Bob Dylan – Dylan Review

Barely scraping in at half an hour of music, and Bob Dylan somehow begins to pull a thread that would unravel his image as a trend-setting, electrifying performer and lyricist. Where Johnny Cash’s buried recordings had promise to them, the Johnny 99 days quite remarkable considering the active fight the Man in Black had against his record label at the time, Dylan’s smaller works do not have that same appeal. They are not as electrifying as his proudest works and not all that worth seeking out, as are the works of other artists who were fading at a time when Dylan was rising. Stunted growth appears on Dylan, an album that feels strangely bereft of what makes the man’s work so great.

As an independent piece, cast aside and far away from what listeners know Dylan can do, this would work no better than the slew of country rock that came out of the 1960s and 1970s. Can’t Help Falling in Love is the high point, not because of the lyrical mastery or simplicity but because the overall message and thoughts within will connect with broad ideas. Broad is not a word to define Dylan, with this Bob Johnston-produced half-hour feeling as vague as it does indifferent. Six throwaway covers and three traditionals, all of which are completely ill-defined or unusual. Arguably the best part of the album is the cover, with serigraph qualities giving a layered depth to Dylan on the cover. It’s a shame such depth isn’t found on Dylan the album.

Where the Joni Mitchell cover sticks out like a sore thumb, Dylan is unable to do much with Big Yellow Taxi. Considering seven of the nine tracks were recorded over four days, that lack of disruption to the recording process brings out nothing but fatigue. Sarah Jane feels and sounds as dull as the other unique track Mary Ann, tucked away on the B-Side between covers. Lily of the West marks the only interesting, unique piece from Dylan here, and even then, it is plagued by undefined placidity. A cover of Peter LaFarge’s The Ballad of Ira Hayes feels not just to be a lower cover, but a completely undefined and oblivious pastiche of Dylan’s warbling of old. It’s no Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. What Dylan struggles with time and time again is the positioning of the singer’s personality.

Outtakes of the lazy crooner, Dylan is an unremarkable selection of offhand pieces and experiments. Poor ones, but infuriatingly so. Some tracks would or could have fit on an album here or a B-Side there, but together they create nothing of interest. Lily of the West is arguably the most layered track on here, the vocal supports from backing singers relying on a spaghetti western effect. Mr. Bojangles is likely the best of the bunch. Waste material from a quick recording marks an album that doesn’t have the Dylan. It feels lesser than most of his other works from around the time, but it is Dylan after all. His lyrics and styles are never going to be completely defunct or uninteresting, it’s just that Dylan is completely uninteresting. Placid songs that’d be better suited to Marty Robbins.

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