the bizarre verse about Alicia Keys. Why, my wife asks, would he be singing about Alicia Keys? It’s entirely possible that he just likes the way that the name flows into the song – it fits nicely. It’s also possible that he’s telling us something that we’re not getting. It is true that she was born in Hell’s Kitchen, for example. Anyway, this is a good selection for the opener as it is probably the song that is easiest to like on the whole album. I can’t imagine anyone not really liking this one.”I recruit my army from the orphanages” is a great line, and so is “I got the pork chops, she got the pie”, and so is “I’ll say this, I don’t give a damn about your dreams”. This doesn’t add up to a whole lot, but it has so many great individual pieces.
By the way, here’s Keys doing “Pressing On”, from Saved, which was released the year she was born in Hell’s Kitchen.
2. “Spirit on the Water”. This is clearly a song that is important to Dylan. He sells t-shirts with this title on them, and he has played this song a lot on his most recent tour. A slow swinging jazzy number, this is a pretty classic Dylan love song – why can’t you treat me right? but I love you so much anyway, baby. It has a nice closing verse for him to play live now:
You think I’m over the hill
You think I’m past my prime
Let me see what you got
We can have a whopping good time
The crowd yells “No” after both of those first lines, of course. The other thing is that Dylan really sings this one, and does a great job with it. A nice song.
3. “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”. This is the Muddy Waters delta blues song that has been covered by literally everyone (Yardbirds, Cream, Captain Beefheart). Dylan adds new lyrics to it, but his version owes a clear and direct debt to Muddy Waters’s version. I like this one too!
4. “When the Deal Goes Down”. This one slows things down again, a slow ballad with minimal backing. Another sweet love song, a pledge of allegiance. I’m sort of surprised that this song has been picked up by other singers, because it is quite lovely and is the type of thing that can sound really effective for a piano crooner. I like this one too!
5. “Someday Baby”. I wrote about this at length earlier in the week. A good blues song that was the single from the album. Dylan won a Grammy for his singing on this, which is funny because I don’t think it is the best sung song on the album. I also like this. It’s becoming a theme.
6. “Workingman Blues #2”. On my first couple of listens to this album, this was one of the songs I liked best. Now it is one of the ones that I like least. It’s a sort of sequel to “Sundown for the Union”. It has a very despairing and fatalist take on the state of the American economy, beginning from the observation of declining wages and the outsourcing of jobs, but ultimately suggesting that there is nothing to be done about it. The chorus, which includes the lines
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line

Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues
Is firmly non-committal about what should be done about any of this fate that the singer is bemoaning, as if Dylan thinks that it doesn’t really matter. Musically, too, it is not committed – it seems to take a middle road. This is one of the only songs here that I don’t really like at all any more.
7. “Beyond the Horizon”. Another crooner song, and another pretty good one. This is probably the most minor of all the songs on Modern Times. It’s neither good nor bad, just a bit there. I like the guitar parts here and some of the dark imagery, but it isn’t a really memorable song.
8. “Nettie Moore”. This is my favourite song on the whole album, and one of my favourites by Dylan in the past few decades. I love everything about this one – the phrasing especially. The short Hemingway-esque declarations:
I’m the oldest son of a crazy man
I’m in a cowboy band
Lots of cryptic lyrics here, and lovely little pieces. The chorus, “Oh I miss you Nettie Moore, and my happiness is o’er…” is particularly striking. Great, great song.
9. “The Levee’s Gonna Break”. I don’t think that this is a bad song, but that single repeated guitar note that occurs about every two bars ABSOLUTELY DRIVES ME CRAZY! It’s like a form of torture, like lying in bed and listening to the drip of a faucet – all I can hear is the count in my head to the next identical guitar note. I can’t listen to this anymore. Too bad, because “Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones” is a great line.
10. “Ain’t Talkin’”. The final, epic (almost nine minute) blues ramble is delicious. Dark and haunted. This one sounds like something from Oh Mercy but without the layers of goop that Daniel Lanois heaped onto that album. This album is produced by Dylan under his Jack Frost pseudonym, and I’m guessing that it is pretty close to the sound that he wants (considering how similar the next couple of albums are, that’s my safe guess), and it is interesting to try to imagine the Lanois albums with this sound. Anyway, this is another great late-night Dylan song about the darkness that surrounds us.
So, after some early skepticism, I find that I’m eight for ten on this album, and one of the songs I would like better with only the smallest change in production. It is a really great album, and it includes one song – “Nettie Moore” – that I would personally rank extremely highly in his catalogue. If I weren’t blogging this year I don’t think I would have ever spent enough time with this album to get this much out of it, so I’m pretty grateful for the opportunity.
Here’s the video for “Thunder on the Mountain”, all about Alicia Keys:

