Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dylan's studio albums ranked


I tried to love each of these recordings like they were my own children

Dylan’s greatest studio albums

Tier 1: albums 1-4… the four greatest albums ever…we’re not worthy

Tier 2: albums 5-20… masterpieces that demand to be listened to start to finish… they all would appear in my top fifty albums of all-time…in my mind their rankings are not set in stone, if I revisit this list six months from now I could flip-flop many of these choices

Tier 3: albums20-29…chock full of gripping material, but some blemishes

Tier 4: albums 30-32…a chore to listen to

1. Highway 61 Revisited – If I were using a ten point scoring system to judge these recordings, this would be the only Bo Derek. Every song, lyric, word, chord and note is perfect. The sequence of songs makes it absolutely compelling start to finish – which is no small task considering it commences with the greatest song ever. Dylan’s at the top his game in every aspect. I knew it was his best album right from the first time I heard Tombstone Blues on the heels of Like a Rolling Stone. Every listen to this is exhilarating, it’s timeless. There are few things in this world I have an absolute 100% conviction in, but here’s one - Highway 61 Revisited is the peak artistic achievement of Western Civilization…. Most Underrated song: From a Buick Six

2. Bringing It All Back Home – In 1965 Dylan needed a dump truck to unload his head. The unloading started here. Side two features one man armed with a guitar and harmonica performing four compositions that brought the world of song to a new level. Are there better political songs than It’s Alright Ma, better poetry in music than Mr. Tambourine Man or more poignant love songs than She Belongs to Me or Love Minus Zero? Is there another album that has as many quotable phrases? Answers: negative. Much praise has been bestowed upon this American treasure and yet we still may not fully appreciate its majesty… Most underrated song: Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream

3. Blood on the Tracks – On an early spring morning in 1987 I heard this for the first time. By the time I finished listening to Idiot Wind, I came to the realization that Dylan was in a league by himself. I proceeded to go out and purchase every tape in Dylan’s catalog over the next month. This music cuts to the bone – it’s the most honest portrayal of relationships in song. Lilly, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts is the only song that doesn’t blow me away…Most underrated song: Buckets of Rain

4. Blonde on Blonde – The best eight songs here can go head to head with Highway 61. Visions of Johanna, Stuck Inside of Mobile and Just like a Woman are so overwhelming - they give the album an unbalanced feeling. Sides one and two are clearly stronger than three or four. However, ranking this as the fourth greatest album in the history of music isn’t much of a slight…Most underrated song: Temporary like Achilles.

5. Desire - Mysticism, spirituality, injustice, protest, romance, life and death intersect with a cast of restless characters that include gypsies, lovers, outlaws and heroes to give you a snapshot of Dylan’s chaotic and fascinating life in the mid 70’s. Since his 1975 – ’76 Rolling Thunder Tour, Dylan rarely plays any of these tunes. Desire doesn’t have the elasticity and timeless qualities of the albums ahead of it on this list, but that’s one of its endearing qualities. This collection of songs always brings you back to the same time and place. It’s all pulled together by a driven acoustic sound highlighted by the distinctive melodies of Scarlet Rivera on violin. There’s nothing like Desire…Most underrated song: Joey

6. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – There may be some flaws, but this album gave birth to A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Masters of War, Blowin in the Wind, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and Girl From the North Country, so it has to secure a top spot on this list. Bob Dylan, welcome to the songwriting Hall of Fame after your second record. A guilty pleasure of mine is I Shall Be Free… Most Underrated song: Bob Dylan’s Dream

7. Oh Mercy! – This is where some of you might start scratching your head, but this is a subjective list. Whatever the term Dylanesque means, I think Daniel Lanois helped Bob reach that place on this record. Everything fits perfectly from the moody, dark performances to the sequence of songs. Even though Dylan wasn’t thrilled with the results, he wrote at length about it in Chronicles, so it’s important to him in some way. Few albums draw me in start to finish like Oh Mercy! Ring Them Bells and Man in the Long Black Coat back to back are immense…Most underrated song: What Good Am I?

