Friday, October 26, 2007

Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan - October 22, 2007, St. Louis, MO

As demonstrated by Elvis Costello at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis on Monday night, follow these simple steps to upstage the headlining musical legend:

Enunciate into the microphone in a language that approximates English. Bonus points if your voice can be heard and your words can be easily understood both when singing near the microphone and when singing unamplified for dramatic effect.
Deliver the songs with passion and energy; squeeze an ungodly amount of music and noise out of only a variety of sound-distorted guitars.
Mix in a few excellent new songs to compliment the older material.
Acknowledge at least once that you are aware of the city, state, planet, or epoch you are currently performing in. This can be something as simple as a “how are ya?” to a story about advice your father gave you.

All kidding aside, it is the equivalent of a musical sin to criticize Bob Dylan nowadays; the man’s a musical genius whose concert tours (1966 Europe, 1975-1976 Rolling Thunder, and too many others to count) and recorded output (Blonde On Blonde, Blood On The Tracks, and, uh, Shot Of Love) speak for themselves and crush most other artists’ masterpieces like a grape. His last three studio albums are outstanding. He’s been on a critical and creative high for the last ten years. Long after all these peon hack bloggers like myself have sprung off this mortal coil, people will still be listening to, writing about, and over-analyzing Dylan’s lyrics and life.

Some of my favorite concert memories are of Dylan shows. In 1999 my then-girlfriend (and now-wife, also along for the bumpy ride for this latest Dylan show) and I saw Dylan with Paul Simon at Riverport Amphitheatre; their spooky duet of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is something I’ll never forget, pending senility. In 2004, my brother and I spent three nights waiting outside in the cold March rain for early admission to see Dylan at the Pageant, and the highlights from those shows are too many to name (I’ll take “Senor” and “Man In The Long Black Coat” as my favorites).

But none of this changes the fact that Costello stole the show on Monday night. In an intense, far-too-short solo performance that saw Costello switch guitars nearly every song and pound and hack away at the instrument with fury, the singer covered the usual live standards like “Radio Sweetheart,” “Veronica,” and “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” none of which sounded stale or color-by-numbers. A reworked “Alison” brought out the sinister, stalker undertones of the song, and “Bedlam” was given a savage treatment that surpassed the version from The Delivery Man.

New songs “Sulfur To Sugar Cane” and “Down Among The Wine And Spirits” were solid as well, and have a definite topical bent to them (maybe the next Costello album will be titled Another Side of Elvis Costello). Costello concluded with “The Scarlet Tide,” Costello’s and T-Bone Burnette’s song from the Civil War epic Cold Mountain. Updated with two lines that reference the current mess in Iraq, the ballad hushed the audience (except for one jackass in the balcony section who shouted uncontrollably for about a minute about chicken feathers or something). Costello ended the song unamplified, his voice easily heard throughout the theatre. The effect was chilling.

If the night ended there, I would have gone home happy. As the house lights went up and the crew began re-assembling the stage for Dylan and his band, the usual pre-Dylan performance things began to happen: Dylanphiles materialized from thin air, sporting their recently-purchased $40 t-shirts. Bootlegs were traded in the bathroom. The horde began to move toward the front of the stage, despite the entire show being reserved seating. I’ve come to accept the fact that for many of Dylan’s more “dedicated” fans, assigned seat numbering is a mere suggestion. When the music starts, you can expect the reserved area to quickly be swallowed up; getting someone’s dancing ass thrust into your face is practically a rite of passage for Dylan concerts.

When Dylan and his band opened with “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat,” the rapturous applause was deafening and expected; Dylan’s fans are by and large an energetic, boisterous, and perhaps loyal-to-a-fault bunch. Awkward pelvic thrusts and shoulder gyrations could be seen throughout the theatre, many of the dances resembling a two-hour long epileptic fit.

But something else was immediately apparent: both the sound mix and Dylan’s singing were far below par (and yes, I’m aware that Dylan has never had a “traditional beautiful voice”). The mix was essentially a giant a wall of sound; it was far closer to sounding like My Bloody Valentine than Bob Dylan. When Dylan’s voice could be heard over the murk, the words were largely unintelligible; even a few die-hard lifers seated near me readily admitted that they couldn’t make out the words. Dylan’s voice itself was not in good shape either, alternating between a wheeze and a timid bark.