iPod Advertising

I’m just working this one out video by video, so play along.
In 1935, Sleepy John Estes recorded a song, “Someday Baby Blues”. This is a fairly typical country blues song, with Estes demonstrating his “crying” style. According to Wikipedia, Estes sounded so convincingly like an old man (he was only thirty-six when he recorded this, that by the 1960s many blues music hunters assumed that he was long dead, but he was tracked down, living in poverty, and was able to tour again. Dylan mentions Estes in the liner notes for Bringin’ It All Back Home. Here he is:
In 1941, Big Maceo Merriweather recorded the song as a Chicago blues song as “Worried Life Blues”. It was his biggest hit, and was widely covered. Here is that:
In 1955, Muddy Waters recorded the song, with Jimmy Rogers on guitar. The song was a hit the following year, when Dylan was fourteen years old and listening to the radio a lot. Here’s the Muddy Waters version, which he titled “Trouble No More”:
Just for kicks, let’s note that the Allman Brothers covered the Muddy Waters version and electrified it all up in 1969. Here’s a later live version:
Which brings us to 2006. That year, Bob Dylan released his thirty-second studio album, Modern Times. From that he released a single, “Someday Baby”, taking the title back towards the Estes version but carrying a lot of the Chicago blues sound with it. That song in turn won the Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance in 2007 (Dylan did not attend that ceremony, so there won’t be a blog entry for it). So here’s that song:
Good, right?
Ok, so finally the album itself needed to be promoted. And Dylan, being the type of non-sell out sell-out that he is, licensed it to Apple, who used it to help them sell iPods when those were a thing that people bought:
So, to sell an iPod, Dylan had to channel Sleepy John Estes through Muddy Waters and the Allman Brothers. It’s a lot of weight to carry for an ad for an outdated technology.

“Tell Ol’ Bill”



A final WordPress test and we’ll put 2005 to rest.

I’ve never watched the 2005 film North Country, in which Charlize Theron plays a coal miner in Minnesota who leads a battle against sexual harassment. I actually have a copy of the film on DVD, bought in a bargain bin a few years ago, but it never made it to the top of the To View list. Maybe I should correct that.

The song uses a lot of Dylan on the soundtrack – “Girl of the North Country” (of course, but a Leo Kottke version), and then songs that can be given a really insidious feeling in a movie with this subject: “Lay Lady Lay”, “Sweetheart Like You” and “Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)”. I’m very curious now to see how these are used.

Dylan did contribute a new composition to the soundtrack as well: “Tell Ol’ Bill”. The song uses a lot of metaphorical language that sounds like it will work well in a film with these themes (“The woods are dark, the town is too”, and so on). The instrumentation is pretty simple and the whole thing foregrounds Dylan’s voice and the lyrics. It really sounds, in retrospect, like a tease for Modern Times – it wouldn’t sound out of place at all on that 2006 album, and I mean that as a compliment.

Okay, let’s see if this works:

With Norah Jones


Another quick test post here.

On 16 July 2005 Bob Dylan performed at the tenth anniversary party. The event was hosted by Bill Maher, featured Dylan and Norah Jones, and some clips from the Lord of the Rings movie and probably the sacrificing of live goats to Jeff Bezos (last part still uncomfirmed at press time). No tickets were put up for sale, you had to be pal of Jeff to get in. Dylan performed a short nine song set and the show was broadcast on the internet. I didn’t find the whole show on video, but I did listen to a bootleg. It’s fine – it’s pretty typical of what he was doing at the time.

It did strike me that someone said to me this summer – only half joking, I believe – that “Dylan will perform anywhere for $100,000”. I sort of looked at this person quizzically and he re-affirmed it as if he knew it to be true. Cut him a check for $100,000 and he’ll show up at your party. I don’t know what Amazon paid him, but there he is.

The final song of his set brought out Norah Jones. Now if you’ve been following this blog for a while you know how this goes – talented female singer who isn’t Joan Baez tries to harmonize with Dylan, horrors ensue. And, if you watch the first verse of this only, you’ll see that script play out. BUT! Give her immense credit – Ms Jones sees that something is happening here and she might know what it is, and she adjusts. She adjusts! Suddenly this likely impromptu (you can see Dylan speaking to her, probably for the first time ever, on stage) get-together sounds, if not great, at least pretty damn tolerable. Good even!

