Supplied and distributed by The Cherished Record Company
Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Reviewed: Summer 2001
If you were to ask 50 record reviewers/music lovers/people-who-have-more-than-one-brain-cell, which were the 3 most important acts since the 'rock'n'roll' era I'd bet all would say "The Beatles and Bob Dylan" then begin to stop and think...
With that (uncontroversial) statement made, it's time to go on to review 'Absolute Analogues' new reissue of one of the Great Man's GREAT albums - "Highway 61 Revisited". Particularly appropriate as the old groaner has just passed 60 (24th May actually).
Well a tricky one this, whole books have been written on the subject, and everyone knows what he sounds like so I hope you'll forgive me if I take this more as a historic overview than the usual "Is it a hit or a miss?" type review...
July/August 1965, Bob lays down the tracks of what many would argue was his greatest album.
Two years previously CBS had released 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, an acoustic album of extraordinary power and breadth, marked by the voice of a 23 year-old sounding like he was 150, singing lyrics that would last forever. Next year followed another outing on "The Times They Are a Changing", political, desperate and desolate.
But another act had just changed the world. The Beatles had stormed (devastated?) America, The Byrds were doing an electric version of 'Tambourine Man', the Animals made 'House of the Rising Sun' a hit and Bob saw the future. His next album 'Bringing it all Back home' was the transition. One side electric, the other acoustic, he alienated many of his old fans but won many, many more. 'Stream-of-consciousness' tracks like 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' dovetailing with the unforgettable 'It's all over Baby Blue'. In three albums Dylan had made lyrics as important as the tune - the Beatles were driven to new heights by the challenge and the cross fertilisation between the two giants unleashed the greatest creative rivalry of the post war era - As surely as it was the Beatles who drove Dylan to electrify, it was Dylan who drove the Beatles from "Yea!, Yea!, Yea!" to "10,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire."
Now with folk/rock at his fingertips Dylan released 'Highway 61 Revisited'.
Dylan has the rare ability (apart from art critics) of writing babble and making it sound fascinating, relevant and important. The Absolutely Analogue reissue of '61' faithfully reproduces the sleeve of the original with it's almost out-of-control narrative on the back cover. It prepares you for some, if not all that the cover conceals.
The album kicks off with 'Like a Rolling Stone', instantly recognisable with it's anthem-like chorus, wailing harmonica - "How does it feel?" - well quite awesome actually...
'Tombstone Blues' follows frenetically in the 'nonsense' tradition of 'Subterranean H. S. B.' continued in spades by the positively zany story-line of the title track... "I've a thousand telephones that don't ring".
I'm not going to list every track but other stand outs are the Classic "Queen Jane Approximately" and the bleak "Desolation Row", but all span the range of excellent to genius....
I'm fortunate in having an early copy of the album - and in good condition. Holding the two sleeves up the Absolutely Analogue reissue has the same cover (barring the odd discrete "Sony"). The difference is the vibrant colour and pin-sharp reproduction of the cover photo, my old copy looking a little faded and soft in comparison. I feared the reissue might also be one of those garish technicolour "look-what-we-dragged-off-the-mastertape" jobs - remember those early Bowie 'digital' reissues? But no.
The pressing is in satisfyingly thick 180 grm virgin vinyl and has the near silent background you'd expect. But what is more impressive is that the tonal quality of the original is faithfully reproduced, no superbright reissue this. But beyond this there's no doubt that the original sounds veiled and muddled in comparison. It's not as if the original mastertape has been remastered, rather that it has been cleaned up so hidden depths, separation, detail, atmosphere and most important legibility is brought to the surface. This is a loving restoration of what was originally intended and congratulations to AA for that.
That said don't expect the kind of quality modern audiophile discs or jazz/classics from the late '50's give. 60's mainstream pop albums were pretty much a low point as far as recording quality goes so despite AA's best efforts don't expect the holographic imaging of the 1959 recording of "Take Five". The guys that engineered much of the great music of the time - and surely it was a GREAT decade - have a lot to answer for (George Martin excepted). But the energy, power and force of Dylan shine through and very soon hi-fi attributes like 'space around the drumkit' seem irrelevant when faced with such a talent.
If you have a record collection of any size and it doesn't contain any Bob Dylan then you are missing arguably the most influential artist of the last 45 years, and yes, shame on you. Granted he produced some pretty weak stuff in the '70's but just listen to any of his first five albums and marvel. Pressed to say which one to buy I'll hedge and say "Bringing it all Back Home" AND "Highway 61 Revisited". If you're strapped for cash search out an old 12" in the second hand stores but for not a lot more the Absolutely Analogue reissue is as good as it gets.
Many thanks to The Cherished Record Company for supplying the review copy.
© Copyright 2001 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com