on 7 March 2004
This is a great introduction to Bob Dylan's modest music. An inexperienced ear could judge it as too modest, but the key is to accept the fact that on the surface Dylan's music is samey. Then you'll notice that he is actually a superb composer and lyricist, and also stylistically wide. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan showcases Dylan's pure folk side. The album hits hard because it's very genuine. This is just the man, his acoustic guitar and his harmonica. Each of them is more tolerable than on Dylan's later albums: the young Bob doesn't yell ('Idiot Wind', anyone?), he hasn't completely stopped trying to get pure tones out of his harmonica, and he knows his guitar picking techniques which makes for nice variety. On top of this all, the atmosphere here is very cozy. You can hear Dylan giving a laugh now and then when he botches up some lyrics!
This being only Dylan's second release, it's amazing how consistent an album he could make. There are a few absolute gems: 'Blowin' In The Wind' in its simplicity is one of the best songs ever written, 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall' starts the tradition of poetic Dylan epics, and 'Masters Of War' is very pungent in its young angry doom. The rest of the album doesn't quite rise to this level but doesn't feel like filler either. Every track has at least a slight hook or an original musical idea. Although the album features innovative lyrics for its time with a lot of political content and skillful rhymes, Dylan would develop a lot as a lyricist during the next years. Now it's mostly just a clever folk buddy singing his thoughts out.
All in all, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan practically brings the young witty Bob Dylan into your living room. The difference between this and today's sterile studio pop is amazing! Once you have acquainted yourself with this warm sound, there is no way back. The improved sound quality of this new issue only strengthens the effect. A pop music collection without this folk classic isn't a collection at all.
on 11 July 2004
I am not a Dylan fan. But I've got an SACD player, and whenever I notice a retailer selling off their SACD stock cheaply, I tend to hoover it up.
I've always felt a bit guilty about not liking Dylan, given that he has had millions of fans, and was, at least until his motorbike accident in 1966, as big as Elvis and the Beatles. I think the problem is that I was born a decade too late, and music has always been much more important to me than lyrics. It may be heretical to say this but, as a teenager in the 1970s, I found the music of bands like Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers more catchy than Dylan (great though the 'Desire' LP was).
But Dylan doesn't go away, and he's now one of the few popular artists to have much of his output available on SACD. THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN was one of the key visual references in the recent Cameron Crowe movie VANILLA SKY.
I think you have to have lived through the era to really appreciate the impact of what Dylan was doing. Coming late to the era, it matters little to a new fan that 'Highway 61 Revisited' was the first electric folk rock album. There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of electric folk rock albums to choose from, and if anything, the later ones are likely to smoothe off the rough edges of the first.
But now I have a wad of Dylan SACDs and the opportunity to wade through them in chronological sequence. And I keep coming back to THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN because it possesses a great purity and enthusiasm. As other reviewers have said, it's just the man, his mouth organ and his guitar (apart from on 'Corrina, Corrina'). SACD captures the simplicity of his performance superbly. NB This is SACD Stereo -- not Surround Sound, nor Dolby 5.1.
The music is part folk, part blues. Yes, it's slightly repetitive in that it lacks the diversity and creative input you could get from a wider group setting. But for me, this is solo Dylan at the top of his game, bristling with confidence that an enormous audience would take to the album. To enjoy this CD, you don't need to organise a sit-in, protest march or late-night coffee with a few student friends. It really is OK to listen to this in the car or while exercising or even (heaven forbid!) as background music while working or giving a dinner party. Dylan probably foresaw none of these uses for his music, and I suspect the only protest at such abuse would come from his diehard folk fans -- the same ones who protested about his later transition to electric instruments. Me, I just love it because it's so uncluttered. (And normally I don't like folk music!)
Bob Dylan's second album is totally different to his debut. A somewhat more mature and polished effort it shows just how much he had learned and developed in the few short months between. The style moves away from the raw folk to something more recognisable as Dylan - political protest, streams of consciousness, a mixture of direct, to the point lyrics with some that are almost surreal, tender love songs. All this and also probably his best known song `Blowing In The Wind', beloved by a generation of guitar strumming hippies around campfires.
I find it a lot more accessible than his debut, and very listenable. The songs flow nicely, opening with the social conscience of `Blowing in the Wind', through the country stylings of `Girl From The North Country', back to political statement with `Masters of War', and so on with a great deal of variety. Dylan was an artist with a lot to say, and it is here that he started to earn his sobriquet as the voice of the generation with tracks such as the angry `Hard Rain's Gonna Fall'. His bitter ode to love gone wrong `Don't Think Twice, It's All Right' still resonates today, and I have to say is probably my personal favourite Dylan track of all time. Despite being full of anger and bitterness there are moments of tenderness (the aforementioned `Girl From The North Country', and an interesting reading of `Corrina Corrina') and the album ends on a note of hopefulness with the elegant `I Shall Be Free'.
