on 30 July 2006
Seldom out of the top 5 of those never-ending `All Time Best Album' polls, Dylan's 1966 opus is, by any criteria, nothing short of a masterpiece. Originally a double album, one of rock music's first, on CD the seamless flow of the 14 tracks only enhances the listening pleasure. Sony's latest issue of this all-time classic has benefited from a new remix from the original masters by Steve Berkowitz, making this the best audio version of the album available (the original CDs were pressed from very low quality off-master copies, and notoriously had brutal edits cutting short many of the songs), although what is Blonde On Blonde's standout track for many people, the Neal Cassady-inspired `Visions Of Johanna', still suffers from out-of-tune lead guitar breaks towards the end (although these have been watered-down and are not as prominent as on other releases). For the recording of this album, Dylan relocated from his favoured New York studios to Nashville, after the earlier sessions had proven problematic - only `One Of Us Must Know' from New York made the final cut - and had the benefit of the top session men of the day at his disposal, such as Charlie McCoy and Kenny Buttrey, although `One Of Us...' has a stunning piano track from Paul Griffin that makes one lament the fact that Dylan left the keyboardist behind when he left for Tennessee for the first session on Valentine's Day 1966. Of the songs themselves, there is nothing remotely approaching a `protest' song here - if one discounts Dylan protesting at not getting any from the lady in `Fourth Time Around' - and anyone seeking `Masters Of War' Dylan is on the wrong record, but all the numbers here are dressed in the beautiful kaleidoscopic wordplay of prime mid-sixties Dylan. `Visions Of Johanna' is the most, er, visionary, probably because it was the earliest number written for the album (it was originally recorded in the first unsuccessful New York sessions in November 1965 and is closer to `Highway 61 Revisited' in both structure and narrative). `I Want You', one of three hit singles from the record, is pure paradox, the chorus as basic lyrically as can be - Dylan's refrain is a tip of the hat to The Beatles' `Michelle' - whilst the image-laden verses are populated by gypsy undertakers and dancing children in Chinese suits; `Just Like A Woman', written on Thanksgiving Day 1965, is one of Dylan's most enduring, and covered, numbers (despite a somewhat sexist title, which is allayed as the story unfolds); the much-overlooked `Temporary Like Achilles' is a gorgeous slow blues; the good-time romp of `Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35' is irresistibly foot-tap inducing; the melody to `Fourth Time Around' is so lovely that John Lennon appropriated it - and the song's subject matter - for `Norwegian Wood'; and the album closes on what Dylan once described as his "most perfect song", the epic `Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands', which originally took up all of the fourth side of the double LP. A mystical love song to his then-wife Sarah, Dylan weaves pictures with words in a way he would, or could, not do for almost another decade, on his return to form with `Blood On The Tracks'. Dylan's voice is also surprisingly mellow on almost all of the numbers here, with much of the gruffness that spawned a million [bad] impressions tempered into a smoothness that predates his `country' recordings of the latter part of the 1960's (possibly due to the fact that most of the songs were recorded in the early hours of the morning). The only detriment to this CD is that, for some obscure reason, Sony has removed all of the original photographs bar the cover (which itself is thankfully of a much-upgraded quality than the previous releases sported). Although new and previously unreleased Jerry Schatzberg shots are used here, a booklet consisting of a mere couple of pages could, and should, have accommodated all of the original artwork, let alone some proper sleevenotes. However, you do not buy a CD to read, you buy it to listen to - and this is one you will listen to time and time (and time) again.