8. John Wesley Harding – Dylan stopped pushing so hard. On most of his works preceding this, he attempted to create something fresh and exciting, usually succeeding. On JWH, the acoustic troubadour finds a middle ground with the rock star as Dylan manages to combine surreal imagery with traditional folk ballads. I hear this as an amalgamation of everything he had done while pointing towards his immediate future with the last two country influenced tracks. This is a strange brew of songs that works well together and has aged like a fine wine…Most underrated song: As I Went out One Morning.

9. Infidels – Why didn’t Dylan include the best songs from these sessions, Blind Willie Mc Tell or Foot of Pride on Infidels? The answer is irrelevant for this list. Infidels is what it is, a great rock-and-roll performance and a masterpiece. When I initially caught Dylan fever I listened to this repeatedly. Mark Knofler and Mick Taylor’s guitar licks are sublime. Jokerman is a classic and it all sounds good to me. I even like the much maligned Neighborhood Bully, Dylan doesn’t have to be politically correct for me…Most underrated song: Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight.

10. Modern Times – If Dylan starts lifting lines from LL Cool J or Adam Sandler movies I’ll be concerned. America’s greatest songwriter borrows lines from blues legends, classic movies, 19th century poets, and the bible and mixes them together with ideas he has gathered from coincidence to create something wonderful and unique. The music and vocals are warm and relaxed. Nettie Moore captures the essence of who Dylan is as an artist in the year 2006. Ain’t Talkin’ and Working Man’s Blues are instant classics. Modern Times begs for love.…Most underrated song: Beyond the Horizon

11. Planet Waves – An unfairly overlooked album. The Band’s playing and Dylan’s vocals were at their peak on Planet Waves. This is my favorite collection of Dylan love songs with a few hints of the turmoil to come on Blood on the Tracks. Tough Mama is one of my all-time favorites – never understood why the critics didn’t embrace Planet Waves enthusiastically. Most underrated song: Something There is About You

12. Time out of Mind – Dylan finally wins a Grammy Award for album of the year with his twelfth best. Dylan’s songwriting genius shines, but I prefer the sound and performances on Love & Theft and Modern Times. TOOM really builds a head of steam from the fourth song on. Love Sick, Tryin’ To Get to Heaven, Not Dark Yet, and Highlands are major works. Most underrated song: Can’t Wait

13. Slow Train Coming – Thank you Jesus. You don’t have love the message to be moved by the incredible spirit of the music. There’s nothing ambiguous about what Dylan had to say here, yet there’s still something transcendent about Slow Train. Dylan travels a new road – the passion and energy are palpable. This recording comes at an intriguing point in American and Dylan history. Most underrated Song: Precious Angel

14. Love & Theft – Some may say it started with TOOM, but I feel Dylan, the elder statesmen of American music, commences here. In the sixties he pushed music into new realms. On L&T he tries to return music back to it roots in distinctive fashion. The mix of musical styles is satisfying, but there are a couple of performances that don’t agree with me or else it might have landed in the top ten. You gotta love Mississippi and High Water. Most underrated song: Bye and Bye

15. Street Legal - Starting with the mysterious Senor and ending with the epic Where Are You Tonight?, side two is brilliant. Throughout Street Legal we hear a disillusioned legend, feel his pain and see his scars. It was a rough period for Dylan personally, but it makes for great art. The first half of this album sounds a tad awkward, yet it has its moments. You haven’t experienced Street Legal unless you own the remastered version. Most underrated song: True Love Tends to Forget

16. Another Side of Bob Dylan – If I were to rate albums based strictly on songwriting quality and importance, this would rate higher. But I love interactions between musicians and a fuller sound than one man with a guitar and harmonica. Chimes of Freedom blows my mind. I have a predilection for these recordings that pave the way for Dylan’s upcoming creative outbursts. Ballad in Plain D is another guilty pleasure of mine. Most underrated song: Spanish Harlem Incident

17. The Basement Tapes: It’s not easy for me to rank this one. These are intimate conversations which were never meant to be released and contain certain songs that were dominated by The Band. However, this album produced numerous classics that would be reworked and covered for years to come. There’s also a fascinating chemistry between Dylan and The Band that was captured and will never be duplicated. Most underrated song: Yeah Heavy and a Bottle of Bread

