Another Side Of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Columbia Records, 1964

http://www.bobdylan.com

REVIEW BY: Dan Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/26/2000

If you've followed the plot on Dylan thus far, through Christopher Thelen's series of reviews, you'll know that, during Bob Dylan's first three albums, young Bob went from wide-eyed Midwestern kid covering folk classics and blowing the hell out of a harp to the world-weary protest songwriter of a generation. His legend ensured by "Blowin' In The Wind" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'," Dylan started to become uneasy and restless.

With the closing track of The Times They Are A-Changin' ("Restless Farewell"), Dylan began to turn inward, to explore, as "One Too Many Mornings" so eloquently put it, "the sounds inside my mind." Another Side Of Bob Dylan, released in 1964, began a creative metamorphosis that would turn the rock world on its ear in just two short years.

Recorded in one all-night session, Another Side Of Bob Dylan features the same stripped down voice-guitar-harmonica instrumentation as its predecessors. But, let's face it, despite the dizzying lyrical beauty of its best songs, this is a sonic and instrumental disappointment.

Dylan's guitar playing, which showed a rare gift for subtlety and texture on the previous two albums, is just clanging strum-strum-strum here, the harp is squealing, and often Dylan struggles through the chord changes. The instrumental side just doesn't cut it, let's be honest. But, there are three classifications of songs here, each with moments of greatness - some lighthearted and enjoyable romps, a couple killer love/relationship songs, and finally there are some songs here of sweeping beauty and poetic grandeur that really set the stage for the 25-minute masterwork that is the acoustic side of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Bringing It All Back Home.

"Chimes of Freedom" is truly the centerpiece - a logical successor of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and predecessor of "Mr Tambourine Man" -- this song lovingly elucidates the violence and beauty of a storm and hints obliquely at the liberating qualities of nature. But it's subtle -- not overstated or ham-fisted like "Only A Pawn In Their Game" or the other protest tunes on The Times They Are A-Changin'.

Also notable is "My Back Pages," a fantastic lyric (think 'I was so much older then / I'm younger than that now') given a lackluster and dare I say boring reading here (Dylan performs it beautifully live now, but on record the best versions of both this tune and "Chimes" are the Byrds'). Still, "My Back Pages" is one of Dylan's most durable and lasting sentiments, and stands up in live performance and on the printed page well to this day.

Those songs are the portents of the changing tides of Dylan's career -- but the relationship songs are more consistently pleasing, and provide links back to tunes like "Girl From The North Country" and "Boots Of Spanish Leather".

"It Ain't Me Babe" -- is this directed at an old girlfriend or the folkies he was about to scandalize with an electric guitar at Newport in '65? Don't matter to me, it's a classic song of self-definition, a real powerful statement. "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "To Ramona" are just gorgeous longing love songs -- "Ramona" in particular has a sort of Spanish waltzy feel to it that works wonderfully. "I Don't Believe You," weak here but vastly improved with electricity by 1966, is another neat lyric. The misstep is "Ballad In Plain D", an excruciating 8-minute sob over a lost relationship - a song that even Dylan says he wishes he'd never written.

The one thing that the first two Dylan records had that The Times They Are A-Changin' was badly in need of was some humorous or light-hearted songs -- think "I Shall Be Free" or "Bob Dylan's Blues" -- to break up the doom and gloom monotony. Another Side showcases some great rhyming and riffing in the mostly nonsensical "I Shall Be Free No. 10" (sample lyric: 'set my monkey on a log/and ordered him to do the dog/.../he up and did the cat instead/he's a weird monkey) and the gentle parody of anti-Communism "Motorpsycho Nitemare". Also fun listens are the first two songs, the yodeling "All I Really Want To Do" (a world away from the hard-charging Byrds cover) and "Black Crow Blues", lighthearted and mainly interesting because it's Dylan's first solo piano performance officially released.

Another Side has a dopey title, a boring cover, and a really odd spectrum of songs in both quality and style. In truth, it's better than the sum of its parts (program out "Ballad in Plain D" and it's a good listen), and it's easy to see why folk-rockers all over the globe mined it for tunes to record. My advice would be to purchase the bundled 3-pack of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan/The Times/Another Side for the price of two CDs, a package which is widely available (because you kinda NEED Freewheelin' and Times, and then get Another Side pretty much for free!). Otherwise this is only for more committed Dylan fans.

Rating: B-

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