Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan - Review
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critics' view

He may have kept his cards close to his chest on last year’s debut album, but here he laid down his winning hand (12 of his own) and, holy shmoly, he was ace of spades and king o’ diamonds all in one. The musical template remains very much the same – century old folk traditions upheld via one man and his all–round agility on guitar picks and strums, vocal phrasings hitherto unheard, and a harmonica laced with a winning warmth. Lyrically, it’s a whole new ball game. Although he retains the personal relationship themes and an appealing sprinkle of surrealism and dry humour, there’s a new character developing – this is Bob Dylan, political activist, social agitator, news commentator. Bob gets stuck into topics many and varied, with no holding back – “tin pan alley folk music”, “warmongers” and “racists” are all confronted, sometimes head-on from an angry Bob, sometimes from a sarcastic, scornful Bob. Always, he knows his topics well before he starts singing.

Masters of War” is the album’s highlight for me – a bullshit free, stare it out, shout it down condemnation of War, an event which seemed almost inevitable at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The song’s incessant melody line was adapted from Jean Ritchie’s 1957 arrangement of the traditional “Nottamun Town”, and Bob uses it to underline his verbal assault, as he takes on the power brokers at their own aggressive game: “I think you will find, when your death takes its toll, all the money you made will never buy back your soul”. Of the song, Dylan himself said: “I’ve never written anything like that before. I don’t sing songs which hope people will die, but I couldn’t help it with this one. The song is a sort of striking out… a feeling of what can you do?”

As if to remind that he’s not gonna be an earnest bore “Bob Dylan’s Blues” has a great sense of fun, more of that sing-talk style as groupies and playboys get the short shrift with lines like “All you five and ten cent women, with nothin’ in your heads, I got a real gal I’m in love” and “I don’t have no sports car, and I don’t even care to have one, I can walk anytime around the block”.

It’s not long ‘til he’s back on the serious topics of the day via “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”. With the very real threat of war hanging over the country, Dylan protests that we should beware propaganda and seek out the truth for ourselves, (“the pellets of poison are flooding the waters”) and warns of the consequences of escalation (“I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways, I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests, I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans”). In his album notes, Bob explained a little of the background to his epic 5 verse q & a masterpiece: “Every line in it is actually the start of a whole song, but when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one.”

There’s absolutely no doubt we were witnessing a genius at work – with its jaw dropping insight, this album stops you dead in your tracks one minute, then breaks the tension with irreverent craziness the next. You don’t whether to laugh or cry. What a player. What a wordsmith. What soul. What an album…

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