Blame the lousy mix if you want; perhaps Dylan was trying to sing above the sludge, but it’s undeniable that he was inaudible for most of the performance. When the words could be distinguished, his odd cadence of “three words/pause/three words/pause/repeat” didn’t always work. For every song where this vocal styling succeeded (“It Ain’t Me, Babe” was a high point), another song would suffer from the phrasing. “Visions Of Johanna” and “Summer Days” were victims of this approach, as both songs plodded under the odd phrasing, limping toward the finish line.

I don’t think Dylan mailed the performance in, even if he rarely faced the audience and only briefly acknowledged the audience’s presence. By now, those familiar with Dylan’s live show accept the fact that Dylan will follow his muse live, and the concertgoer can form an opinion from that. The musician should be credited for trying to find new ways to present his material, some of which debuted during the Bronze Age. The obvious risk is that sometimes this succeeds beautifully, and other times it fails miserably. Unfortunately, Dylan’s performance in St. Louis fell into this latter category.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Patient Isn't Breathing: R.E.M.'s Live Album, Stipe's Preening, and Keeping the Faith

Think back to those heady years of 1981-1996, when declaring yourself an R.E.M. fan was a sign of true musical taste, and not an open invitation to ridicule, mockery, and verbal humiliation. In those days, the band delivered great album after great album, some of which are still timeless kick-ass classics. They seemed to tour constantly; great bootlegs confirm that the band live was truly something extraordinary. Hip music critics and the fledgling college radio movement loved them. Michael Stipe wasn’t bald and didn’t present himself as some sort of pixie space alien. Mike Mills wasn’t donning sequin jackets. Peter Buck wasn’t getting into drunken altercations with flight attendants on airplanes. And Bill Berry was in the band. Even when the band signed to Warner Bros. and senior citizens were humming the melody to “Losing My Religion,” Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe had managed to achieve mainstream success (and a major label payout) without losing much of their indie credibility or initial fan base.

However, at some unknown point in 1997, the space-time continuum veered horribly off course and the mighty beast known as R.E.M. was replaced by a vacuum-of-suck imposter. After the awesome New Adventures In Hi-Fi, what followed over the next decade was a series of the patient-isn’t-breathing albums like Up, Reveal, and Around The Sun. The albums were long on pseudo Brian Wilson melodies, bleeps, blops, zips, zeeps, and other little noises; it sounded like the band had listened to OK Computer constantly and could only produce pale imitations of the Radiohead masterpiece. Mysterious and textured lyrics were replaced by overly-direct lyrics that were either painfully mundane (“Why not smile/you’ve been sad for a while” from, you guessed it, “Why Not Smile”) or complete nonsense (“It’s easier to leave than to be left behind/leaving was never my proud” from “Leaving New York”). What exactly is a “proud?”

All of this contributes to make the creatively titled Live album a truly puzzling and ultimately another non-essential entry in the R.E.M. catalog. After a decade in the desert, fans searching for signs of life from the band must still keep wandering. Consisting of two audio discs and one DVD of a 2005 show in Dublin, the release is long on vacuum-of-suck R.E.M. songs and short on the good stuff.

It’s not that the performance itself is bad; even though Stipe’s preening and posing as shown on the DVD gets obnoxious after a while (Michael, we get it already. You’re short, bald, and you wear some sort of makeup mask across your eyes for unknown reasons). As a live act, R.EM. has been around long enough to know what works in a live setting. The songs included are performed well, though few of the renditions stray too far from the album versions. Nevertheless, the album is disappointing for a few reasons.

First, as the first complete R.EM. show to be released on CD, the choice of a concert from 2005 is bizarre. It’s like showing someone a clip of Willie Mays at the end of his career; there could be occasional flashes of brilliance, but mostly it’s old age, bum body parts, and diminished skill. In musical terms, it’s the equivalent of Columbia releasing a Bob Dylan live album that relies entirely on songs from Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, and Under the Red Sky. With all the great shows from the “early days” that circulate on bootleg, the first live R.E.M. should have been something much better.

This release also suffers from the song selection; many Around the Sun stink bombs are included, but no tunes from classic albums Murmur or Fables of the Reconstruction make an appearance. In addition, Reckoning is represented only by the by-rote “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” and only a reworked “Cuyahoga” from Lifes Rich Pageant is performed. I am by no means suggesting that R.E.M. should turn into a nostalgia act and only serve up a platter of the older songs, but when their latest material is the musical equivalent of a steaming turd in the punchbowl, a listener can’t help notice how inferior this material sounds compared to the older stuff.

