by Tony Attwood
In 2001 Bob had given us 12 new songs. The following year we got one, and then nothing until the masterpiece of Tell Ol’ Bill in 2005. And then in the months covering the end of the year and into 2006 we got the next album.
I’m merging these songs at the end of 2005 and into 2006 into one group because I simply can’t find reliable dates as to when the songs were written but I do get the impression anything written in 2005 from this set was written at the end of the year and more than likely re-worked in the studio in 2006.
Also I don’t really have a clear idea of the order in which the songs were written, so I can do nothing but list them in terms of the order they appear on the album. This won’t be right, but there’s no other order to take.
What we have here primarily is a set of songs based on other people’s work, some successfully amended, others rather forced. “Thunder on the Mountain”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin”, “When the Deal Goes Down”, “Working Man’s Blues No 2”, “Beyond the Horizon” “Levee’s Gonna Break” – they all come from elsewhere. Even “Nettie Moore”. is taken from a song from the Carter Family, but here something quite different emerges.
There’s also a fair sprinkling of Ovid in the songs and as with Thunder on the Mountain a notion that the world is incomprehensible but hey lets have a great time singing and playing – a feeling that seems to be behind quite a few of the songs.
The styles change: Spirit on the water contains elements of Sony Boy Williamson turned into a gentle and relaxed dance hall ballad while Rollin and Tumblin has Bob sitting down studying “The Art of Love.” It’s all a bit mixed – like an old man picking books off the shelves in his library at random, each one bringing a totally different message and memory which he dips into for a while before moving on.
As for Working Man’s Blues #2 as I said in the review “Some find Working Man’s Blues of overwhelming import in the Dylan canon, others such as Heylin don’t.” I don’t either and nor do I with Beyond the Horizon which is just a lifted song – and for me not a very successful one But then out of nowhere pops Nettie Moore.
We are still with Dylan taking lines from old traditional songs, but as he himself said, this time they are not “Not just a bunch of random verses.” It is one of his classics. If he’d written it straight after the “Man in the Long Black Cloak” it wouldn’t have sounded out of place.
This “borrowing” that goes on through the album is sometimes quite freaky – as when we find Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie plus Ovid putting together what is a set of random verses. And maybe that was the point as Ain’t talkin’ ends with the statement that “There’s no one here.” That’s how it seems.
I can agree with others that Huck’s Tune would have fitted into the album, and could have improved it overall, but Dylan decided otherwise. And he’s the boss.
So Nettie Moore does stand out for me as the song of the year, and I’m grateful to Bob for his “random verses” comment, because I’ve felt the same about many of his songs over the decades. Not that there is anything wrong in that – the hallway of my house is dominated by a giant Jackson Pollock print which is itself a collection of random lines. Being random is ok. Mixing Ovid and the blues is ok. But still the lines have to talk to us, and these don’t always do that – at least (as I keep saying) not for me.
Thus yes, the song of the year must be Nettie Moore, but I can always spare a moment for Thunder on the Mountain, not least because quite often that is how the world seems to be as I get older: utterly incomprehensible.
What else is on the site
1: Over 400 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here. A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.