Its an honor to receive the first public compliment for the BOB DYLAN Archive from Michael Gray. (He linked here from his always interesting Bob Dylan Encyclopedia blog , which led a number of you to visit here… welcome to you all).
In his linked blog he refers to the excerpts of two of his historical reviews of Dylan albums, that we included in the Catalography –(what we call our discography, because the word “disc” seems more and more inapt)– discography book that is part of the BD Archive.
Our discographies aim to create a unique context for appreciating the chronology and history of the artist’s album catalog. The BOB DYLAN Archive Catalography is an LP sized, soft cover book. On the cover is a beautiful, oversized reproduction of a classic “Blonde on Blonde” Bob Dylan portrait (reproduced directly from the archives of the photographer, Jerry Schatzberg). Inside is the 54 page, full color discography and journey through Bob Dylan’s entire album catalog, including excerpts from more than 90 historic album reviews, and 27 reproductions of classic album advertisements.
The idea of the album reviews was to take a look at each album as it was encountered, observed and received by (mostly) respected rock critics of the time. Because it is not an exaggeration to say that “rock criticism” was born, grew, flourished, then entered middle age, around the work of Bob Dylan– and i think you can see it all as you read through the Catalography— we knew heading into this that it would be an interesting textual companion to the discography. I will excerpt a few in the coming weeks, and after the BOB DYLAN Archive is officially released, come back and share some things i did not include, for various reasons, but that are interesting, and I really like, nonetheless.
Its appropriate, i think, to begin with Michael Gray’s review of “Blood On the Tracks.”
In his blog link, he says that he is happy to stand by his review from more than 35 years ago. He should be! it wasn’t just that he got how great the record itself was, at a time when many reviewers, believe it or not, did not. He made some pretty bold statements, as if he was peering into a crystal ball about what he believed could be Dylan’s continued significance as an creative artist “perhaps for the next thirty years.” And at the same time, he noted that there was no real precedent for that in rock music. He was acknowledging how bold a prediction he was making.
In fact, I think Gray’s review excerpt is the pivotal review in the BOB DYLAN Archive Catalography, for the pivotal album in Bob Dylan’s catalog– for all of the reasons that Michael Gray had said in 1975, and as the foreshadow of what would come later.
At a later date, i will share some of my perspective on some of the reviews (by very respected reviewers) who did not exactly get “Blood On The Tracks” right way. I think its a snapshot that gives an incredible perspective on the whole ‘art’ of rock criticism. But for now, here is the excerpt from Michael Gray’s review.
“Blood On The Tracks” [is] the most strikingly intelligent album of the seventies.
That seems to me to change everything. It transforms our perception of Dylan – no longer the major artist of the sixties whose decline from the end of that decade froze seminal work like “Blonde on Blonde” into a historic religious object which one chose either to put away in the attic or to revere, perhaps at the expense of today’s music. Instead, Dylan has legitimized his claim to a creative prowess as vital now as then – a power not, after all, bounded by the one decade he so much affected, but capable of being directed at us effectively for perhaps the next thirty years.
Changed too must be our blueprint of how rock music moves forward. This has been that artists come and go in relatively short time spans, with new people emerging to make the major changes. Careers are presumed to peak early and then slide into inevitable decline.
“Blood On The Tracks” demolishes that pattern… This album is the work of a man who has never been of sharper intelligence nor more genuinely preoccupied with the inner struggles and complexities of human nature…the work of a man who has lost not one iota of his devotion to, nor expertise with, a wide range of American musics.
Let It Rock (April, 1975)
BOB DYLAN Archive