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20lbs of Headlines

by MARK CARTER

Plenty of Masked And Anonymous reviews to get through this month and - no surprise here - there ain't a positive one amongst ‘em! 

The New York Times’ A.O. Scott begins his savaging by quoting Dylan’s cellulose diologue (“It’s in the grass. Cows can digest it. But you can’t and neither can I”) and then suggests that it might prove to be a metaphor for the movie; “I did not see any cows at the movie, but only a many-stomached Bob Dylan fan could walk away from this film feeling well nourished.”  The San Francisco Chronicle's Edward Guthmann was equally impressed; “...Void of inflection, Dylan doesn't act, but stands and looks uneasy in whatever space the camera is pointing. The deadness in his eyes stops the movie cold.” 

Liam Lacey of GlobeAndMail.com awarded it one star and his opening salvo ran thus; “...There are people who find treasures in celebrities’ garbage cans so it’s a reasonable gamble they might want to buy tickets to watch their throwaway home-movie projects as well. That’s the most plausible explanation for the theatrical release of Masked And Anonymous.” Still, his cards are on the table from the first paragraph, so it saves having to read any more of his review. 

Dennis Harvey’s review on SFBG.com was pretty brief but, even so, managed to maul Renaldo And Clara (“...perhaps the single most unwatchable movie of the 1970s”), Dylan’s acting ability which “still bears comparison to a cement block” and the movie itself; “...It's quasi-surreal, limply metaphorical, solemnly pretentious wankage.” Possibly not a fan, then? 

The nearest we get to a complimentary review is courtesy of Bill White of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer who reckons that the film is “strange and convoluted...as rewarding as a Dylan song, and just as perplexing.” 

Meanwhile, the soundtrack was faring slightly better, with Record Collector’s Ken Hunt claiming that the varied mix of musical styles contained on the album provides “food for thought” and that “the pluses outnumber the minuses”. Dylan’s contributions are praised, with Cold Irons Bound being voted “the best of the bunch” and - one senses that Hunt might have run out of inspiration here - Diamond Joe described as “a folksy thing”. 

Uncut’s brief review awarded it three stars and concluded diplomatically that it was “a must for Dylanites”. 

Le Monde's Bruno Lesprit was also impressed, only singling out the Grateful Dead track for criticism (and, therefore, earning my respect) and claiming that “this amazing mosaic has the great merit of shying away from the mausoleum-like tributes so frequent nowadays.” 

Bob’s Summer shows earned somewhat better column inches with surprisingly hardly any comments about how his voice is ravaged beyond repair nowadays. Dana Dugan of MTEXPRESS.com singled out praise for new guitarist Freddie Koella, who “was up to the task and played superbly, in some cases duelling with the legend and cutting loose at other times to rock at the front of the stage.” 

Dusty Parnell of the Idaho Press enjoyed Bob’s Idaho Center Ampitheater show slightly less than his last appearance three years ago; “Not that this was a bad show, it certainly wasn't that, but Dylan left a vague feeling of disappointment. Perhaps my expectations were too high.” 

The Wisconsin Star Tribune’s Jon Bream trooped along to the joint Dylan/Dead show at Somerset’s Float-Rite Ampi-theatre and obviously enjoyed Dylan more than the Dead; “...It's a good thing that Dylan sat in with the Dead, because he provided the main spark during their first set… “As for Dylan's opening stint, he tore through a rollicking roadhouse set...He played piano and harmonica with conviction and sang with parched passion. For a figure of his stature and repertoire, it seemed like an insultingly short set.” 

Josh McAuliffe of the Scranton Times enjoyed the show at Bushkill’s Mountain Laurel Performing Arts Center; “...The iconic singer-songwriter was nothing short of brilliant... (the) trademark voice was as craggy and hoarse as ever, but his energy was inspired and his phrasing almost completely comprehensible.”  He was even impressed with the new venue (in which Dylan was playing the first rock concert); “...The acoustics are terrific, which made the experience even more enjoyable.” 

