Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Columbia Records, 1962

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


A few months ago, when I reviewed Bob Dylan's Time Out Of Mind, I got some wonderful letters from Dylan fans who made some suggestions as to which album I should review next. Since I've freely admitted that I don't know a lot about Dylan, I welcomed the suggestions, and had some great dialogues about albums like Blood On The Tracks and The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.

But something kept gnawing at me, saying that I really wouldn't understand the progression of Dylan's career until I went back to the first album, 1962's Bob Dylan, and worked my way up. One reader warned me that it was a bit of a rough listen, but one that was well worth it.

I'll respectfully disagree with tha listener on the album's being rough; what this album captures is a 20-year-old folksinger who is finding his own voice by working through some time-honored classics. Although there are only two songs written by Dylan on this album, he adds enough of his own persona in the interpretations to make it sound like these all came from his pen. In short, it's a surprisingly good album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first thing that hits you about the songs on Bob Dylan is that they're almost always done with a fast tempo. Yes, there are a few songs with a slower beat, but if I had one complaint, I would have liked a little more variety in the mood of the songs. This, of course, would come with time and experience - and I have to keep reminding myself that this was the work of a 20-year-old who was making his debut. So I'm willing to cut quite a bit of slack.

Besides, it's not that the album disappoints. Tracks like "She's No Good," "Man Of Constant Sorrow," "In My Time Of Dyin'" (a nice surprise to hear, seeing I grew up with Led Zeppelin's version of this track) and "Pretty Peggy-O" (the first time I've ever heard a version of this that I could stand) all are wonderful portraits of the artist as a young man. Dylan's vocals, while a little shaky at times, do ring out clear as a bell, delivering the messages that are in the songs as powerful as a cannon. Then again, there aren't a lot of protest songs on Bob Dylan; those would be forthcoming soon enough.

I would have a hard time specifying which of the originals was my favorite. I admit I'm partial to "Talkin' New York," which includes even a bit of self-deprecating humor (one club owner supposedly tells Dylan he sounds "like a hillbilly" - which he kind of does). The other, "Song To Woody," is pleasant enough, though I wouldn't have gone out on a limb and said this marked the start of a superb artist. I would have just called it a good song and left it at that.

In true folksinger fashion, the only instruments you'll hear on Bob Dylan are acoustic guitar, harmonica and vocals. It's interesting to note that before I bought this album, I bought The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and had a hard time getting through it because of the sparseness of the music. However, once I had listened to this tape a few times, it made The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan easier to accept - proof positive that starting at the beginning was a good idea. (Three guesses what the next Dylan album we're going to review will be.)

Granted, Bob Dylan is the kind of album that the diehard fans will want to search out; I don't think the casual fan or anyone who knows Dylan's work from the radio will be interested in this one immediately. But it is a powerful album that signaled, if not the birth of one of America's most cherished songwriters, at least the debut of an incredible folksinger.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.