When Bob Dylan entered the recording studio for the first time, it was 1961 the whole technological revolution was still ahead. The Columbia Studio A was a good facility by the standards of the time but there were hardly any multi-tracking, special effects and so on.
Yet in spite of this, those first recordings don’t seem outdated by any means.
Nor do his next forays into the recording studio, Freewheelin’, Times and Another Side. They’re as plain as can be, just a young guy, his harmonica and acoustic guitar (and an occasional piano) – and yet fresh as early Spring. The songs are captured live, and that is exactly how they sound.
No tricks, just kicks.
And the same goes for almost every studio recording Dylan has done throughout his career. The “go-electric” phase, the Basement Tapes, the Biblical JWH, the 1969-1971 country and soul, the mid-seventies masterpieces, the evangelical period…
It seems throughout like there’s nothing that could be improved, corrected, modified, at least to my ears. While so much of the contemporaneous music sounds, if not obsolete, then certainly belonging to its time. Dylan’s recordings sound timeless. Even Street-Legal with its rich textures and orchestrations.
Perhaps the only period when Dylan sounds firmly anchored to the recording epoch are his post-Shot of Love albums up till Down in the Groove and then the Under the Red Sky collection. We might like them or like them less, return to them less frequently or quite the opposite, but one thing is for me certain: they couldn’t have been recorded in the sixties, seventies or late nineties. They are as eighties-y as possible.
I think there is one clear explanation. It was the only period when Dylan wanted to sound modern – or his producers wanted him to, and he, reluctantly or not, consented.
We all know perfectly well that Dylan, more often than not, opts for live recordings. Even if there’s some multitracking and editing we don’t hear them as clear as for example in the Beatles’ recordings or on some even more sophisticated, “produced” albums.
Does Dylan double-track his voice? No. Does he like delay and reverb? No. Does he lay several guitar tracks, does he multiply instruments? No. Does he use outside natural sounds? No. Does he like special FX? No.
No studio gimmickry. No bull. No flashiness. No calculated wow-effect.
His latest recordings sound impeccable, as pure as his earliest albums. And still – no gimmickry. Just a live sound.
Of course, technology has a lot to do with it. One can’t obtain the same soundscape as on the Fallen Angels album in just their home studio because Capitol Studios are one of the most state-of-the-art huge recording studios where you can breathe and release a nice album of just your breathing.
But, again, no overdubbing, no multitracking, no special devices and tricks.
Perhaps this is why Bob Dylan sounds so out of time, ahead of time and beyond time. Because he means to convey an essence to us, instead of dancing before us, making advances, impressing us with the superficial and brown-nosing.
Perhaps this is why he is so sophisticated and pure at the same time.
What else is on the site
You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page. You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.
The index to the 500+ Dylan compositions reviewed is now on a new page of its own. You will find it here. It contains reviews of every Dylan composition that we can find a recording of – if you know of anything we have missed please do write in.
We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
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 other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews