Bob Dylan – Debut Review

Ignorant hindsight is wonderful. A passive glance at the debut of Bob Dylan would provide Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited champions with little more than the sketch marks of what was to come. Don’t look back. It is worth remembering the roots of great artists because where they started out is not usually close to where they hit their best works. Look at the great musicians of each generation, especially those during the 1960s. The Beach Boys distanced themselves from the fun-loving beach boy attitudes with Pet Sounds and The Beatles dramatically twisted and shouted their way through Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, severing their boyband material almost entirely. Dylan found success where he started, and it is thanks to Bob Dylan, his freshman album.

Those who do not learn from their history are doomed to repeat it. Dylan learned from his history. Barely forty minutes, Bob Dylan is a taster for what is to come. The frantic harmonica and crooning cries of You’re No Good would replicate themselves on the final notes of Hurricane over a decade later, and more immediately on Talkin’ New York, the track to follow You’re No Good. A strong opener and sophomore track, the key link between the pair is the harmonica that ties the two together. It is a seamless one, and while it is a good blend, it is one of the many moments on this album that hint at something bigger.

Bigger indeed. While Bob Dylan is not the trailblazing masterclass the Voice of a Generation would soon offer, it is a good indicator of his style and a welcome appreciation for his core assets. It is the confidence of the acoustic and harmonica driven blend found on Pretty Peggy-O that signals something better. That jovial masquerade hiding the giggles and contempt, Dylan plays to it well. It is only with that understanding of what is to come that Bob Dylan works. Without it, listeners would be forgiven for thinking this odd folk singer were trying too hard to be artisanal, and too little to be listenable. That line is drawn rather thinly, a faint trace that provides just enough of a barrier between the two pulls of music to make for a quick and compact piece.

While it is not difficult to trace back the Woody Guthrie influences here, it is hard to identify Bob Dylan with a sound or style akin to that of the big Dylan influencers. Highway 51 may spark some love further down the road, but that is the aim of this debut album. It is the inauguration of a massive talent. It is an album littered with hidden gems that, while relying on the same signifiers of Dylan’s body of work, are manipulated and changed to a far more folk-oriented audience. The deep south is appealed to with harsh vocal snaps and plenty of acoustic bridges. Both are fine, but it is not the prime-time Dylan fans will find on anything after Another Side of Bob Dylan, and even then, it is as faint as the lines Dylan draws upon to separate artistic courage and mass appeal. He never had a problem with blurring it, though.

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