I’ve been enjoying a Christmas present, Travellin’ Thru. It’s clear that Dylan thrives on the pressure of the genuine take or live performance. Suddenly, he comes alive. But what is going on with his voice?
Dylan was always pretending to be someone else other than Robert Zimmerman. In interviews he’d make up outlandish stories about his past. Here, we hear him pretending to pretend in at least three different ways. I understand he’d taken a sabbatical following his gruelling ‘Judas’ tour and motorbike accident. Maybe, he no longer wanted to be the pre-1967 Dylan. John Wesley Harding is austere, almost Old Testament medieval, and his voice sounds like a withered old seer who lives as a hermit and doesn’t know how to conduct a conversation. For Nashville Skyline, he reinvents himself as a masculine hunk, irresistible to women, all deep round baritone notes, as seductive as molten toffee. It strikes me as his freakiest album, even stranger than the one with The Grateful Dead. The duets with Johnny Cash are also weird, as though he realised he couldn’t compete with Cash’s sonorous voice and ended up pitching betwixt and between. On these outtakes, he defers a lot to Cash, who relaxes nicely into the lead role, “Have you met Bob?”. He’s on his best behaviour with Earl Scruggs. That man could play the hell out of a banjo.
By Self Portrait, Dylan no longer sounded like the Dylan of the sixties, more like a normal human being who could actually sing, hitting the right notes and everything. I guess the amphetamines that kept him going through 65/66 affected his vocal chords, stretching them into a whine and causing him to sing through his nose. Another Self Portrait remains my favourite Bootleg Series because his singing sounds so natural and free, as though singing is a pleasure rather the chore it sounded pre motorbike accident.
Tell Me That It Isn’t True