There are times when I realise why I have bothered to spend so much time honing my system and spending money I donít really have on it.
It happened yesterday as I spent about 5 hours listening through most of the 15 Bob Dylan SACD hybrid remasters.
I was in a state of bliss as the music that I have loved over an 18-year period unfolded in aural detail I had never heard before.
The following comments will not take into account SACD replay nor indeed the multi-channel performance that exists on 5 of these discs.
Iíll start off with some words on the man.
If you hate or donít get Dylan read on I might be able to change your mind or at least make you think if you are any kind of music fan at least some of this music has to be owned.
Bob Dylan-so much has been written about him that most of what is known about him and his music has descended into clichť and indeed Rock/Pop mythology.
With Dylan you have to look at the whole picture and not get caught up in the clichťs-protest singer, poet, Christian Rock, folk singer going electric.
Itís about the music and the music talks for itself in a way nobody can capture.
Clearly most peopleís problem with Dylan is his singing voice.
Iím not going to try and convince anybody that hates Dylanís vocals that he is a great singer.
I would argue though he has a great voice and at his best can produce great vocals.
The tone and delivery cannot be to everybody tastes.
If youíve ever tried to sing some Dylan songs yourself using acoustic guitar you may have found they arenít as easy to capture or sing as you might think.
His voice though in my mind fits perfectly the music; itís music with roots, steeped in tradition.
Itís also a voice that grew in a remarkable manner and indeed was capable of different styles as the folk/country vocals of John Wesley Harding and the out and out country of Nashville Skyline proved.
Before that he moved from a folk style into Blues and indeed the first true elements of what would become Rock music as we know it.
I prefer to hear Dylan sing Dylan songs but hey a lot of folks donít.
If you are in the world of perfection, smooth aesthetics indeed technical perfection then Dylan might not be for you.
His is a voice that carries a truth and relates the journey of a very young man who would single handedly change popular music.
In short Dylan rewrote the rules on what a song could achieve.
Whilst you should never lose sight that Dylan was indeed a songwriter not a poet what he did manage with his lyrics was take high culture and fuse it into popular culture in seamless fashion.
As for types of songs, heís written every kind you can think of and invented new styles along the way.
Of course he isnít perfect-the gaps in this 15 set to a large extent mirror the gap in Dylanís powers and indeed the problem he grew to have capturing his songs in the studio during his career.
This collection by and large though does represent the best of Dylanís original work although I would personally liked to have seen the original Bootleg 3CD set featured too.
Firstly a disclaimer I am not an audiophile and perhaps more astute ears will find other issues with these releases.
I was perhaps approaching these releases with a fear of slight disappointment.
I was wrong, by and large they are stunning.
As Dylanís sound develops from his early albums into a band formation the improvements become more and more clear.
Whilst the original albums are mostly vocals and guitar the new releases clearly take you closer to the sound of the original tapes.
As Dylan moves into full band mode these remasters reproduce more detail than on any previous incarnations.
A good example would be Blonde On Blonde probably Dylanís most re-released record, this release provides detail and a cohesion of sound I have not previously heard.
Two releases do disappoint though to my ears.
John Wesley Harding-always sounded murky on CD and despite an improvement it doesnít still fully escape this problem.
Indeed the effect of the drums only coming out of the right channel becomes waring after a while.
Street Legal sounds a bit forced and compressed to my ears.
Other highlights in the series to my ears are Desire-a fantastic record always slated for itís production-now at least the full sound can be heard on instruments and backing vocals in a way previously unheard.
Planet Waves-patchy as it is fully shows off the musicianship of the Band and all their little licks and tricks.
Dylan releases are unlikely to be heralded I guess for their audio qualities and yet despite the flaws that sometimes exist in Dylanís output and recording process these releases really do show what a difference the remastering process can have.
Simply put it takes you closer to the music and for me this is what it is all about.
Now finally my comments on each Dylan release.
THE FREEWHEELINí BOB DYLAN.
The first classic Dylan release showing a myriad of styles beyond his protest singer label and the brilliant humour that was always evident in Dylanís music.
To clarify a famous ďlieĒ A Hard Rainís A Gonna Fall was written before the Cuban missile crisis therefore it cannot be about that although the cold war tension may have played a part in Dylan writing it.
Like the best of his songs it works on levels beyond its well-know analysis.
ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN.
