Sometimes you have to wonder what the hell record company executives are thinking. Here we have one of the world’s most seminal artists ever and a new release from that said artist due out soon (Modern Times, due out at the end of August, is Dylan’s first album of new material since 2001) and they go and licence to one shop (or store as the Americans like to call them) an exclusive record made up of previously released material.
To be fair to Dylan, this isn’t the first time he’s done this, last year he let Starbucks exclusively sell a CD, although at least that one was a previously unreleased live record. Here we have a variation on the best-of theme and it is only available in the USA at Barnes & Noble.
The CD is supposed to show Bob Dylan at his best singing the blues. And in many instances the songs selected fit this brief perfectly. The older material such as ‘She’s Your Lover Now’ and ‘It takes a lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ are masterpieces of Dylan’s takes on blues in his early career. The more recent material is also of exceptional quality. In many respects one feels that Dylan has now entered a period of his life where he is able to sing the blues as he always wanted to. This works well with the three final songs, ‘Dirt Road Blues’, ‘High Water’ (for Charley Patton) and the masterpiece that is ‘Blind Willie McTell’.
However, other song selections are more questionable. Why are ‘Seeing the Real You at Last’ and ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ chosen alongside the other songs? As far as this reviewer can tell, they have merely stolen a few blues guitar riffs. But let us not forget that this CD is merely a glorified best-of, so those aspects of his long career had to be included somehow.
Overall, in order to review this compilation one has to come back to the initial question that I asked in the opening paragraph: why was this CD released? It has little real value for collectors, seeing as all the songs are readily available on his albums. It has no value for those who are uninitiated to Dylan, seeing as the purchase of one of the numerous ‘best-of’ or ‘greatest hits’ compilations would provide a fuller and better overview of his career. No, the real reason this has been released is to force collectors to go into Barnes & Noble to buy Modern Times when it is released a few weeks later.
Columbia could have at least added an alternate take or a live performance to tempt the fans. As it stands, this is one that only the very hard-core should collect. I mean, even the official website has more interesting material available online. And for free! For the rest of you, buy a best-of or one of his classic albums. In fact, better still, why not boycott Barnes & Noble for this release which is, quite simply, ridiculous.