Bob Dylan’s songs of 2008/9: It’s all good, if you hear what he’s saying.

by Tony Attwood

Bob had written nothing since the collection of songs of 2005/6 when he started up again with Life is Hard in 2008; a slow movie song that had no connection with the rest of the songs that were to follow.

And normally such a song (even if it were a masterpiece like Tell Ol Bill) would be left to be picked up in the Bootleg series, but these were not normal times, and I suspect Bob had a lack of songs to offer up for his next album.  If there was to be a next album.

Indeed in this period of writing, the first two songs were quite separate from the rest because they were written by Dylan alone.  The rest were co-compositions, and I think one can tell the difference straight away.

Indeed for me, (and this as always is a totally personal view) the first two songs we find written over this timespan are much inferior to what follows.  Bob really did need a co-writer, to get going.

The first song of the new year – This Dream of You –  has an accompaniment that sounds as if it is in keeping with the rest of the songs on the album, and it does make use of the accordion, which is such a feature of what happens thereafter, but it is a slow piece without the distinctive blues that was the hallmark of the rest of 2006.  For me it really doesn’t work, and actually shouldn’t be on the album – but I suspect a lack of alternatives meant that this song and “Life is Hard” had to be there to make up the number.

And then, suddenly with the two composers working together, we get an explosion of songwriting in its own particular style.

Indeed if you ever have an inclination so to do, play the songs of this period in the order of composition, and you’ll see how those first two are quite separate, but the rest truly are connected.

Thus we start out the main roll out of music with  Beyond here lies nothing – and suddenly we have a complex instrumentation with the blues – even the first line “Oh I love you pretty baby,” tells us exactly what sort of music we are going to be hearing.

Then My wife’s home town offers us a slow blues “I just want to say that hell’s my wife’s home town”  Just how low down do you want to get?

But it picks up again, with If you ever go to Houston  a swinging blues which plays a little trick at the opening so we are not sure what key we are in to begin – but the message is clear – if you ever go to Houston, keep your hands in your pockets.  (I’ve never been so I can’t say).

Forgetful Heart is the closest to Life is Hard in this part of the collection but it has infinitely more power, and then Jolene – with its classic bouncy blues riff.  Indeed throughout these songs you really do know where you are.  I mean if a song starts, “I got the blues for you baby when I look at the sun,” you just know.

And then something odd happened.  In I feel a change coming on Bob and the guys changed it, we move away from the 12 bars and it almost feels like an attempt to try to reclaim the land of This Dream of You only faster.  It’s almost as if Bob said, “come on we cant have another 12 bar blues here. We must be able to do something else for the last two songs.”

And if that was so he stuck to his word for It’s all good – only has one chord, as if to show old guy can still rock.  This is how Bo Diddley would have sounded if he had been able to write songs like Bob Dylan.

I love this last song – I love lots of the album, but this last song I really, really do love.  Bob has only played it three times, maybe because it absolutely needs that accordion player and his brilliant inter-relation with Bob and the guys.  It deserves more outings.

This really is the world gone wrong but with a beat.

Cold-blooded killer, stalking the town
Cop cars blinking, something bad going down
Buildings are crumbling in the neighborhood
But there’s nothing to worry about, ’cause it’s all good
It’s all good
They say it’s all good

Right on Bob.  You could have ended your song writing career on that note, and we’d have had nothing to complain about.

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.
  • 6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by others.

 

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3 Responses to Bob Dylan’s songs of 2008/9: It’s all good, if you hear what he’s saying.

  1. hans altena says:

    Funny, but This dream of you is really a song that hits home for me, feeling the presence of your deceased love in the room, almost more than real and yet she is not there… It’s in this song, that essence, that tension. For the rest, Together through life seems like a funny exercise, with indeed It’s all good as a good song, but the others a bit mediocre. Still your approach makes me see its merits a little more, thanks.

  2. Peter Hyatt says:

    Rare has been a day where Dylan phoned one in.

    “Jolene” is it.

    “My Wife’s Hometown” is perfect Dylanesque irony but “Jolene” is gawd-awful filler of 3 note chuck-berryish boredom.

    Its likely why we don’t hear it in concert often.

  3. Marguerita says:

    I love “Jolene.” It thrills me everytime I hear Bob singin’ it….down to my bones!

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