A lot of people cite this as their favorite Dylan album, and I think I know why - it's his friendliest.
Dylan's albums, while often brilliant, are almost always difficult. That is, either his singing, or his songwriting, or his lyrics, or all three, present challenges to the average listener's enjoyment of the record.
It seems as if Dylan has a perverse dedication to defying the conventions of 'listenability' (except on Nashville Skyline
). When he writes a terrific melody, he'll deliver it by twisting the vowels in an approximate vibrato and striking odd accents. Or when he's got a great set of lyrics, he'll write a melody that lacks good hooks. And so what could be a wonderful and revelatory listening experience becomes more of a sturm-und-drang occasion, with the listener fighting Dylan to grasp the beauty within the album. Yet he can really sing when he wants to, and few would disagree that he's a first-class tunesmith.
The Basement Tapes
is a lot easier for casual Dylan fans. Because he wasn't 'making a record' when these songs were recorded, he's not consciously injecting difficulty into the music. Instead, he sings almost everything beautifully - on "Going to Acapulco" and "You Ain't Going Nowhere" for example, his tone is rich and warm, he's hitting all the notes and phrasing intelligently.
Another reason this album seems so friendly is that Dylan has abandoned the contempt that permeates almost all his other albums - from "Masters of War" to "Highlands", a lot of his lyrics are motivated by a need (or perhaps simple preference for) cutting down other people. In contrast, there's an absence of malice in these songs. Instead, there are funny little stories as in "Clothes Line Saga", lusty escapades like "Apple Suckling Tree", and a lot of wisdom. And throughout the album, he invents or restates all sorts of proverbs that one would do well to live by: Take care of yourself, get plenty of rest
; remember when you're out there trying to heal the sick, that you must always first forgive them
; too much of nothing can make a man ill at ease
; lost time is not found again
by Reviewer: Steve Knowlton
(blogging at Steve's Record Reviews