One of Dylan's most consistent and accessible albums, and probably the best from his early acoustic years. 5 stars easily.
on 9 October 2012
One of the single most important albums of the rock canon, THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN, along PLEASE PLEASE ME, introduced the 1960s with a bang. Sure, the decade had been underway since 1960, but with this release we finally get the Dylan that will change the face of popular music. Although the album before this one can be entertaining in spots, no one could guess the genius of this sophomore effort by listening to the first Bob Dylan disc. And what genius it is.
Dylan, in the course of 13 songs, covers much of the human emotional genome, from joy to sadness to longing to righteous anger to broken hearts to comedy. The album is as accomplished and stunning as any of his later works, and stands as one of the best albums ever recorded. The sound is sparse, but very effective for the material covered. It also has a lesson producers nowadays could learn from: you don't need tons of instruments to produce effective music. This is just Dylan, a guitar, and a harmonica with the exception of "Corrina, Corrina," and he makes it work. Boy does he ever.
This album produced many of his most important compositions and signature songs, including the song that broke him into the mainstream, "Blowin' in the Wind". Compositions like the aforementioned song, "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "Masters of War," and "Girl of the North Country," quickly established Dylan as the premier songwriter for the social conscious of the early 1960s, a role Dylan would quickly move away from (just listen to the mid 1960s trilogy of BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, and BLONDE ON BLONDE to see how far he left this stuff behind). However, Dylan would never cease to be the premier songwriter of rock and roll, and he is still regarded as the poet laureate of rock and roll.
What makes this album's durability all the more remarkable is that it was recorded in the height of the folk-protest revival, which had numerous songs that do not have long shelf lives. The central problem with protest albums is they have a tendency to become dated and awkward as years go by, but not here. These songs sound just as glorious as when they were first released. Where THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN does sound dated, this effect actually enhances the album, especially on the last cut of the album where he is talking to President Kennedy who was alive at the time. That alone gives the cut an endearing quality.
Dylan wisely stayed away from dated political concerns, and instead addressed the problems America was having in the 1960s from a much more universal perspective. Instead of singing about nuclear rain (which "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall was never about to begin with), Dylan invokes an oncoming apocalypse. With "Blowin' in the Wind," he confesses he simply doesn't know the answers to the problems, a very strange thing for an early 1960s folk song to do. Other folkies would have said the answer was social reform, or peace and love, or something along those lines. "Masters of War" stays relevant even today, because Dylan addresses universal concerns, not topical ones.
It is useful to contrast this album with its followup, THE TIMES THEY ARE A'CHANGIN'. THE TIMES is a much more defined album, with Dylan clearly in the "protest mode". While most of the cuts off that record are certainly worthy additions to the Dylan catalogue (considering the stuff that was being recorded at the time by Dylan, did we really need "With God On Our Side,") when taken as an entire album THE TIMES wears its listeners out emotionally. TIMES can get rather monotous as times as well. TIMES has dated much more badly than FREEWHEELIN', though to be fair to that record, it still stands up much better than the other folk records coming out of the Greenwich Village scene by today's standards, especially with the title track.
That is one album that desperately needed some light-hearted moments like "Eternal Circle" or something to break up the monotony. Sadly, two of the best compositions ("Percy's Song" and "Lay Down Your Weary Tune," both available on BIOGRAPH) were left off.
TIMES is a dark, brooding, traditional "protest album", and though evidenced by Dylan's numerous outtakes from that period that he was writing songs far beyond simple protest music, it is obvious Dylan constricted himself to very narrow subject matter and themes. TIMES comes off as a very humourless, serious affair. Dylan does not make that mistake here.
While I digressed to discuss this album's followup, contrasting TIMES with FREEWHEELIN' is useful in that it helps show what makes FREEWHEELIN' so successful. TIMES is a straight laced, no nonsense protest album, though with better track selection (like most of Dylan's work), it could have been a much different, and in TIMES' case, better, album. Listening to TIMES is emotionally draining, and while certainly has some great songs, overall the album does not stand up as well, though there are individual songs that match anything on FREEWHEELIN'. TIMES is much more limited in its emotional range, whereas FREEWHEELIN' is a much broader record, and a better one at that.
While THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN certainly qualifies as a protest album, due to Dylan's deft skill he crafted the album to be much more universal than strictly topical, and he has been rewarded with creating a rather timeless piece of music. While he did go radically reinvent himself several times over, Dylan never sounded better here, and while he may have come up with music as good as the songs on this album he never made one that surpassed it.