Check it out:

By the way, I googled Norah Jones a couple of minutes ago because she is someone that I know is really famous but I was never really sure why – I’ve never listened to her music and couldn’t tell you any of her songs. Turns out that she sold 26 million copies of her first album, Come Away With Me, in 2002. Ay caramba! That might be more than Dylan has sold in his entire career. I’m still not really sure that I know who she is, but she impresses me here.

“London Calling”


This one is mostly just a test to see if I’ve got WordPress cooperating with me again. Been having some issues this week.

I posted this version of Bob Dylan performing the Clash’s “London Calling” in London at the Brixton Academy in November 2005. He did the song twice in the five nights that he performed there – both times it is about this length, just a fragment and not the whole thing. Too bad – what we get is great just for the fact that it exists, but it could have been a whole lot better.

This one inordinately pleases my inner seventeen-year-old who was transitioning from Dylan to the Clash and other punk bands. I always saw a pretty direct – if slightly winding –  link between Dylan and the politically engaged music that the Clash was doing, but this just makes it also so palpable.

Okay, going to see if this posts correctly. Enjoy!

Calgary Show (2005)

The last time I saw Bob Dylan perform live was at the Saddledome in Calgary on July 24, 2005, about four months before I became a father and pretty much stopped going to concerts with my wife. At the time I recall thinking that it wasn’t a great show. I was disappointed that Dylan no longer played guitar (piano and harmonica, but not much harmonica), and I thought that the sound was really rough. We had decided to go to the show partly because Willie Nelson was the opening act, and we figured that even if Dylan wasn’t good, Willie likely would be. Sadly, Nelson didn’t play the show, so that put everything off on the wrong foot with us. Also, the show itself was seen as something of a hostile act because it took place on the closing night of the Calgary Folk Festival, thereby drawing attention away from that event. It would have been better if it had taken place on Prince’s Island Park, to be frank.
I just listened to a very good quality bootleg of this show, and I’ve found that it was far far better than I recalled it. A large part of this has to be the Saddledome. The Saddledome is an absolutely dreadful concert venue – one of the worst that I have ever been in. The acoustics are just terrible and there are only a few decent places to sit if you don’t get seats in the front rows (this review from the time also noted how bad the sound system was – it wasn’t just me complaining!). For the most part, it is important to sit directly straight back from the stage and never off to the sides where the sound bounces around. Unfortunately, we had seats to the left of the stage in the lower bowl and the sound was terrible. I remember thinking that “God Knows” sounded like a Sonic Youth-style wall of sound, but listening to it today I know that wasn’t the case – it is intense, sure, but not a wall of sound by any means. I wish it had sounded as good on that night as it does coming from the speakers of my laptop.
Listening with fresh ears today, I found that the show itself was quite good. He opened with a lot of early material: “Maggie’s Farm”, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (I didn’t think much of this version), and “Lay, Lady, Lay” (two from Nashville Skyline!), before moving forward in time to “God Knows” (which I think was the best song on the show), “Shooting Star”, and “Lonesome Day Blues”. When they moved into “Positively Fourth Street” Dylan spoke with the band, making me think, at the time, that it was unplanned. It was not a particularly strong version of this song, so that probably reinforced the idea, but I see that he played it in Vancouver a few nights earlier, so it probably wasn’t an audible. They definitely weren’t all in synch on this one, though, a few miscues on timing. 
“Watching the River Flow” was a nice version of that song, and so was “Highway 61 Revisited”. At the time I was a bit flummoxed by things like “Can’t Wait”, “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” and “Summer Days” (played very similar to how it sounds on “Love and Theft”) because I hadn’t been keeping up with his recent work at all. I think that was the case with a  lot of the crowd, many of whom were hoping for a more nostalgic show. The encore (which was quite delayed – I wasn’t sure he was actually coming back out) was fully nostalgic: “Don’t Think Twice” and “All Along the Watchtower”.
I do remember that when we were walking through the parking lot we heard some 18 year old kid, with girlfriend, talking on his phone: “No, it sucked. He only did two big songs and he MASSACRED them! He sang All Along the Watchtower, but it was like All Along  the…. WatchTOWerrrrrrrrr”. Poor kid. He got 8 songs (half the show) that are on one of the greatest hits collections, five recent(ish) ones and three from the depths of the catalogue. I call that a fan friendly show! But, yeah, no “Blowin’ in the Wind”, no “Like A Rolling Stone”, and everything else sounded totally different from the way it’s recorded.
This was a short tour segment for Dylan. Four dates in Vancouver, one in Kelowna, Calgary, then three in Montana and off to Oregon. Sadly, every venue on the tour was probably better than this one, so I feel like we really missed out a bit.
Dylan has come to Calgary twice since this show but I missed him both times – I may not have even wanted to go (both times were back to Saddledome, and that is a huge disincentive). I’ll be seeing him for the first time in a decade on Wednesday in Cleveland of all places, in what looks to be a great venue. This time, at least, I know the whole repertoire.
I still don’t know what happened to Willie Nelson.

