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Bob Dylan: MTV Unplugged

Album Reviews:

Rolling Stone (5/4/95, pp.63-65) - 4 Stars (out of 5) - "...UNPLUGGED is less about stylistic experimentation than about his reconnection with his audience and his past..."

Entertainment Weekly (5/5/95, pp.64-66) - "...UNPLUGGED is...Dylan's most listenable record since OH MERCY, and a fine primer for a generation that doesn't know his music. The band soars, the arrangements percolate with surprises, and best of all, Bob enunciates..." - Rating: B+

Album Notes

Personnel: Bob Dylan (vocals, guitar, harmonica); John Jackson (guitar); Bucky Baxter (pedal steel guitar, dobro); Brendan O'Brien (Hammond organ); Tony Garnier (bass); Winston Watson (drums).

Recorded live at the Sony Studios, New York, New York.

MTV UNPLUGGED was nominated for a 1996 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" was nominated for a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, and "Dignity" was nominated for Best Rock Song.

It can be taken as a simple twist of fate: the most famous artist of the rock era to symbolically "plug in" finally goes "unplugged." Yet, while everyone remembers how Bob Dylan startled the folkies by "going electric" at Newport, few recent fans recognize that he returned to his acoustic roots shortly thereafter (on 1968's JOHN WESLEY HARDING), and that his biggest success afterward was a mostly acoustic album (1975's BLOOD ON THE TRACKS).

It is the musical touches of BLOOD ON THE TRACKS that MTV UNPLUGGED emulates, adding drums to the combo of acoustic and steel guitars, organ, and bass. It's the sound of The Bard playing a cafe in a country-blues-folk paradise--songs are softer in volume and presentation, but lose none of their bite. The opening "Tombstone Blues" trades its double-time fervor for a confident country jaunt, the organ lifting the stream of consciousness verses and guiding them into epiphanic choruses, as Dylan and John Jackson trade bluegrassy licks. The full-band reading of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" straddles the fence between messianic uplift and detached melancholy, the author seemingly aware that the change has come but uncertain if it was for the best.

While the song selection of MTV UNPLUGGED relies predominantly on the classics, the lesser-known numbers are the tours de force. "John Brown," a song Dylan has long performed but never recorded, is given a solo reading with the spite usually reserved for "Masters Of War"--all poignancy and no mercy. And the closing "With God On Our Side" finds rock's poet laureate at the end of the millennium, looking back and wondering if anything's been learned. His hoarse voice weary, Dylan seeks the same answers that canonized artists have seached for through eternity.


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