18. The Times They Are A-Changin’ – I can’t put my finger on it, but I’ve never loved the sound of the first side. There’s some clever songwriting there, but I don’t crave listening to it. The flip side is as good as it gets in every way. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll is remarkable. Forty plus years after the crime, the song is still relevant thanks to the chorus…Most underrated song: Only a Pawn in Their Game

19. Under the Red Sky – I wasn’t impressed with my first fifteen listens, but this Don Was production keeps growing on me. I now regard Under the Red Sky as a masterpiece. This is one case where Dylan went into the studio without much focus, but the magic spilled out onto the recording. Cats in the Well and God Knows are powerful tunes that feature some of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s last studio licks. The title track is a charming delight. 2 X 2 is the only composition that doesn’t cut the mustard…Most underrated song: Handy Dandy (I wish Dylan would play this live, it would sound great now that he’s organ-grinding.)

20. Nashville Skyline – Dylan sings loves praises in sugar-coated rhymes for 27 easy going minutes. I listen to this CD a lot. From the opening duet of Girl of the North Country with Johnny Cash through the piece de resistance Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You, Dylan’s performances are irresistible. It’s the least demanding album from Dylan’s oeuvre on the listener. Nashville Skyline is the last work I put in the masterpiece category… Most underrated song: I Threw It All Away

21. Empire Burlesque – I think Bruce Springsteen said something to the effect that if somebody else released Empire Burlesque he would be labeled a genius and the next Bob Dylan. There’s a little too much female back-up singing and an overproduced 80’s sound, but Empire has several numbers I love. Seeing the Real You At Last and I’ll Remember you excite me. Dylan never lost his ability to write or perform in the 80’s, he just failed to properly convert his genius in the studio… Most underrated song: Something’s Burning Baby

22. Saved – It took a while, but I’ve warmed up to this album. There’s several outstanding tracks led by Solid Rock. Dylan sounds a little too comfortable – no real sparks fly on this record. Saved has a serene spiritual quality – perfect listening for a Sunday afternoon…Most underrated song: Saving Grace

23. New Morning – A hodge-podge of fun songs that’s especially strong up front. As a whole this album doesn’t thrill me, it’s lacking something – maybe it needs one five minute classic tucked in somewhere. Most underrated song: Day of the Locusts

24. Shot of Love – With Every Grain of Sand as its foundation, this should have been much better. There’s some remarkable songwriting here, but there’s a lack of warmth in the performances. The music doesn’t fire me up. Lenny Bruce is a hoot…Most underrated song: In the Summertime

25. Knocked out Loaded – This has been a punching bag for too long. The studio production is awful, but I dig every song except I’ve Got My Mind Made Up. Dylan’s vocals are alive, You Wanna Ramble and Precious Memories are solid covers, and Brownsville Girl is a gem… Most underrated song ever: Maybe Someday

26. Bob Dylan – Albums comprised of mostly covers don’t fair too well on this list. There’s nothing about Dylan’s debut I don’t like. It does a nice job of capturing what he must have sounded like in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village. Song to Woody is heroic – not a bad debut composition! There a lot of satisfying down and dirty folk/ blues here…Most underrated song…See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

27. Down in the Groove – My first album after converting to Dylanism. The opening and closing pairs of covers are sweet. Things sag in the middle with the exception of Silvio. The lyrics were written by Robert Hunter for and possibly about Dylan. Silvio went on to be a nice concert staple for many years. I recognize the faults here and as long as I skip a few songs, I enjoy listening to it…Most underrated song…Shenandoah

28. Word Gone Wrong…Although it’s all covers, it’s a nice cohesive work. Word Gone Wrong, Love Henry, and Blood in My Eyes are the strongest offerings. I greeted this with some apprehension at first, but I now dig it. It’s superior to As Good As I Been To You…Most underrated song: Two Soldiers

29. Dylan (1973) – These outtakes from Self Portrait might be better than that debacle. There’s some weak stuff on this never to meant to be released album. However, I love Mr. Bojangles and Spanish is the Loving Tongue. Another guilty pleasure of mine is I Can’t Help Falling in Love. The quality of the song arrangements on most of these numbers are solid…Most underrated song: Lilly of the West

30. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid: It’s almost unjust having to include this on the list. It’s a soundtrack for a movie, not really a full complete work of art. Sure it produced Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, but I favor most other versions over this one…Most underrated song: Billy 1

31. Self Portrait: Dylan succeeded in putting out a crappy album which was his goal here. I find it difficult to listen to this in one sitting (I can’t eat all that stuff in a single bite). Bits and pieces are digestible. Even at his least inspired, Dylan still produced some interesting and quirky jingles…Most underrated song: Early Morning Rain

32. As Good As I Been To You – 1991 was brutal year for me as a Dylan fan after seeing his Grammy debacle and a pair of awful summer concerts. I was hoping this 1992 album would excite me. Dylan’s vocal performance is dreadful, I loathe his voice here. The collection of covers is interesting, but this recording catches Dylan at his singing nadir. I tried liking this many years later, still nothing…Most underrated song: Froggie Went a Courtin’ (he did ride ah ha)

Monday, December 25, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006


PART III: BEST OF THE REST: 2006 Zimmy Awards

Best road trip: Memphis

SRV'S axe at the Rum Boogie Cafe...... Sailing the Mississippi River:destination Memphis

Day 1

I arrived in Memphis on Sunday afternoon and headed straight for Beale St. I dined on some swordfish while checking out a band called 2 Weeks Notice at the King’s Palace. Armed with a super-sized cup of brew, I browsed the shops for odd pieces of music memorabilia. Later on I checked out bands at W.C. Handy Park, B.B. King’s and the Rum Boogie CafĂ©. I spent the remainder of the night feasting on inexpensive barbequed animals while guzzling booze.

Day 2

After an atrocious breakfast, I boarded a cable car bound for Sun Records Studio to pay homage to Johnny and Elvis. In the afternoon I checked in with the ghost of Otis Redding over at the Stax Museum. It’s not in the best part of town, but it’s my favorite Memphis attraction. While I was standing where these legends made history, the Dylan road show was unloading their set up at the Orpheum Theatre at the corner of Beale and Main. It was pint night over at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium which was located around the corner from the Orpheum. The beer goddesses were voluptuous and the Pauliner’s were two dollars, but I eventually staggered over to the Orpheum. Dylan made his own musical history with brilliant versions of She Belongs to Me, Positively 4th St. and Hard Rain. In a delirious post-concert state, I stumbled down to Alfred’s on Beale where I performed a stellar karaoke rendition of Like a Rolling Stone. My memory of the rest of the night is a little fuzzy.

Day 3

On another beautiful April in Memphis day, I sailed the mighty Mississippi in the Riverboat Queen. At the Dylan concert that night, he played three songs that referenced boats, captains, and the Mississippi River. I can see why Henry De Soto decided to stop off in here in 1541. On this night at the majestic Orpheum, Dylan played a completely different set from the night before highlighted by Don’t Think Twice and Blind Willie Mc Tell. I saw Dylan at Auto Zone Ballpark in downtown Memphis in 2005. I can’t wait to return.

Otis Redding in the House......................... Soulsville, USA

Best Performance of a Modern Times song: 11-18-06 Nettie Moore and 11-20-06 Ain’t Talkin’ – Dylan’s vocals on Nettie Moore were sweeter with each passing version. Ain’t Talkin’ had a huge debut on the last show of the tour. It was impressive bordering on spectacular.

Worst Performance of a Modern Times Song: 11-13-06: Spirit on the Water – it was a wretched rendition, bleeding awful. The band went into an eight minute coma while Dylan tried to find the right key to sing in. I like the way this song fits on Modern Times, but in concert it’s a rotting carcass.

Out of the Dog House Award: 11-13-06 Honest with Me – The new arrangement sparkled, shining a light on the great lyrics.

Best Opener: 4-07-06 Things Have Changed, 11-18-06 When the Levee Breaks and 10-16-06 Lenny Bruce – All were surprises and well played. I can’t believe Bob waited till the end of the tour to break out the Levee.

