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Talking Bob Dylan 35th Album Release Website Review Blues

While walking through my academic library last week I was surprised to see an undergraduate student wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with–of all things–the cover to Bob Dylan’s legendary 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. Smiling, I walked over and told the guy that I liked his t-shirt. He looked a bit startled that an old librarian was approaching him, but broke into a big grin when I complimented his fashion choice. “Thanks,” he said.

Which set me to cogitating about the timeless appeal of Robert Zimmerman’s body of work. I’ve been a fan for ages, buying Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits and Bringing It All Back Home when I was a young teenager. Dylan’s career reached a milepost of sorts this year, as March marked the 50th anniversary of his eponymous debut album in 1962, and this week Dylan releases Tempest, his 35th album.  The time seemed right to take a look at Dylan’s web presence.

As one of the great rock/pop-culture icons of the last few generations, Dylan has spawned an army of critics, observers and fans. As a result you can find dozens of mediocre Dylan fan sites on the web, many of them impassioned efforts that lasted a few years and now linger untended in cyberspace, littered with broken links and outdated interfaces.

Fret not, however, for there are also plenty of fine websites about the bard and his music. An excellent place to start is Dylan’s official website, www.bobdylan.com, which is published by Columbia Records, Dylan’s longtime record label.

(A brief historical digression.  Dylan was discovered by Columbia Records’ brilliant talent scout and producer John Hammond, who also found and signed such luminaries as Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bessie Smith, Count Basie, and Bruce Springsteen. For more on Hammond’s career, check out this American Masters website.)

But back to Dylan’s website. As I write, the weekend before Tempest’s release date, I’m listening to Tempest streaming free through iTunes, thanks to a link provided by Dylan’s site. The link is part of a section of the website called “The Latest,” which includes recent news about Dylan’s tour, videos, older news articles, and a section called “Hype,” which links to dozens of print, web, and television news stories about Dylan and his music.

Dylan’s site also includes a “Dylan 101” section, featuring a handful of key recordings, a few playlists, interviews, and a folkloric story about Dylan learning the ballad “House Carpenter” for his debut album.  You’ll also find a complete discography of all his studio recordings, compilations, and bootleg series recordings. Each CD entry features a list of songs with audio clips, and links to purchase music and sheet music. Interested in Dylan’s lyrics?  The words to all his recorded songs are here, and you can filter by album or search by lyric. There are also set lists from many of his shows.  You can also spend a lot of money on harmonicas, books, posters, and related Dylanania. Yeah, Dylan markets his stuff well. Fame has its rewards.

For a critical overview of Dylan’s music, and to dig a bit deeper into the individual albums in Dylan’s catalog, check out the Dylan entry in that ever-reliable resource The All-Music Guide.  You can spend quite a bit of time digging into the relative merits of his older and newer recordings, all starting with these opening sentences of his AMG biography:

Bob Dylan’s influence on popular music is incalculable. As a songwriter, he pioneered several different schools of pop songwriting, from confessional singer/songwriter to winding, hallucinatory, stream-of-consciousness narratives. As a vocalist, he broke down the notion that a singer must have a conventionally good voice in order to perform, thereby redefining the vocalist’s role in popular music. As a musician, he sparked several genres of pop music, including electrified folk-rock and country-rock. And that just touches on the tip of his achievements.

That’s not a bad summary of his ongoing legacy.

And, finally, after my negative comments about Dylan fansites, I should point out one labor of love that does a good job. The Expecting Rain website serves as a feed for all sorts of current information on Dylan.  For instance, the feed for Monday, September 10 features links to 47 different sources, including reviews of Tempest, set lists and reviews from his current tour,  as well as a few related links about Neil Young and a Dylan cover band.

Oh, and the somewhat cryptic title of this post?  It’s an homage to several “talking blues” Dylan recorded early in his career, including “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues” as well as his most famous talking blues, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” a wry bit of social commentary from the 1960s: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/talkin-john-birch-paranoid-blues

– Gene Hyde

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