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Arts & Music

Essential Bob Dylan: 7 albums revisited before his Tampa concert


Published:   |   Updated: June 27, 2013 at 01:35 PM

You can make a number of arguments regarding who is the most seminal recording artist in the history of rock. You could claim that Elvis Presley made rock go international. His sales figures were and are staggering as was his tangible sensuality. No rocker ever moved the same after Elvis floored a nation thanks to his gyrations on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The Beatles came up with the template. Forget about songwriters for boy bands. The Fab Four not only wrote the songs but morphed like no other act in the history of pop.

And then there is Bob Dylan. The man formerly known as Robert Zimmerman changed music on so many levels. There is arguably no greater songwriter of the 20th century. Dylan is the master confessional songwriter, and he has always been brilliant at rendering stream-of-consciousness narratives.

Dylan, 72, proves that a singer didn't need a particularly good voice to succeed behind the microphone. His unconventional, ragged set of pipes are certainly an acquired taste, but he's shown anyone can sing but no one has ever been able to write like rock 'n' roll's greatest bard. He defined folk-rock, made a splash in electric rock and has been a force in country-rock. There was the Dylan who found God and the Dylan who has aged gracefully - proving that you don't have be under 30 to be relevant in the music world. Some of Dylan's finest offerings have been crafted when he was on the other side of 40.

A myriad of recording artists have been blown away by Dylan, who will play at the AmericanaramA Festival of Music on Thursday at the MidFlorida Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, "Probably the greatest songwriter ever," Smokey Robinson said. "Incredible."

It's not surprising that the singer-songwriter, who is most articulate when it comes to the impact of Dylan, is Bruce Springsteen, who waxed about his hero at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"The first time I heard Bob Dylan was in the car with my mother and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind, from 'Like a Rolling Stone.' And my mother, who was no stiff with rock 'n' roll, said she liked the music but said, 'That guy can't sing.' I knew she was wrong. I knew I was listening to the toughest voice that I had ever heard. It was lean and somehow simultaneously young and adult ... Bob's voice thrilled me and scared me. ... He was a revolutionary man, the way Elvis freed your body, Bob freed your mind."

So it's time to free your mind. Here is our list of the albums you must have - the essential Dylan:

"Highway 61 Revisited" (1965): Dylan changes his sound with an album that kicks off with 'Like A Rolling Stone.' He easily veers from folk-rock to garage rock to bluesy rock. Dylan sounds consistently cynical and it suits him perfectly.

"Blonde on Blonde" (1966): Arguably the greatest Dylan album ever. Robbie Robertson's guitar work helped Dylan get to a new level. The album is deep, diverse and it's still so satisfying. Mix the country, rock and blues with his best ballads ('Sad Eyed Lady' and 'Visions of Johanna'). Clever, inventive and surprising.

"Blood on the Tracks" (1975): A throwback to his acoustic days. Intimate, peaceful but at times bitter. Some of his finest, most poignant songs. "Tangled Up in Blue," and "Idiot Wind" are examples of Dylan at his best.

"Infidels" (1983): Dylan's bounce-back album. After a few disappointing releases Dylan returned with 'Infidels,' full of direct, lean tunes, which approximate his salad days.

"Empire Burlesque" (1985): Sure, it's slick but that's the way it was during the mid-'80s, even for Dylan. But if you scrape off the sheen, you'll find the most consistent work Dylan delivered in a decade.

"Time Out of Mind" (1997): Dylan's first set of songs in seven years. The songs are positively Dylanesque, provocative, clever and enhanced by producer Daniel Lanois' touch. Atmospheric and moving.

"Tempest" (2012): It's hard to believe that Dylan still has it a half-century after his debut album dropped. But 'Tempest' proves Dylan remains in fine form. Some of the new material is ragged, but it's clear that Dylan is having a blast as he moves toward his octogenarian years.

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