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Reviewed by Una Persson
It’s a chronological affair, which, despite there being many different ways to peel the musical onion that is Dylan, is as educational a way to experience his music as it is compelling. I should say “mostly” chronological, because there are a couple of odd flip-flops here and there: On Disc One, “Like a Rolling Stone” is stuck between three cuts from Bringing It All Back Home and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” also from Bringing It All Back Home. At first I thought I was wrong, that maybe “Stone” was released earlier in ’65 and whoever compiled this collection was arranging the tracks by some chronology like recording date, or the release date of the singles. But the liner notes backed up my initial thought; sure enough, those first three tracks from Bringing It All Back Home (namely, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Maggie’s Farm”) were released on March 22, 1965, as was “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” “Like a Rolling Stone,” though, was released on August 30, 1965 (on the album Highway 61 Revisited).
Quibbling? Sure it is. But that’s the kind of detail-centric kibitzing you’re bound to get with any collection of Dylan’s, great or small. It happens again on Disc Three, where “Things Have Changed” (from the 2000 collection Essential Bob Dylan) is sandwiched between two cuts from Time Out of Mind. Not big deals, I know…but why do it? Why not stick to a pure chronological running order?
And those minor inconsistencies aren’t the only hairs that could be split about this truly astounding collection (because despite whatever arguments that could be made about DYLAN – and there are plenty – it’s an awesome anthology to say the least.) You want nitpicks? Why only one song off The Times They Are A-Changing when there are four from Freewheelin’ and three from Another Side Of? Only one cut from The Basement Tapes (not even the best one)? Only one cut from Highway 61 Revisited, perhaps Dylan’s finest album, and a watershed moment in recorded rock history? Nothing at all from Self Portrait and Saved? Nothing? Also, the collection sticks primarily to studio albums (the aforementioned cut from The Basement Tapes and “Dignity” from ‘95’s MTV Unplugged the sole exceptions), and there are at least a handful of very worthy live tunes that could have been included here (something from one of the six volumes of official Bootleg Series, at least, or Before the Flood, Budokan, etc.).
My minor Dylanologist complaints aside, and without even getting into individual song selection, there’s not a bad track on the set. Spanning his entire career, from 1962’s Bob Dylan to 2006’s Modern Times, it stands as a fairly comprehensive introduction to for new fans and an unrestrained retrospective for long-time disciples. And I don’t care how big of a Dylan freak you are, almost no one can claim to know all of Dylan’s work, all of his myriad phases (the peaks and the valleys). Okay, Biograph it isn’t. And while ultimately this three-disc set isn’t much more than an updated addition to the Dylan collection canon, and as such probably more valuable to new or casual fans than the diehards, consider that the song selection was influenced by his fans (via voting on his website) and that it’s sequenced chronologically (which is perhaps the most impressive way to experience the highlights from Dylan’s career), not to mention the power and the beauty of his music, and you have a collection worthy of the
hard drive space. And if you splurged for the fancy-schmancy collector’s edition, well, ooh-la-la (read: I’m jealous). shelf