Live at the Gaslight 1962

Do you remember record stores? I almost do, through the hazy mists of time. Way back in 2005 people still went to record stores (though, even then, their days were beginning to seem numbered). Napster had come and gone, but BitTorrent was on the rise, and the record store was looking for a way forward.
In Canada, the last remaining large chain of record stores is HMV. Most of the malls around here have one of them, and they increasingly don’t sell music. 2005 is probably around the time that they began a definitive shift towards DVD retailing, and most of the stores that I was aware of began to give more floorspace to movies and television box sets than to music CDs. These days, with the rise of Netflix, even that seems like a bad business model, and the stores sell a lot of Sons of Anarchy shot glasses, toys, and t-shirts. Whenever I go in a HMV now, it seems sort of sad.
In 2005 HMV made some noise when they pulled all of Bob Dylan’s albums from their store shelves. The cause of the dispute? Dylan and Columbia released an album exclusively through Starbucks. This, for many, was another sign that the post-Victoria’s Secret ad Dylan had lost his way, and that he was a thoroughly corrupted sellout. The album, Live at the Gaslight 1962, was a natural for the coffee chain – connect themselves to the legacy of one of Greenwich Village’s most famous coffee houses. It’s a no-brainer for them. But for HMV the eighteen-month exclusivity was a slap in the face, and so they pulled all of Dylan’s albums for that period (I do recall that they left in dividers where the CDs should have been noting the reasoning, and also noting that they would special order his material if you were unable to simply order it from Amazon like a normal person would do).
Today, all of the HMVs around me have about seven Dylan CDs in them – a lot of greatest hits collections, and usually a random couple of albums. The whole model is crumbling away. The appeal of an HMV to me today is the ability to walk in and pick up the physical copy of Bootleg Series 11 for the booklets that accompany it – a bonus serious enough for me to turn my back on iTunes. But, of course, Amazon spammed me months ago based on all the Dylan books I’ve been buying, and one-click – you can’t beat it.
As for Live at the Gaslight 1962, well, that’s a blast from the past. First week of January to be precise! This material is well circulated in Dylan tape trading circles. It was recorded in October 1962 on a reel to reel run through the PA system, so the sound is really quite good given the technology of the period. The bootleg known as “The Second Gaslight Tape” tape is seventeen tracks, ten of which appear here (there is some dispute about the second and third Gaslight tapes – I can’t sort that out, I leave that to my betters. Actually, check that. Go here for a good breakdown of the tapes: It seems that this album combines performances from two different sets). It’s great material – a couple of original songs as they’re beginning to take shape (“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “John Brown”, and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”) – and then some traditional folk music like “Barbara Allen” and “Handsome Molly”. It’s a very intimate recording – when there is applause it always sounds like there are about eight people there. In fact, it is so intimate that on “Hard Rain” you can hear someone singing along. I don’t think that’s a backup singer – I think it’s someone in the audience! It’s a very solid sampling of the proto-Dylan just before he would hit the big time.
Strangely, this album is not listed by as one of his albums (also strangely, they list both versions of Bootleg Series 11 as separate albums). I’m not sure why that is at all. It’s not included in the Complete Album Collection, and it isn’t part of the Bootleg Series. Seems like a strange orphaned thing, but I have no idea why that is. Also, it is no longer in print. has it for sale at $130 and for $88.
If you don’t have that kind of money sitting around, you can hear the entire album here.

