I like to think of myself as someone with open musical horizons, but I never thought I'd come to love Bob Dylan. For years, I'd struggled to understand why he's so revered by the boomer generation, even if I could appreciate his lyrical prowess. But, oh man, that nasal bleating just turned me off.
Fortunately, a friend of mine was convinced I was missing out and so he kindly gifted me with Dylan's four most recent releases: "Time Out of Mind," "Love and Theft," "Modern Times," and "Tell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series 8." To my surprise, I love 'em.
Latter-day Dylan is quite different from the 1960s incarnation. No three-minute pop tunes here. (Although the pleasing boogie of “Dirt Road Blues” from "Time Out of Mind" comes close, and "God Knows" from "Tell Tale Signs" would make for a great single.) More than ever, the emphasis is on the words and I wish that the CDs came with lyric sheets. No matter, it means one has to listen ever more closely. And what emerges is how great a storyteller Dylan is.
Bob’s weak point will always be his voice. His singing really is a taste that one acquires. But, like so many other singers – Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant – Dylan has become a more expressive, more emotional vocalist with age. One can detect the rings of wisdom and experience beneath the bark of Dylan’s oakwood voice. That makes this a really compelling listen. The musical backdrops to these poems have a trance-like hypnotism with that deep Americana sound.As much as I like "Time Out of Mind," I think its successor is even better. Produced by Dylan under his "Jack Frost" moniker, it's a much more vibrant record since the band seems to have been recorded live in the studio. It boasts great songs such as the opener, "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum," and "Bye and Bye," "High Water," and "Lonesome Day Blues."Prior to now, I'd only heard Sheryl Crow's version of "Mississippi" -- Dylan gave her the song before he even recorded it -- and I prefer the fiddle-driven melody of her version, this is a good one, too, and the alternate versions on "Tell Tale Signs" are even better.
I haven't listened to "Modern Times" yet, though I am already familiar with its terrific lead-off track, "Thunder on the Mountain." I now want to go and revisit Dylan's classics with these new ears of mine. But, first, there's a new album -- "Together Through Life" -- to look forward to come April. Not one to stand still, Dylan says this album is influenced by the Chess Records of his youth. Can't wait.