Seth Rogovoy of the Berkshire Eagle decided that the show at Northampton’s Pines Theatre must have been both exciting and terrifying for Dylan’s band because he threw them so many curveballs, momentarily confusing both them and the audience; “There were several of these tense moments in Dylan’s erratic but brilliant show.”  Other than early disappointment with Dylan’s delivery (“where his vocals get stuck in a sing-song pattern that ends every line going up - the musical version of Valley Girl-it is”)/ Rogovoy was more than impressed “even if, as my much wiser 10-year- old son observed at the end “He played a lot of good songs the wrong way”.” 

Again reviewing the Northampton gig for Massivelive.com Kevin O’Hare was also more impressed than depressed; “... Like nearly all Dylan shows these days, it had it’s moments of brilliance and bewilderment, majestic highs mixed among momentary lapses of chaos and confusion. In other words, it was just the way Bob likes it.” 

Syracuse.com’s Mark Bialczak was thrilled with Bob's “sizzling two hour set” at the State Fair Grandstand and was equally thrilled with his onstage joke whilst introducing Larry Campbell; “Larry went and got a pig. I asked him where he was going to put it. He said “Under my bed.” I asked him what he’ll do when the pig starts to smell. He said, “I'll get used to it.” “Is it me, or has Bob cocked up the punchline? Surely it should be; “I asked him what he’s going to do about the smell. He said “The pig will just have to get used to it.”” Mind you, Bob’s jokes are funnier when he does fuck them up. 

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Richard Williams was waxing lyrical over the new set of remastered CDs (my tagline would be “So good you’ve just got to buy them all over again” and Sony can even use it if they pay me enough money). He is most impressed with Sad Eyes Lady Of The Lowlands (“now even more gloriously voluptuous”) and, in general, feels that “the restorers have done nothing but good, and this is the best chance yet to hear Dylan’s acoustic guitar glistening like dewdrops in a cobweb on Girl From The North Country.”  He is even pleased with the new packaging - mini LP sleeves with extra photos and “the absence of scholarly essays, which is a relief”. 

John Harris reviewed the whole lot for October’s Mojo and -Street Legal excepted, for reasons I simply cannot understand (how can anyone not love that album?) - had nothing but praise for all of them. Indeed, his only complaint is the titles that Sony and/or Dylan decided to omit; New Morning, Bob Dylan, Freewheelin’ and “the cultishly-treasured soundtrack Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid”, though he is relieved that Bob’s 1985-88 recorded output is ignored. What? Does nobody yearn for a remastered Drifting Too Far From Shore, then? 

Also during October Peter Doggett enjoyed Andrew Muir’s Troubadour book in Record Collector (“His essays might not be definitive, but they lead you inevitably back to the music with a different, broader perspective, which is all one can ask from a book of this nature”) and Mojo was voting Dylan’s Strat and amp at Newport in 1965 as the second most world-changing moment in rock ‘n’ roll. For once Dylan actually beats the Beatles in a poll (they can only limp in at number 11) and only Elvis’ mid-1950s can be considered to have had a greater impact in the world of popular music and beyond. Fair comment. 

Finally, mention must be made here of Uncut's special Dylan-only magazine published in September. The first in a series of “Legends” titles, this follows fairly closely Q's Dylan special from 2000; 1961-69 - Dylan could do no wrong - 1980-88 - Dylan could do no  right, 1975 - the Rolling Thunder Revue, 1979 - Slow Train, 1997 onwards - the Great Comeback, etc, etc. Unlike the Q effort, there are fewer misdated photos and stupid photo captions and, more importantly, there seem to be a few more rarer photos. Well written, nicely laid out and with a spot-on essay to conclude, this is essential and you won't pick a better magazine off the shelf all year, I'll wager (though Penthouse's "Big Bazoomas Special" comes pretty close, admittedly). My only complaint is that none of these mags takes a look at the Dylan fanzine market - a surprising omission, given their importance to practically every Bob Dylan fan on the planet and surely these are as worthy of attention as, say, Dylan websites? Perhaps if Mojo ever get around to producing a Dylan special they'll rectify the error. 

That's it for this month. I'm off to Roswell with Jack Fate. 

THANKS TO: DEREK AND TRACY BARKER, ANTONIO IRIARTE  AND GRAHAM WILKINSON

Bob Dylan with Rev Gary Davis (left), 1962
 
 
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