A story in the Guardian last week points to the likelihood of a new Bob Dylan album. I don’t have a title yet – I’m sure some of you do – but the album contains some “raw-country love songs.” Sounds right up our street.
If this news had come 20 years ago I would have expressed only mild interest. But it comes on the back of a trilogy of albums which have shown a greater creative consistency than any run of albums by Bob Dylan since the mid sixties. There’s two great things about this: Firstly we get the sense of an artist late in life gathering all the critical faculties that made him great and turning his attention to what is round about him. We’re all going to be Bob’s age sooner or later so it’s good to know how that might feel. Secondly it gets the sixties folk-bores off his case. There’s nothing quite as unpleasant as a folk nazi. You can see them in the Martin Scorsese documentary, No Direction Home and you have to feel sorry for whoever has to share their small lives. I suppose some of these people thought that Dylan was theirs and that’s always a fundamental error where he is concerned.
The joy of Bob has been his resolute refusal to join any club and whenever he became close to one he managed to cause enough offence to make sure he’s never be invited back. I remember with some surprise his billing on Live Aid. I never stayed up long enough to watch it but heard the next morning from a pal who was a big fan how he’d given a dreadful performance and mumbled something about hoping some of the money would go to the (U.S.) farmers! There is that great footage from the Rolling Thunder Revue when Bob had clearly persuaded the entire cast to wear Arabian head apparel and one or two had clearly began to wonder why they’d ever agreed to the gig in the first place. Freeze frame Roger McGuin and you’ll get the picture. However my favourite story is one I gleaned from the inside. Don Einnar was in charge of Colmbia Records in New York while we we were nominally signed to the label. One day I went in for a meeting and, bullish and threatening as Don could be, he always gave the impression of someone who loved music. He was sitting listening to the new Bob Dylan album. He told me he was really proud because he thought that Bob might just have listened to what he’d had to say. He may have been right. According to Einnar he had suggested to Dylan that the next record should be a stripped down affair; guitar and vocals and little else. Almost a return to the early sixties. Dylan had given him the look all record execs know will come their way. The one that says ‘and remind me again how much you know about music?” If that wasn’t bad enough he sneered back at Einnar, “Yeah, and who’s going to write the songs? Springsteen?”
Don wasn’t hopeful that any fruit would come of the conversation but lo and behold within the year he was delivered a new Bob Dylan album called “Good As I Been To You” part one of a two record set which saw Bob cover songs from the folk and blues tradition. It was if, hearing himself do these songs he realised how great Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and John Lee Hooker were in their later years and saw himself as an honourable companion in that great tradition.
Whatever happened we now know what came next: Time Out Of Mind, Love and Theft and Modern Times. Don’t be too surprised if the next album throws us a curve ball.
I’ll be back on Tuesday with a whole selection of raw-country love songs, an MWard interview a great sixties unsung album and some familiar things we’ve all probably forgotten about; let me just say the word “Dixie” and you can all use your imaginations.See you at 8.