Howard F. Weiner

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thank You John Hammond

Happy Anniversary Bob!
I'm out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin' a road other men have gone down
 Few men have walked down as many roads as Bob Dylan. Those lines sung at the beginning of "Song to Woody" capture the essence of the twenty year-old artist, and as Dylan prepares to launch the twenty-fifth year of his Never Ending Tour in Brazil next month, those words still ring true. Dylan's got that restless fever burning in his brain 50 years after his debut album for Columbia Records was released on March 19, 1962.

Fortunately, John Hammond had the audacity to sign an unproven folk talent to a major label, because this self-titled album gives us yet another side of Dylan. With its breathless mixture of folk and blues, the album is a snapshot of an artist in a state of becoming at breakneck speed. In those days Dylan did everything quick. He thought quick, sang quick, learned quick, played quick and recorded quick. Bob Dylan was recorded in two sessions in November 1961.

 "Song to Woody" is the masterpiece that emerged from those sessions. Oddly, this fabulous tribute never made an appearance on any of Dylan's  greatest hits albums. It's one of the first songs that Bob wrote, but it's the heartfelt performance that makes "Song to Woody" come alive. The singing is honest and attentive. This is a twenty year-old kid paying tribute to his dying idol straight from the heart. It has a timeless feel. A heightened sense of excitement strikes me every time I hear it. In that regard it reminds me of "Mr. Tambourine Man."
"You're No Good," the opening track of Bob Dylan, is a freewheeling blues blast that sets up "Talkin' New York," Dylan's account on his first year in The City. In reality, New York was very kind to Dylan, but that doesn't work in the talkin' blues format. However, through his own experience, Dylan tuned into the universal struggle of the hungry artist arriving on the island of  Manhattan. Whether it was his intention or not, Dylan already had a knack for expressing thoughts for the "countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse."

The rest of the album is a hoot. Dylan's singing and harp playing on "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" is delightful. I hear shades of what's to come  on Nashville Skyline. On "Highway 51" we hear the classic blues riff that Dylan would use on "It's Alright Ma." Throughout this record Dylan's passion for the blues is on display, a passion that would dominate every album since Time Out of Mind."House of the Rising Sun" and "Man of Constant Sorrow" are  intense performances that confirm Dylan was a master student of American Roots music at the age of twenty.

 Happy anniversary Bob! Thank you John Hammond.


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