Oh No, Not Again award: 11-20-06 Summer Days – Once I heard the inevitable opening lick, I stepped into the lobby of the New York City Center, ordered a double scotch on the rocks and started punching myself in the head.

Best Encore: 11-20-06 Ain’t Talkin’/ Thunder on the Mountain/ Like a Rolling Stone – Probably the best encore I’ve ever seen. Dylan saved the day reviving a sputtering show.

Best Rock-and Roll Performance by a Cowboy Band: 11-09-06 – the whole set

Comeback of the Year: 11-16-06 Simple Twist of Fate – First time I saw this since 1989 and it was better than ever.

Best Down-singing: 4-24-06 She Belongs to Me - You gotta love Dylan's vocal inflections

Best Up-singing: 4-24-06 Positively 4th St. -I didn't realize I had tickets to see Pavarotti.

Check out parts I and II for best concerts and performances

Thursday, December 21, 2006


TALES OF A COWBOY BAND: 2006 Zimmy Awards

Part 2: Best Concerts (Based on the twelve I witnessed)

1) 11-16-06…Continental Arena East Rutherford, New Jersey… Bob decided to kick the festivities off with a pair of my favorites, Cats in the Well and Senor. Those are two of his most underrated songs from the underappreciated albums Under the Red Sky and Street Legal. Bob was electric as his arms and legs were flailing all over the place – he looked like a cat getting busy in his litterbox. On a stormy Jersey night, Dylan struck with a kinetic Rollin’ and Tumblin’ setting the stage for the hard-hitting screeds to come.

Positively 4th St. was back to its old viscous self, much different than the sarcastic version from Memphis in April, yet still succulent. I usually fear hearing the apathetic and overplayed new arrangement of It’s Alright Ma, but on the heels of Fourth St. it was a sweet rhapsody. After Dylan hosed the faithful down mid ‘60’s style, he applied a soothing balm with the spanking-new When the Deal Goes Down. Mr. Denny Freeman provided some sparkling Wes Montgomery like leads as the band cooked all night. However, Bob was so commanding, it was hard to focus on anything or anybody else.

In the seventh spot, Bob went Hollywood as he engaged his peeps with Things Have Changed. Something about this Meadowlands Sports Complex gets Bob’s blood boiling. He played Earth – shattering gigs here with the Grateful Dead on 7-12-87 and with his best NET band on 11-13-99. What is it about East Rutherford? This place is an amalgamation of highways, swamps and rancid industrial pollution. For me, this is the birth place of the Never Ending Tour – thanks to Dylan’s amazing breakthrough performance here in 1987 which was easily the best of his mini-tour with Dead. Possibly, Bob gets sentimental thinking about his excursions to see Woody in Jersey back in 1961. Anyway, Dylan was pumped to be performing his Oscar winning song that has become a rare treat. His vocals burst forth with soulful flavor as the band did some call and response improvisation that was scintillating. The out-of-control momentum swept right into the following Simple Twist of Fate that I enthusiastically embraced in my best performances of 2006 rant. These first eight selections from Bob and his Cowboy Band had everything you could possibly want from a night on the town.

Dylan followed a similar script from this tour during his final eight songs. Though there were no surprises, the sustained energy surged throughout. Tangled up in Blue featured a creative harp solo that had the arena buzzing. Two more Modern Times numbers cemented this night as show of the year. Nettie Moore was gripping as Bob lovingly crooned his new classic, vocally exploring every nook and cranny. A romping Thunder on the Mountain prior to Rolling Stone/ Watchtower made the encores much more appetizing on this tour. Cherish the first disc of this show!

2) 4-07-06 Aladdin Theatre, Las Vegas, Nevada…My first Dylan excursion of 2006 was one I’ll never forget. As I made my way into the Aladdin, I was hoping Bob would mix up his set lists a little bit because the first four evenings of the tour featured almost identical shows. Just observing Bob storm the stage that night, I knew things would change. Perched behind his silver organ, he barely made eye contact with audience as he tended to business like Joe Montana on the day of the big game.