By no means am I some Luddite who wants the band to record Murmur Part II. If a band doesn’t keep trying new tricks in the studio and performing new material on the road, said band quickly turns into an irrelevant oldies act. The rub of course is that in R.E.M.’s case, the later material simply doesn’t come close to rivaling the brilliance of anything from Chronic Town to New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

It would be easy enough to declare that R.E.M has lost it for good, that fame, money, and comfortable middle age (and the departure of uber-drummer Bill Berry) have plunged the band into an irreversible descent into mediocrity. Let’s face it: every statement of “I’m an R.E.M. fan” is now inevitably quickly followed up by any one of the caveats:

Well, yeah, they seem to have lost something.
I don’t know why Stipe does that paint thing with his face.
Yes, they’re still around. And yes, the last few albums have been kinda lousy.
Please don’t hit me.

But I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. Like many, I’ve been a fan for far too long to believe that the band isn’t capable of again producing challenging and exciting music. Judging by the new songs that the band has performed live recently, there is still reason for R.E.M. fans to remain hopeful that a resurgence is possible. Just don’t expect that resurgence to start with the Live album.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Music Review: Nick Drake's Family Tree, Should I Be Listening To This?

Nick Drake’s posthumous recorded output now surpasses the number of albums he released while on this mortal coil. If the well has not been wrung dry, it’s at least close to being empty of everything except backwash; if any posthumous Drake album is released in the next few years, it most likely will be a duets album with Tupac Shakur.

Family Tree is the latest posthumous Drake release (as of this writing). The album consists primarily of lo-fi (though listenable) recordings from Drake’s parent’s home at Far Leys and recordings made by Drake while studying in France. A duet with Drake’s sister Gabrielle and two songs written and performed by his mother (it’s a family tree, get it?) round out the album. Although most of the songs have long been available on bootleg, this marks the first official release of this material.

It is doubtful that casual Nick Drake fans (if such a thing actually exists) will give this album repeated plays. Many of the tracks are short and unfinished, and the sound is far from perfect. This is, bottom line, an archival piece geared toward hardcore Drake fans. The irony of course is that most such fans have probably heard this material before.

However, this release does have some strengths; for example, it shows Drake at a very early stage in his musical development, before Five Leaves Left had not yet even been recorded. Although early versions of “Way To Blue” and “Day Is Done” from that album are not particularly enlightening, it is nice to hear these early versions, even if they are little more than rough sketches. Another strength of the album is that it reveals Drake’s musical influences at the time, ranging from a bunch of old dead dudes most people probably haven’t heard of (Jackson C. Frank, Blind Boy Fuller, and Robin Frederick), to a living dude who some people have heard of (Bert Jansch), to a living dude everyone has heard of (Bob Dylan). The foundation of the Nick Drake sound (gentle guitar, soft voice, natch) can be heard on this release.

The version of folk standard and Joan Baez-abused “All My Trials” is the most striking performance included. Usually sung as an optimistic ode to liberation, Drake’s performance is quiet, reserved, and defeated. Coupled with Drake’s well documented mental issues and early death, the lyrics “all my trials Lord/will soon be over” take on a far more sinister meaning.

Nevertheless, there is something inherently “dirty” about listening to this release. The listener cannot help but feel a certain amount of guilt in hearing something that was clearly never meant to be heard by anyone outside Drake’s family circle (it’s also possible these recordings had an intended audience of only Drake). Of course, the musician’s tragic death at age 26 adds to this feeling. It’s extremely difficult to approach these songs from outside the context of the musician’s death. At times listening to this album feels like covertly reading a teenage girl’s diary (or blog or e-diary, or whatever kids do nowadays), staring at a woman’s cleavage from across the room, or slowly driving past a car crash.

The commercial release of this album sometimes also smacks of crass opportunism, at a time when Drake’s actual albums are in danger of being buried under an avalanche of mediocre posthumous releases. Drake’s sister Gabrielle even acknowledges as much in the liner notes, written as a letter to her brother: “But now, I am endorsing the publication of an album that I am not at all sure you would have sanctioned.” Like reading the previously released journals of Kurt Cobain, the listener cannot help but sometimes feel like an unwanted intruder when listening to this album. The broader question, which can either be a good one for debate or pure philosophical BS, is whether the general public has a “right” to hear such music. On the one hand, the Nick Drake estate has made the material available for purchase; any blame for whether this album “should” be released could fall squarely of the feet of the Nick Drake estate. On the other hand, many listeners will finish this album and probably feel a little guilty at having listened to it.