Bootleg Series 7

I’ve previously written about the 2005 Martin Scorsese documentary, No Direction Home, in February and I’m not going to re-watch that documentary this week. I will say that it was the project that was probably most responsible for bringing me back towards Dylan in my adulthood. Having gone at least a decade without much thinking about him, I can recall watching both nights of the documentary when it aired on PBS. That was as much to do with Scorsese as it was with Dylan. I thought it was tremendous then, and still do. The intervening months this year have probably only raised my esteem for it.
Before this week I had never listened to the soundtrack all the way through in one sitting. I listened to a lot of the individual tracks when I was writing about the early-Dylan era at the beginning of the year, but I have never sat down to just listen to it as an album.
Long story short: This is one of my favourite Dylan albums.
It is a really rich collection of material. There isn’t anything on here that I wouldn’t want to have, and even some of the songs that I don’t much care for (“Mr Tambourine Man” with Jack Elliott) are things that I am thrilled to have. They’ve done a great job of cleaning some of this material up for commercial release (Dylan’s teen-aged home recordings, for example). The vast majority of the material is stuff that I have on other albums or bootlegs, but it is still a remarkable journey through about a decade in Dylan’s life, from Minnesota to the motorcycle crash. It is stitched together almost (but not quite) completely chronologically, and it provides a tremendous sense of Dylan’s evolution. A lot of the alternate versions of the songs are just as interesting – even mores – than the ones that became the official versions. There’s a lot of process in this set, which is a good thing.
It’s a bit of a strange album insofar as I’m not sure that I would ever recommend it to a Dylan novice (Biograph would still get my nod in that category). There’s a lot of great material here, but so much of the greatness depends on its difference from the better known versions. It’s tough to tell someone “You don’t know Dylan well? You should check out this collection of songs that he almost released”. At the same time, it’s not an album for the hardest of the hardcore, who may well be familiar with a lot of this material. It’s a bit of an outlier in the Bootleg Series from that standpoint – somewhat akin to the Rolling Thunder set, which also cherrypicked key pieces from a much larger archive that would be well known to the bootleg collectors.
For where I’ve wound up – fully cognizant of the fact that I’m not yet a Dylan hardcore, but much further along the continuum than the typical listener – it hits me right in the wheelhouse. I was listening to this on my bike road home from work tonight (possibly one of the last warm rides of the season given the forecasts) and I extended my ride because I was enjoying it so much. There are versions of songs here that I think are really great – “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” – are both versions that I find more interesting than the standard versions. “When the Ship Comes In”, from Carnegie Hall in 1963, I liked better today than ever before.
I have a feeling that this is a collection that will hit heavy rotation with me once I wrap this whole project up.

2004 Odds and Ends



Some good days, some bad days. That’s Dylan in 2004. He can make you think that all of the talent is lost on one occasion and then, on another, he can remind you that he can still find the top range of his game.

In between touring in 2004, Dylan made a few notable appearances, playing a few songs for benefits and friends. Let’s take a look, in order from worst to best.

1. May 5. Dylan performs “You Win Again” with Willie Nelson. This will later air on one of Nelson’s television specials, Willie Nelson and Friends: Outlaws and Angels. Nelson seems in much better form here than Dylan, who, at best, seems to know the words to the song. He can’t reach some of the notes that Nelson can, and, to his credit, he doesn’t even try. This is a pretty hardcore Dylan croak on this one, and the two don’t harmonize well at all. A disappointment to be sure. Nelson toured with Dylan this summer through all of August and a little bit of September, and they played a few things together on stage (with Nelson’s sons on occasion as well). There’s a great friendship in there, but you don’t get much sense of it from this clip. Dylan starts at about 3:15 of this clip. You might want to turn it off before Kid Rock takes the stage after him.

2. 28 March. Dylan and his band play one song at the Apollo Theater for the television special, Apollo at 70: A Hot Night in Harlem, which is broadcast in June on NBC. They do a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. This is better, but it’s still not essential by any means. It’s terribly shot, for one thing, almost annoyingly so. It is mostly interesting for Dylan being in this role of elder statesman at the Apollo. Dylan has been doing this elder statesman thing for a few years now, but this would not have been one of the places that I’d have thought to find him.

3. June 7. This one seems even less likely. Back once again at The Apollo (I’m not sure that Dylan had even played that venue before 2004, and here he’s played it twice in four months), Dylan performed with The Wynton Marsalis Septet at the third annual Jazz at Lincoln Center fundraiser (you can see pictures of rich people in the society pages here). This wasn’t broadcast, but some kind soul has put the audio on YouTube along with a picture from the event, and, bizarrely, a picture from 1981 of Dylan playing the saxophone (badly)). I went into these trepidatioulsy, but I’m going to give them full-throated support – you should listen to both of them. First is “It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry”:

I didn’t like that at first, but by the end, by the harmonica part, I really enjoyed it. Now try “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)”:

These are great. Dylan, more than any other performer in the history of rock music, constantly reinvents his own compositions – often quite radically – and here he finds new ways to perform two songs that are among his most familiarly tried-and-true. His voice seems totally in control, as if he has suddenly remembered that it is his most important instrument. Dylan has had some bad outings with jazz in the past, but this is really fantastic. He actually gets me to hear these songs entirely afresh, and that’s something.

I know I can’t say much about it due to chronology issues here, but now that it has been revealed that Dylan’s next album will be entirely Frank Sinatra covers, I’m hoping that it will just a little bit of this sound.

So, a couple of duds, a couple of hits. That’s pretty good.