Choosing one album to write about has been almost more difficult than choosing one song - perhaps because this, as of yet, the only chance we've had to write about an entire album, so it feels more important to choose something really good... I thought a lot about formative albums in my life: The Beatles' The White Album; Luck of the Draw or Nick of Time by Bonnie Rait, anything by Peter, Paul & Mary; Weezer's blue album; Ani DiFranco's Out of Range or Educated Guess; and of course, Middle of Nowhere, and later, their third studio album, made while trying to leave their major label, Underneath, by Hanson. I also thought about writing about Jayber Crow's EP The Farmer and the Nomad or their new disc, Two Short Stories, because I've thoroughly enjoyed their music for as long as they've been making it. These are all worthy albums, but as I remember sitting around the record player with my dad when I was a child, I think it is most important to pay tribute to the granddaddy of modern folk-rock, Bob Dylan. As a singer-songwriter, I can't think of another modern musician more important. A song I wrote in college makes reference to the days when I "danced to Dylan records and watched them turn." I continue to find inspiration in his music every time I listen.
Blood on the Tracks, released in 1975, is a long-time favorite album of mine and my dad's. I spent many nights falling asleep to these songs - either listening to the record, or listening to my dad playing "Buckets of Rain" for me on the guitar.
One of the things that makes this record so important is the manner in which it was made. Half of the songs were recorded in a New York City studio, but the other five were recorded at a farmhouse near Minneapolis. Those "Minneapolis" tracks were laid down live. The band musicians on those tracks are just regular folk - local Minnesotan session musicians. The recording is rumored to have been completed in a weekend. Essentially, this album is an excellent example of records made they way they should be - to loosely quote an Ani lyric - "a record of people in a room, making music." Digital technology has made it possible to make incredibly polished, if over-produced, recordings - the kind of stuff we hear on the radio. Multi-layered electronic tracks, vocal effects and the like abound, which isn't to say that those things are all bad... But in some ways, I think the true art of making a record - making music with people, playing it live together - the art of really writing and performing songs, has died a bit. That's why I love this record.
The songs themselves, aside from the way they were produced, are classic Dylan, and some of my favorites of his. The album was a Billboard No. 1 hit in the United States. "Tangled Up in Blue," recorded during the Minneapolis sessions, is evidence of the ways in which the music business has changed in recent years. "Tangled" was a Top 40 Billboard hit in 1975.
There are plenty of other Dylan classics on the record, including "Idiot Wind" and "Shelter From the Storm," and also some of his (relatively) less-famous songs, like "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," which has long been one of my favorite Dylan songs. And of course, the quintessential folk lullaby, "Buckets of Rain."
I have yet to acquire a working record player, a quest I embarked upon after hauling home a pile of old albums from our neighbors' "free" box last summer, but as soon as I do, I'm sure I'll be breaking out my dad's old vinyl copy of "Blood on the Tracks" to sing, dance and watch it turn. I'd encourage everyone who can to do the same.
Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks, 1975
"Tangled Up in Blue" – 5:42 (Minneapolis)
"Simple Twist of Fate" – 4:19 (NYC, Sept 1974)
"You're a Big Girl Now" – 4:36 (Minneapolis)
"Idiot Wind" – 7:48 (Minneapolis)
"You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" – 2:55 (NYC, Sept 1974)
"Meet Me in the Morning" – 4:22 (NYC, Sept 1974)
"Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" – 8:51 (Minneapolis)
"If You See Her, Say Hello" – 4:49 (Minneapolis)
"Shelter from the Storm" – 5:02 (NYC, Sept 1974)
"Buckets of Rain" – 3:22 (NYC, Sept 1974)