Bob Dylan,
MTV Unplugged
(Sony, 1995)

Bob Dylan's more than deserving resurgence in recent years traces its birth back, in my opinion, to this incredible live performance. This album has it all, mixing old and new music that more than satisfies longtime fans like myself while still appealing to the younger generation, many of whom would know Dylan only by name had MTV not provided the medium for Dylan to prove his genius and longevity to them. Dylan's tendency to be reclusive and mysterious has made him inaccessible to some listeners in the past, but the appreciative audience is an important part of this recording, and you can tell that Dylan really enjoyed the whole performance.

The older songs on this CD are great, but they do have a different sound from their originals; this may disappoint some fans, and I admit it took me a while to appreciate this version of "The Times They Are a-Changin,'" but the soul of each song remains the same, no matter what kind of modernized or different interpretation Dylan decides to go with on a certain night.

I love "Tombstone Blues," and it does start the CD out with a great kick. It's always nice to hear Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," if for no other reason than to let people know the song didn't originate with Jimi Hendrix. "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" has never been a favorite of mine, but this version is a enjoyable splash of fun in between a couple of slow, serious songs. "John Brown" is a significant track, dating back to the 1960s but never having been released. It truly reflects the anti-war feelings Dylan expressed so forcibly in his formative years. As great as the classic tracks are, the tremendous newer songs only build on the musical momentum and prove that Dylan's great songwriting days have yet to come to an end. I was a little surprised to see "Shooting Star" from the Oh Mercy album, but it sounds great and fits right in here. "Dignity" is another recent song that showcases Dylan's songwriting and singing.

Three songs particularly stand out on this CD for me. "Desolation Row" is a truly incredible, meaningful song that only Dylan could write and perform. Lasting more than eight minutes, I still always hate to hear it end. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," a song that some listeners may not enjoy as much as I do, really starts building the momentum that reaches its crescendo with my favorite Dylan performance ever of his greatest song, "Like a Rolling Stone." Having wowed his audience for close to an hour, he is definitely feeling it when he gets to this trademark song. Its length is matched only by its powerful delivery, and I get the feeling listening to it that even Dylan is a little surprised at how great a show he is putting on. "With God on Our Side" is an interesting song with which to end the CD, but it reflects the heart and soul of music's greatest songwriter. Following on the heels of a rocking performance, it reminds listeners that the old Dylan so many have loved for decades is still there, even if his classic songs have been given a fresh overhaul.

This is by far my favorite Dylan CD. Having a rather small audience so close to the musicians makes this live performance a true personal triumph, and the sense of intimacy between Dylan and his fans is powerful and palpable. Dylan has never seemed happier or sounded better than he does here.

by Daniel Jolley
10 September 2005

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