Hardcore Drake fans or those lovelorn, melancholy types who still haunt coffeehouses, mumble under their strumming guitars, and stare at their shoes will likely not be disappointed by this release. Those unfamiliar with Nick Drake should still start with Pink Moon and work their way backwards to Bryter Layter and Five Leaves Left. Regardless of how many posthumous Nick Drake releases hit the market, those three albums will remain Drake’s lasting legacy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Suffering from Bruce-lash

Suffering from Bruce-lash
Written by Eric Whelchel
Published October 11, 2007
See also:
» Music Review: Vic Chesnutt - North Star Deserter
» Music Review: Justice - Cross
» Enter to Win : Johnny Fiasco CDs and T-shirts

I’m suffering from an acute case of Brucelash. Springsteen and the "Yeesh They’re Looking Pretty Old Band" (sorry, I mean “the E Street Band”) are seemingly everywhere lately, in support of their recently released and much ballyhooed album, Magic. In the last couple weeks, Bruce and the band have appeared on the Matt Lauer Snarky Time Happy Hour (also known as the Today Show), and Springsteen also appeared on 60 Minutes in a carefully crafted interview that reinforced the familiar Springsteen public persona (portrayal of said musician as an approachable and humorous man-of-the-people despite millionaire status? Check. Musings on what it means to be an American? Check. References to working class background and childhood in New Jersey? Check).

The critical response to the album has been extremely positive. On this very website, several contributors have sung their praises for the album on a few occasions, though I suspect that they might be/could be/maybe could be/just a little bit possibly are somewhat predisposed to like the album regardless of its actual content. Even the usually difficult to please Pitchfork gave the album a positive review, and that website usually saves its most enthusiastic praise for the following: anything Radiohead does, any band that features a Japanese woman sputtering out sentence fragments over music that sounds like a 1980s sitcom theme song, or any band whose name is either a declarative command or could be mistaken for a line of poetry from a female college student. As I checked out the album at a local retail store, a store employee approached me, and in breathless, hushed tones, told me the album was one of the greatest things he’d ever heard. His praise was so excessive I felt like I was holding a sacred relic upon which I should not even look, lest its sacred glow permanently blind my eyes.

Yet I still cannot bring myself to seal the deal and buy the album. I think I know why.

First, all this effusive praise is vaguely familiar: similar plaudits were lauded upon Bruce and the boys when The Rising was released a few years ago. Based on these reviews, I purchased the album and was supremely underwhelmed. Listening to it again recently, what surprised me most is how many of the songs sound dated; they suffer from a production approach that somehow seems both sterile and over-saturated at the same time. Looking back on the album now, I’m convinced the positive response for the album can be attributed to both an initial enthusiastic response to Springsteen and the band releasing an album together after many years away from each other, and, on a more serious note, because the album was seen as one of the earliest artistic works that addressed (however implicitly) the events and after-effects of 9/11.

The second issue that’s preventing me from buying the album and joining the angel band in song is the Santana factor. Let me explain. In 1999, Santana released Supernatural, which was touted as his best album since the Paleolithic era. The album caught on like wildfire. It sold 9,999,999,999,999 copies. It was required listening in grade schools across the country. It won countless awards and was anointed as the most important work of artistry since The Great Gatsby. It landed the musician a soft drink endorsement. It revealed that “the dude from matchbox 20” had an actual name. Everyone was enthralled with Santana, the super-cool aura he exuded, and especially, his truly remarkable porn-stache.

Of course, the mania around Magic has reached nowhere near the level of hysteria for Supernatural. The marketing push given to Springsteen’s album doesn’t come close to the push that Supernatural received (you couldn’t breathe air or fear Y2K in 1999 without seeing Santana on the television or hearing him on the radio). Still, I can’t help but think that some of the touchy-feely humping being thrust upon this album is at least partially a result of a careful marketing plan (select interviews, positive press, and a full-scale arenas-only world tour), and partially the result of many fans’ desire to see Springsteen and the E Street Band back together again, reliving their (here it comes!) glory days.

The final factor that’s currently preventing me from throwing down some baksheesh for this album is the simple fact that I can count the number of Brendan O’Brien-produced albums that I like on approximately, oh, three fingers.

