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Feature Review #13

The Man is The Man.
No Direction Home (the Soundtrack)
Bob Dyllan
Further illustrates the principle (useful to recall when you go to see him live) that when Dylan is on, he's unbeatable, but when he's off he's mediocre to outright horrible.

And there's no way to predict which you'll get (of the two Dylan live shows i've seen, i got one horrible and one fan-f'n-tastically good, myself.)

Several of the tracks on here suffer from less than pristine sound, and it can be seen why several others remain "Alternate Takes":

"Desolation Row" sounds as if he's not quite sure of the lyric (or the tune, for that matter)

"Blowin' in the Wind" has an overly-long harmonica intro (it's not the only one, but it's the most annoying) which includes a couple of those "miss the harp and blow on the mike" moments that Neil Innes satirises in his "Protest Song" ("I've suffered for my music, and now it's your turn...") in "Pleasure at Her Majesty's" and "Monty Python at Hollywood Bowl")

"Ballad of a Thin Man" is both poorly recorded (live) and has a slogging-through-mud vocal delivery.

And so on -- the sort of thing that you get in sets of alternate takes, out takes and live or demo versions of material from a popular artist's long career. But even the downer tracks are worth having, because they help to put the performer in perspective.

And the "up" tracks are some of the best recorded Dylan i have ever heard -- particularly the Newport performance of "Maggie's Farm" backed by the Butterfield Blues Band that was part of the electric set that allegedly got him booed offstage (I say "allegedly" because, according to a transcript of the official tape taken from the soundboard and available online, it actually appears that the booing is mostly for Peter Yarrow trying to strictly enforce the time limit on Dylan's set when the audience wants more).

Anyway, whether or not Dylan actually got booed for that set, the performance that opened it, "Maggie's Farm" (impeccably reproduced here, considering the year and the fact that it was a remote live recording), might almost have been calculated to stick a thumb in folk purists' eye -- i had to keep reminding myself that this was only 1965 as the tight band roared through the song, with Dylan's vocal absolutely matching the fervor of the backup.

I've never seen the Scorsese film from which this is the soundtrack, but this is one of the few "soundtrack" albums that can pretty well stand up for themselves (in fact, one could argue that the soundtrack may well be more important than the film, or perhaps the film's only reason for existing...)

Well worth the price. Buy it.