Things Have Changed was served up for the first time as an opener and coupled with The Times They Are A-Changin’. The young revolutionary Bob Dylan came face to face with the more cynical elder statesmen in a timeless display of superb art. Bob’s vocals were authoritative and turned up loud. The fresh sounds emanating from his organ were spooky yet set a carnival like atmosphere. A haunting version of It Ain’t Me Babe in the fourth spot had the hair on the back of my neck standing. Two songs later Dylan pulled off the best Love Sick I had heard since Soy Bomb burst on the scene at the ’98 Grammy Awards. Freeman put an exclamation point on this version with a longer than usually solo that was a touch creepy. The first half of this show could work in a soundtrack of a stalker movie.

Down the home stretch Bob played Ballad of a Thin Man and I Don’t Believe You side by side, just like he did 40 years earlier in Europe. I was pleased to see the fascinating new arrangement of Cold Irons Bound that was unleashed on Vegas. The thrashing version from recent tours was decompressed without lessening the song’s impact. Anything was possible – the entire twelve song set was different from the previous night and eleven songs were making their tour debuts. Cat’s in the Well was another shock to the senses in its role as set ender. Bob howled, “Goodnight my love/ May the Lord have Mercy on us all” and then just disappeared into the darkness. He came back for the typical encores, but my head was still spinning from that 12 song presentation. The performances were above average throughout, but it was the audacity of Dylan’s performance that touched me. On this night he was a disturber of the peace – that scores big points with yours truly.

3) We have a tie…4-24-06 The Orpheum Theatre Memphis, Tennessee and 8-27-06 Manchester, New Hemisphere…Dylan’s first tour of ‘06 featured three distinct set lists with each one only varying by a song or two on a nightly basis. The most commonly played show was the one that started with Maggie’s Farm and was followed by a revamped She Belongs to Me. The Memphis show on April 24 was the best performed of these typical Maggie’s Farm shows with two awe-inspiring differences.

Believe it or not, the Maggie’s Farm was a standout performance. Dylan’s swirling organ sound gave this overplayed war horse a psychedelic vibe. Freeman nailed two succinct guitar jams paving the way for She Belongs to Me which featured Dylan’s new vocal inflections (down – singing). All of these versions I’ve heard from April and May are worthy of high praise. Fine renditions of Queen Jane Approximately and the overhauled Till I Fell in Love with You kept things moving in the right direction.

As described in my Best Performances of 2006 screed, the Positively 4th St. was larger-than-life, one of the most memorable moments of the Never Ending Tour for me. A herky-jerky adventure down Highway 61 ensued. Dylan’s organ sounded like a steaming teapot as the band drastically altered the volume and tempo of the song with incredible skill. Dylan landed the knockout blow with his eleventh song by playing the only A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall of the tour. Hearing those lyrics flow in that grand venue in the historic city of Memphis was heavenly. The next evening in Memphis had a more desirable set list, but after consulting the audio tapes, 4-24-06 takes third place.

8-27-06 Manchester, New Hemisphere…I was beginning to get weary of these Summer Tours in Minor League Ballparks. Three consecutive summers of fighting through general admission crowds consisting of local yokels was dampening my spirits. The only thing to dampen me in Manchester was the steady rain that increased in intensity by the hour. I stayed at the hotel which was part of the ballpark. A Major League hitter jacked up on steroids could have easily launched a tater through my window. After staying dry with college friends at the hotel, I ponied-up for a $40 long-sleeve Dylan shirt and a three dollar poncho. I can’t recall the last time I stood in torrential rains for an entire concert, but this turned out to be an unexpected pleasure.

The rains scared off many paying customers. Towards the end of the show just an intimate gathering of 1000 screwballs were huddled around the stage. Instead of being disappointed by the meek turnout, Dylan paid homage to us. The ceremony began with a Cat’s in the Well/ You Ain’t Going Nowhere salute. I have a perverse predilection for that feline tune. As things progressed, we joined Dylan for a Just Like a Woman sing-a-long. If it wasn’t pouring so damn hard we could have started a campfire and had a marshmallow roast. Adding to the surreal scenery, planes from the nearby airport would occasionally emerge from a cloud hovering over the stage. The highlight of the set was a poignant A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. Of the 12 shows I saw, I was lucky to catch two Hard Rains. Dylan was incredibly animated shooting pistol salutes at the giddy crowd that remained. A night of fiery performances was topped off by a hilarious gesture from Dylan. As the band lined up behind their leader to receive their final ovation, Bob removed his ten gallon hat and pretended to pull out some kind of magic dust or seeds and feinted sprinkling them on the audience. Dylan, the band, and his followers were smiling ear to ear. Johnny Appleseed strikes again!