The first sign of Dylan moving into more abstract areas that he would perfect later.
Not perfect but features key highlights in his developing talent such as My Back Pages, Chimes Of Freedom and It Ainít Me Babe.
Personal favourite here is the beautiful To Ramona.
BRINGINí IT ALL BACK HOME.
Dylanís doorway from his past into his future featuring both styles of music he would become famous for.
Subterranean Homesick Blues and Itís All Over Now Baby Blue begin and end this work of genius.
Dylan had become a superhuman cultural sponge that would produce in 18 months a trio of records that would largely define his talent.
HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED
Now Dylan had passed into the world of Rock.
Like A Rolling Stone stretched the limits of the single and the pop charts.
Blues based rockers and a nod to the chaos of his mind in Desolation Row.
BLONDE ON BLONDE.
A double record that closed the door to the madness of fame and the rock and roll lifestyle that had gripped Dylan in his explosive rise.
The thin wild mercury sound never sounded better than on this new version.
Finishes with his epic love song to his new wife Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.
JOHN WESLEY HARDING
The Beatles had just released Sgt. Pepper-Dylan replied to that with a plaintive acoustic based album that would become the template for alt-country.
Arguably a reaction to both the excesses of his previous lifestyle, his new domestic bliss and his thinking that popular music was losing itís way with the emphasis on studio effects.
Contains a few classic including All Along The Watchtower but imho is more effective for itís tone than itís overall quality.
A playful Dylan produces a country album in a new singing voice that confuses his fans.
Mostly lightweight but fun with three classics in Lay Lady Lay, I Threw It All Away and Tonight Iíll Be Staying Here With You
After the early years of raising a family and seemingly completely losing his way (Self-Portrait and Dylan were released) Dylan returned to work with The Band.
To me this now sounds quite an experimental work but Forever Young, You Angel You, Never Say Goodbye and Wedding Song make it a worthwhile and strangely unique Dylan album.
BLOOD ON THE TRACKS.
Dylan achieved the impossible by producing a record that arguably eclipsed his previous classics.
Sparsely recorded, highly emotional and a very rare expose that is clearly purely only about Dylan called Idiot Wind.
He later denied this record was only about his marriage break up.
10 tracks that prove Dylan wasnít paralysed by his past.
A great great record sadly shadowed by his previous release.
Features an exotic feel and a largely missed fact that with songs like Hurricane and Isis Dylan had enhanced the range of his songwriting.
Unusually Dylan co-writes on this record with Jacques Levy.
One that splits fans.
A very good to great record that was the end of road for Dylan in certain aspects as he approached 40.
Senor is a personal favourite.
The production is a bit all over the place but it has great songs.
SLOW TRAIN COMING
Dylan became a born-again Christian and created a furore.
A good record but has the odd clunker messing up Dylanís new vision.
The music mostly works outwith the parameters that are focused on by the critics.
As for the fall-out from this record, I could write about that all day but I merely say that since Dylanís life was in turmoil, looking outwardly wasnít such a strange thing in my opinion to do.
Deciding that he believed in god but he was indeed a Jew Dylan returned to mostly secular matters (started on Shot Of Love) after his religious trio of records.
This is a great collection of songs despite Dylan arguably not nailing the sound he had in his head for them.
Whilst this was always a problem, in the 80ís Dylan disappeared into a world of bad production choices and mostly lost his powers of quality control.
Jokerman and I&I are two songs worthy of inclusion amongst his very best work.
This is a record famous amongst Dylan fans for the songs he left off.
Still well worth having and overall is underrated in the Dylan canon.
After the shambles of his Live Aid performance and a run of records that were savagely destoyed by the critics Dylanís stock was at an all time low.
The involvement of Daniel Lanois was a master stroke but more importantly the collection of songs had were particularly strong.
As the 80ís ended this marvelously atmospheric record put Dylan back on the map.
Sounding fantastic in this new version it struck me that Shooting Star may well be about his relationship with his father.
LOVE & THEFT.
If you havenít heard the wear in Dylanís voice over the years the approach this record with caution.
Critically acclaimed itís a fantastic collection of songs.
Some are vary reminiscent of 40ís and 50ís popular songwriting which might not be to everybodyís taste.
Itís a great record and Mississipi, High Water and Sugar Baby prove Dylan is still valid.
At 60 Dylan produced a record like nothing heíd ever released before.