Finger 1: Devils. Finger 2: and. Finger 3: Dust. I will readily admit there are many albums produced by O’Brien that I’ve never heard; I’m sure I’ll get around to checking out Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert by Raging Slab and Waste of Skin by Spike 1000 one of these days. However, of the albums I’ve heard, I’ve always found them overproduced and overpolished. O’Brien’s albums remind me of someone who smiles all the time; sure, it’s reassuring and non-threatening, but after a while, it’s just obnoxious and annoying. Then again, maybe I’m turning into a cranky music snob and cannot see the merits of Drops of Jupiter by Train or Significant Other by Limp Bizkit.

I want to buy Magic, give it a full listen, and say that it’s among Springsteen and the band’s best, on par with Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town. At their best, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are a force capable of making grown men weep, making the sky rain, and making the bad girls go good. I’m sure at some point in the coming weeks my Brucelash will end and I’ll buy the album. But right now I’m having a difficult time convincing myself this thing is something more than, at best, an overrated album, or, at worst, a polished turd whose stink is being masked by critics’ and fans’ enthusiasm to see Springsteen and the band rocking again like it’s 1978.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Music Review: Vic Chesnutt - North Star Deserter

“My soul in its special hell of wet mortal limits/perpetually thirsting,” Vic Chesnutt sings in “Glossolalia,” the second song from his recently released and truly excellent album, North Star Deserter. And that’s one of the more optimistic songs. Over the course of the album, Chesnutt examines themes of loss, decay, and dread, many times from the point of view of either an observer or participant looking back at the sad wreckage. The result is an often harrowing album that is Chesnutt’s best work since About To Choke.

A feeling of resignation runs throughout the album. The characters in these songs, helpless to undo either past events or change the course of their current situations, are resigned to accept the outcome as a foregone conclusion, and with little resistance. In “Everything I Say,” Chesnutt uses the image of a barn (a loaded image that should get psychology fans really hot and bothered) to arrive at a wry and bleak outlook on the past: “The barn fell down/since I saw it last/it’s rubble now/well so much for the past.” The song “Over” is less poetic but shares a similar theme. “It was fun while it lasted/now it’s all blown away/everything blows away someday/everything turns to dust/big ol’ mountains do/as well as everyone of us,” Chesnutt sings.

Cheery stuff, to be sure, yet the songs avoid slipping into overly maudlin or self-pitying nihilistic nonsense. A lot of that can be attributed to Chesnutt’s voice, at times creaky and frail, and at other times steady and confident. Through it all, Chesnutt’s voice carries the authority of someone who’s seen it before and is not bullshitting. Chesnutt also uses his trademark gallows humor to prevent listeners from staring at their shoes and sobbing quietly while listening to the album. “It’s OK, you can take Vioxx/and it’s OK, you can get a quadruple bypass/and then keep on keeping on,” Chesnutt sings in “You Are Never Alone,” perhaps the most sardonic and humorous song he’s recorded since “Little Vacation.”

The most noticeable departure in North Star Deserter from Chesnutt’s previous albums is the sheer amount of loud and aggressive noise that characterizes some of the songs. With collaborations on this album with members of Fugazi and Godspeed! You Black Emperor, perhaps that’s inevitable. “Debriefing,” with its holy-hell racket of guitars and martial drumbeats, should jolt Chesnutt fans who still view him as the solo acoustic folkie who recorded Little. Likewise, “Glossolalia,” with a melody written by (whisper now) indie hero Jeff Mangum, features a wild mix of viola, violin, and cello that sounds like nothing Chesnutt has ever recorded.

North Star Deserter is littered with images of irreversible loss; like some of Chesnutt’s previous albums, it often deals in ugly endings and images. Even the more pastoral songs reach conclusions that are brutal and harsh, and the consolations offered are small. “Tears do evaporate/but oh so slowly like piss on a toilet seat,” Chesnutt sings in “Marathon.” Certainly it is one of Chesnutt’s more challenging albums. It is also one of his best.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Music Review: Bob Dylan - Dylan (Three-CD Compilation)

I’ll be completely honest here: there is absolutely no reason for another Bob Dylan “best of” compilation. Except, of course, for the obvious financial reasons: such packages cost next to nothing for Columbia to produce, there is a considerable segment of Dylan “completists” who will buy every release of Dylan material no matter how many times it has already been repackaged and recycled, and maybe, just maybe, a few new listeners will discover Dylan for the first time. Of course, this last group primarily consists of approximately four people in the United States and a remote band of primitive hunters living in the Andes Mountains who have never heard of Bob Dylan, but no matter. Nearly 120 years after his debut album, Dylan remains one of Columbia’s major cash cows.