Enlarge to see Johnny Appleseed

getting ready for the show 8-27-06

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


TALES OF A COWBOY BAND: 2006 Zimmy Awards

In 2006 I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Bob Dylan perform 12 times. This broke my previous watershed marks of 11 in 2005 and 10 in 1989. If you want to read longer screeds, I have full length reviews posted on the Bob Links page for each show I attended. Here’s the best of 2006 based on my perspective from those concerts

Part 1: Best Performances of 2006

Gold Medal – “Desolation Row” Portland, Maine 11-09-06…You might have to go back to Europe 1966 to hear a version this stunning. It commences sounding like a religious service as Dylan lays down some naked organ sounds and clearly proclaims, “They’re selling postcards of the hanging.” Bob’s annunciation and vocal phrasing was remarkable throughout this eleven minute masterpiece. After the first chorus, Stu Kimball aggressively strummed the song’s signature acoustic guitar chord progression. Denny Herron and Denny Freeman pull off some stunning improvisation between Dylans’s singing, starting with the third verse. Denny would play a four note lead with Donnie repeating the same melody slightly delayed, giving the music an echoing mind left body effect. This doodling met with Dylan’s approval as he involved himself in the cat and mouse game during the instrumental breaks. This version was so fresh that I felt like I was sniffing drainpipes for the first time.

Silver Medal – “Positively 4th St”. Orpheum Theatre, Memphis, Tennessee 4-24-06…There’s nothing like it, this is something only Bob Dylan can generate. A couple of lines into this venomous 1965 classic Dylan began to creatively use his staggering vocal inflections (up-singing). Impressed with his singing technique, Dylan began to do it after each line until it started happening rhythmically on every third word. He delivered a message suggesting that the anger his lyrics were expressing were so outrageous, it was comical. At the time, I was smiling so hard my face was hurting. As a listener just when you thought Bob was settling into some kind of vocal pattern he pulled the rug out from under you. The band playfully tried to mimic their leader during the instrumentals. Dylan brought it home with a sublime harp solo. The awe of this performance was the knowledge that you were witnessing Dylan having a great time in-the-moment and you were observing something that could never be duplicated. Moments like this are why I put my life on hold, pack my bags and head off to see “The Bob Dylan Show.”

Bronze Medal – “Simple Twist of Fate” 11-16-06 Continental Arena, East Rutherford, N.J…The timing for this bronze medal winner was perfect. “Things Have Changed” preceeded “Fate” and was in contention for this spot. As the eighth song of the night, “Twist of Fate” benefited from the tidal wave of momentum created on this stormy Jersey evening. It was the last song I expected, but nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. I hadn’t seen this since the G.E. Smith era back in 1989. Many of Dylan’s acoustic gems from his back pages have had bumpy transitions as they are rearranged by the mad scientist behind his organ. However, Simple Twist of Fate was recreated tastefully. Bob and his Cowboy Band conveyed this with tender-loving care. Dylan’s coarse vocals worked well thanks to his attentive phrasing. His lush organ melodies added texture to this sparkling rendition. Denny and Donnie added perfect brush strokes with their solos before Dylan closed out the deal with a feathery harp solo that flowed like leaves falling from trees.

Saturday, December 9, 2006


Here I am on the morning of April 7, 2006 in a memorabilia shop next to the Alladin Theatre. I had just purchased a signed copy of Blood on the Tracks (hopefully that's Dylan's real signature). That night was the start of an amazing journey. It was the first of 12 Dylan concerts that I would catch this year. If you enlarge this picture you'll notice several American icons:
on my shirt - Sly Stone
to my right - Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
to my extreme right - Jack Nicholson
northwest of me - Mel (blame it on the Jews) Gibson
on top of my head - Jim Lampley?


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