Not a throwaway debut, but an essential opening shot
Fred M. Ogburn III | Camden, SC USA | 03/01/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Do NOT be put off this album by those who suggest that Bob Dylan's debut is anything less than a folk masterpiece, and an essential part of his vast and varied canon. This is a remarkable album, sung and played with joyous abandon and total confidence, exuding a folk wisdom well beyond his tender years. Voice, guitar, and harmonica blend to virtual perfection. The song choices display a maturity and discretion that is surprising from a man barely out of his teens.
Now, don't misunderstand me here: I love urban folk revival artists and their topical songs and the sounds of the Greenwich Village era (even though I smiled and chuckled knowingly as it was so aptly skewered in the indie flick "Like a Might Wind" a few years ago for its overly earnest moralism, pretentiousness, and sanctimoniousness). But most of those records and artists sound dated. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I love old music, and dated does not offend me. But compare Dylan's debut with other folk artists of the era (Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, & Mary, etc.) and you will be amazed at the freshness of the sound, nearly a half-century later. The only other artist from that era that strikes my ears the same might be Dave Van Ronk.
Much has been made of the fact that the album only includes two original songs, but considering how quickly dated his original, topical songs from the next couple of albums would become, you wonder if perhaps the older country blues and rural Southern sounds of the non-originals actually contribute a timeless quality to this album, allowing it to sound fresh to our ears today in a way that is impossible with much of the original material that would follow on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and The Times They Are a-Changin', as good as that material was.
As for those who point out that Dylan had already "moved on" when the album came out a few months after it was recorded, thereby implying a certain dismissive tone to the whole affair, and to those who point out that Dylan expressed reservations or disappointment with the album... hey, Dylan has spent his entire career "moving on," and we would listen to none of his work if constancy were to be the defining value. And the man who later put out the often wretchedly abysmal "Self-Portrait" album, and who left "Blind Willie McTell" and "Foot of Pride" off of the otherwise ho-hum "Infidels" album, should not always get the final word in evaluating his own work! Great artists are often difficult and perverse (Neil Young, for example).
Give this one its rightful due: a strong, impressive, consistently interesting and vigorous opening shot from the most important musical artist of the second half of the 20th century."