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This review is from: Down in the Groove (Audio CD)
As a part of Bob's canon, this is not perceived as major, and, to use a cliche, should not be one of the first albums of his you buy - Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Blood On The Tracks would all be good choices. However, for the established Bob fan, this album is by no means abysmal.
Shenandoah, a traditional song which older Bob fans may well have heard from other sources during the folk days of the sixties, is simply awesome - Bob's voice echoes like it would on Good As I've Been To You and World Gone Wrong, and gives an outstandingly poignant rendition. The music is a brilliant adaption of a simple folk melody to an electric sensibility; the rhythm section is pulsating, seething with controlled energy. The song is a landmark in Bob's history, both on its own and as a pointer to his work from the middle '90s onwards, and should not be missed.
Shenandoah is, however, also notable in its initially stark contrast to the rest of the album. The album is essentially a series of covers, many of them rock n' roll standards, or at least rock n' roll influenced. Let's Stick Together is the most famous of these songs, and has appeared in many incarnations over the years - "come on, come on, let's stick together..." - it is the song you think it is! Bob's version is reasonably listenable. When Did You Leave Heaven has a prominent drum beat that seems to emphasise the off beat whilst everyone else plays to the on beat, which gives a somewhat strange effect; if one gets over this, though, this slow song, again with a very fine vocal performance from Bob, is one of the highlights of the album in its emotional power.
These two songs pave the way for the rest of the album, other than Shenandoah; the songs are rollicking rock n' roll or powerful and slow. On no song are the words particularly distinguished, but on the slow songs, Bob's tight emotion gives the songs an underlying meaning. Seriously, I do not think that Bob's voice has often been on better form than this late '80s period, and the slow songs here reflect that. On the fast songs, the lack of depth is sometimes concealed in the foot-tapping music.
Thus, in fact, Bob's own songs on this album, Had A Dream About You Baby, Death Is Not The End, and Ugliest Girl In The World (co-written with Robert Hunter) are far worse peformances than the covers, where Bob throws his heart and soul into it; on his own songs, one gets the impression that he knows that these lyrics are not his best, his melodies not his most inventive, but on the covers this of course does not matter. 'Rank Strangers To Me' is a phenomenal performance, Silvio (the best of Bob's compositions - again with Robert Hunter) licks along nicely, Sally Sue Brown is passable, and Ninenty Miles An Hour is bearable for me, though some love this song.
Bob fans should, then, get this album to hear Bob at his performing best, and to hear Shenandoah. These aspects make the album better than several other of Bob's albums, and should not be ignored.