The latest Dylan compilation is creatively titled Dylan (and no, it’s not a reissue of that infamous self-sabotaging album released decades ago). The obvious knee-jerk reaction to any such collection is to dismiss it as an easy cash grab, a cynical way for the music label to feast on the musician’s core fan base and their compulsion to either “support the artist” or to own the musician’s complete catalog. In an era where album sales continue to decline and music packages as artifacts are becoming, at best, part of a small niche market, such releases often come across as thoughtless, hasty, and low-cost ways for the record labels to combat these factors, at the expense of the artist’s loyal/dedicated/psychotic/deranged fans. Unfortunately, Dylan fits this bill.

To be fair, this compilation does have some qualities that might justify it as a purchase for those who get all hot and bothered by album packaging, those who are either unfamiliar with Dylan’s work, or those who only own the “classic” Dylan albums, like Blonde On Blonde, Blood On the Tracks, and, um, Empire Burlesque. For example, the deluxe “limited edition” version (in this case, “limited” means “limited to the number of copies Columbia can sell”) has attractive packaging, including a red cloth-covered box, CDs designed like vinyl albums, a nice booklet with decent liner notes and photos, and several postcards. However, it should also be noted that many of the photos seem vaguely familiar to those included in other Dylan compilations and books. And while this packaging is quite good, it is sometimes eerily reminiscent of Scorpio’s glorious Genuine Live 1966 box set. Nothing more than a coincidence I’m sure; Columbia would never “borrow” ideas from scumbag bootleggers. Right?

To Columbia’s credit, the prices set for this release are fairly reasonable; the deluxe version can be had for under $40 (for those without connections, advance copies for review on blog sites require a fair amount of begging, pleading, and soul-selling at a to-remain-nameless retail outlet). In addition, Columbia is also offering a single-disc version at a substantially lower cost. For those who only want to date occasionally for amusement, I suppose.

This is where praise for this compilation ends; the shortcomings and faults are significant and ultimately make this release an overall disappointment and a non-essential release. The first and most obvious drawback is that the majority of these songs have already been made available on previous Dylan greatest hits packages. Sure, many of Dylan’s best songs are represented here (but for chrissakes, why does the god-awful “Silvio” constantly show up on these Dylan compilations, and where is “Visions of Johanna?”), but many of these have been represented on Dylan compilations since Biograph. We can all bow and genuflect and put these songs on the cultural and historical pedestal where they belong, but at the end of the day, “Like a Rolling Stone” sounds the same no matter how many times it’s reissued and repackaged.

The second problem with this release is that some of the song choices are odd at best. Certainly, it is difficult to include all of Dylan’s best songs over three discs. The man has been recording music since William Howard Taft was president, so some omissions are probably unavoidable. Nevertheless, it’s hard to understand why some of the more slight/throwaway songs were included, including the previously-mentioned and loathed “Silvio,” “All I Really Want To Do,” “On a Night Like This,” and my personal least favorite Dylan song included in this compilation, “Everything Is Broken” (which in my vision of Hell is endlessly played on repeat). The remaining songs are all solid choices, though Columbia missed an opportunity to include some of Dylan’s overlooked or more challenging tunes (“Desolation Row” is just one example).

The final and biggest flaw with this release is that all three discs contain nothing but previously-released material. This is why Dylan fans who have been held by their ankles and had their pants pockets turned inside out by Columbia time and time again can rightly piss and moan about Dylan. In addition, the argument that this release is best for new Dylan fans also seems specious at best; most of the songs included can easily be found on other still-in-print compilations, at a similar or lower price.

With the massive amount of quality unreleased Dylan material that currently only circulates among the dedicated hoard of Dylan collectors and traders, it is difficult to make a rational argument that justifies another Dylan compilation such as this one. Although Columbia has in recent years improved in documenting and releasing archival Dylan material through its Bootleg Series release, there remains a staggering discrepancy between such releases and the color-by-numbers Dylan compilations that are still in print. Hardcore Dylan fans are by and large a collective hungry beast; they devour Dylan material like vultures to a rotting carcass. There have been enough Dylan compilations; now is as good a time as any for Columbia to focus on Dylan material that isn’t already officially available.

Both hardcore Dylanphiles and casual Dylan fans will likely already have these songs in their music collections. Fancy packaging and pretty pictures aside, it’s hard to recommend Dylan for purchase, despite the reasonable price tag. With so much unreleased Dylan material still locked in the vaults or only available via non-official routes, another easy compilation of previously-released material comes across as nothing more than a quick cash grab.