August 19, 2006

"The eccentricities are no longer funny. His voice is shot."

Bob Dylan gets a terrible review:
Last night, his singing was reduced to high, pinched whines and hoarse, phlegmatic notes that sounded less vocal than terminal. Pitch was a relative concept. His once-vaunted phrasing was rushed....

He knows that people will always cheer when he wheezes into a harmonica - and that it doesn't matter that it's awful.
Wait. Let's be fair. The harmonica playing was always awful.

16 comments:

EMC said...

No, you're wrong about the harmonica playing. It's always been musically interesting and often very creative. Dylan's first job in music was playing harmonica on a Harry Belafonte record. You think they'd hire a lousy harmonica player?

Hamsun56 said...

I've been a big Dylan fan for many years and I used to go to his concerts whenever he was in town. I stopped going a few years ago as I wasn't enjoying hearing him play live anymore.

Funny thing is that I have, and enjoy, a bootleg of a concert that I saw live and didn't like. Guess I prefer to hear him an an intimate setting. Also, I need to listen a couple of times to a recording of his before I can form an opinion.

David said...

Dylan hasn't been the same since his divorce. The song "Things Have Change" was arguably his last great song which has proven to be prophetic.

"Standing on the gallows with my head in the noose!

Any second now I'm expecting all hell to break loose...

I used to care, but things have changed."

A fitting tribute to the 60's!

Hamsun56 said...

David: Most people aren't the same after a divorce, but Dylan has produced lots of great stuff after the divorce.

Off subject: Just came across this 1993 video of Dylan singing "Blood in my eyes". He's usually not very good in videos, but this works for me.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhlkKgXH3zc

paulfrommpls said...

Yeah, I concur with emc - a lot of his harmonica playing is haunting and disciplined. It doesn't usually strive for technical amazingness, but he's more than capable of single-note discipline and interest. (It's hard to hit single notes well in harmonica playing; it involves use of the tongue.) And I could give a rat's ass about technical amazingness in harmonica playing, or whiz-bang solo harmonica like Toots Thielmans', I think that's the guy's name. (There's an 's' at the end of the guy's name, I think. hence the apostrophe placement.)

It's all about emotiveness and complementing the song. Listen to the harmonica on the break in "It Takes A Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry." Great energy, great match with the guitar.

That said, the current voice is why I don't listen to Love and Death much.

Drew W said...

Did that critic, Ed Bumgardner, finish what Soy Bomb started? (Probably not.) I just hope he had the sense to hire a security detail before he suggested that Dylan should retire -- as he did in that review. (At least if his shows continue at the level Bumgardner says he saw, that is.)

What you quoted above, about Dylan’s, er, distinctive vocal qualities at the concert, were always true to a certain degree. Certainly they’re more true today. Dylan loved black blues singers and other roots musicians, but knew that it would be silly to directly imitate them (as so many white blues singers have proven). Instead, he took that blues-folk style and leavened it with his own somewhat out-of-control phrasing. That's what has endeared his singing to so many, while leading others to maintain that he can’t sing, never could. I won’t dispute what Bumgardner concluded about Dylan’s vocal performance, but I’d bet his voice will have to get a whole lot worse before people stop wanting to go see him. (And whether or not that’s because he’s the famous Bob Dylan seems more or less irrelevant to me.) Those mangled, messed-up, off-key vocals will always fascinate those with a taste for his music. Technical ability was never much of a factor there.

And Dylan’s harmonica skills approach those of Toots Thielemans when you compare them to the sounds that emerge when Neil Young picks one up. But I love it when Neil plays harmonica, too.

paulfrommpls said...

Not that anyone's said it, but anyone who says Dylan couldn't ever sing should give a listen to "Moonshiner," on The Bootleg Series Vol 1-3.

bill said...

Tough crowd. How about a little appreciation for a well executed punchline?

Great job, Ann.

JoeOlson said...

Sorry in advance, but I have never enjoyed hearing the man sign. I may too conservative in political thought to fully "get" Dylan, but really the guy has always sounded more like he was making noises induced by something inexplicably painful than signing.

Now whether his lyrics are important to the development of societial attitudes over the last 40 years is a very different subject - not at all cocnnected to his signing abilities.

paulfrommpls said...

You're very right, bill. It was quite well-done. I apologize, Ann. Put out an opinion, people jump down your throat. And not just "people" - Dylan people.

joe, it's perfectly understandable to not like his voice. Although when people say that I always wonder if they have actually heard/listened to the early years especially.

Dylan people don't just tolerate his voice.

P. Froward said...

EMC, there was a reason they were only paying him "a dollar a day", as the song has it. A very good reason.

vnjagvet said...

Dylan's talent was always writing and what Germans call a singspiel delivery of his distinctive material.

He is one of the great entertainers of his generation. In essence more a popular poet than a singer.

Ann Althouse said...

"Sorry in advance, but I have never enjoyed hearing the man sign."

But the deaf appreciate it.

johnstodderinexile said...

Bob Dylan's concerts might be unlistenable -- the only one of his I attended in 1986 was pretty bad -- but his albums have been on a distinct upswing. "Time Out of Mind" and "'Love and Theft'" are significant works. In addition to the excellent songs, the musicianship on both these disks are of a much higher order than the usual slapdash Dylan approach. On 'Love and Theft,' his voice is pretty goopy, but he writes for it and it works. I'm looking forward to the new album due out soon. It might be terrible, but recent trends suggests it won't be.

(I mean, would you rather have to listen to Bright Eyes? That guy makes "Eve of Destruction" sound subtle!)

michael a litscher said...

Last night, his singing was reduced to high, pinched whines and hoarse, phlegmatic notes that sounded less vocal than terminal. Pitch was a relative concept.

I have perfect pitch. I've never heard Dylan sing in pitch, ever, which is why I can't stand listening to him sing. I've heard stray cats in heat that were more melodic than Dylan. That people would choose to subject themselves to his "music" has always been a mystery to me.

paulfrommpls said...

So perfect pitch is a curse? I'm sorry.

I note that in a post above I referred to "Love and Theft" as "Love and Death." That's my mistake for the year.