Friday, October 5, 2012

Poetics That Knock The Sophomore Album Out Of The Park On The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan!

The Good: Amazing lyrics, Decent music, Moments of voice
The Bad: Some is dated, Usual voice stuff, SHORT!
The Basics: On his sophomore album, Bob Dylan reveals an amazing sense of songwriting ability and a worthwhile sense of musical ability as well!

I figured it was about time in my life I sat down and started listening to the music of Bob Dylan. I'm 31 years old (35 now!) and I'm fairly sure that until yesterday I had never heard a full Dylan album before. I certainly hadn't heard one since the advent of c.d.s. So, when I had the opportunity to pick up a small collection of Dylan discs, I thought, "Sure, it's about time." On the interesting side, I got to start almost at the beginning of Dylan's career with his sophomore album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is a thirteen track album that clocks in at just over fifty minutes. I was pleased that right out of the gate, Dylan was putting out more music - both in terms of minutes and number of tracks - than most of our artists today. For such a prolific singer-songwriter, it's nice to see that he wasn't skimping at the beginning. This album, Dylan's second, is probably best known for his track "Blowin' In The Wind," which has been covered by virtually everyone.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is almost entirely written by Dylan and the traditional song "Corrina, Corrina" has been rewritten by the artist. In all, this is almost entirely Dylan's vision and lyrics and it has a strong rebellious political attitude to it. Unlike many who profess that Dylan can write, but not sing, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan sounds good, with only one or two exceptions. There is nothing on this album like "I Want You," a song Dylan wrote but sung nowhere near as good as Sophie B. Hawkins did on her debut Tongues And Tails (reviewed here!). This album is surprisingly smooth folk-rock that illustrates Dylan can write, sing, and play guitar and harmonica.

The songs on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan are largely political, encapsulating well the political changes that were rising in the early 1960s. Songs like "Blowin' In The Wind," "Masters Of War" and "Talking World War III Blues" illustrate well a strong bent toward pacifism and against the military-industrial complex. Dylan articulately writes and mumbles through singing about anxieties about the possibility of nuclear war on "Talking World War III Blues." Perhaps this is one of his best examples of how he makes the political personal as he sings about anxiety from the point of a common man expressing his anxieties to his physician. In other words, Dylan paints the big political concerns as the concerns of everyone in day to day life. I suppose it's alien to youth today to feel so deeply connected to the political.

But his politics are truly liberal, not only singing against impending war and dishonor, but also about simple things like the desire to live life entirely and fully. He even performs a musical comedy with "I Shall Be Free," a pure folk story that sings about loving beautiful women and tying it into growing the country. It's funny and quirky and not at all what those who have heard OF Dylan without hearing his works are likely to expect.

Perhaps the most poignant example of Dylan's quality of poetics and voice for the political comes on "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." This song, almost seven minutes long, is an opus that makes the political personal with a tale of roaming and feeling change in the air wherever the narrator goes. He observes workers, the downtrodden and the rise of youth and there's a powerful sense of oppression being broken as he sings the song.

But for an album that is largely political, its stand out song is easily "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" has been covered by many artists and I did not think I would hear a better version of it than Joan Baez did with the Indigo Girls on her album Ring Them Bells (reviewed here!), but Dylan's original on this album is just astonishingly good here. While I loved the strongly feminine version of it performed by Baez, hearing Dylan drawl:

Ain't no use calling out my name, gal
Like you've never done before
And there ain't no use in calling out my name, gal
I can't hear you anymore
I'm a thinkin' and a wonderin' as I'm walkin' down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I am told
I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul
Don't think twice, it's all right? ("Don't Think Twice, It's All Right")

is at least as wrenching. Honestly, I didn't expect the song to have the same resonance or be as good from his voice, but it's amazing. It's hard to be more articulate about such a wrenching and powerful song, one that is essentially the leaving/break-up song that defines a hopeless end to a relationship. Dylan does it incredibly.

On albums like Dar Williams' Out There Live (reviewed here!), I've noted a distaste for singers introducing songs with stories. I love that at live performances, but on recordings, the stories tend to get repetitive. Dylan introduces "Bob Dylan's Blues" with a little monologue, but it's short and it works just fine.

Dylan illustrates wonderful abilities to play the guitar with a fresh folk flavor. Songs like "Oxford Town," one might imagine being performed being played on a banjo on a front porch on a balmy day and Dylan sells the song beautifully. The songs range from upbeat sounding tracks like that the the mournful guitar that is sublimated to his voice on "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right."

I am only just beginning to get into Dylan but listening to this album, it's easy to see how he became popular. The songs are remarkably clear (outside mumbling through "Talking World War III Blues" in a fashion that became the parody of Dylan since) and he plays harmonica and uses diction in a very common, everyman way.

I'm unable to think who wouldn't like this album, save those who do not like music that is easily comprehensible. The songs are easy to listen to, largely fun and meaningful and sound good. And the best track may be difficult to listen to, but it SAYS something! This may well be one of the best folk rock albums of all time.

The best track is easily the powerful and emotive "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and the weak link of the album is "Bob Dylan's Blues," which after listening to the album several times left no impression whatsoever on this listener.

For other, former, Artist Of The Month selections, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Rarities, and Unreleased 1996 - 2006 - Eels
Slow Motion Daydream - Everclear
Actually (2 Disc version) - Pet Shop Boys


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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