[SoundStage!]The Vinyl Word
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September 2002

Found on Vinyl: Sundazed Bob Dylan Remasters

I’ve been going through something of a vinyl renaissance lately. Perhaps this reawakening is the result of all the CDs I’ve been listening to and reviewing of late. Then again, it could be due to my VPI/Rega/Clearaudio analog rig that’s staring me in the face every time I fire up the CD player along with the wonderful phono stage in the Audio Research SP16 preamp. But I think the real reason is that I’ve been spoiled by albums the likes of those under discussion here: the first five re-releases of the Bob Dylan catalog by Sundazed Records.

Many an audiophile reading this is probably thinking the same thing I did: Just how good can these Sundazed reissues be, considering they're selling for a measly $14.98 per single LP? The answer? These records are the real deal. And when you add up the prices, packaging and 180-grams of superbly pressed, super-quiet quality vinyl, the total is much more than the sum of its parts. So after much hedging, I finally got my dander up, called, placed an order and before you could say USPS my records were here.

These five LPs -- Another Side Of Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, and Highway 61 Revisited -- represent some of the very first rockets sent into the musical heavens by the now immortal Mr. Zimmerman. My reaction to this display of songwriting fireworks was to be as enjoyable and long-lasting as it was surprising. But the most arresting point in these records, at least from an audiophile perspective, is that Sundazed released these vinyl biscuits in the original mono. You heard me, mono -- exactly the way Dylan and his producers recorded them so many years ago.

Whoa! This ain’t exactly the Bob Dylan I remember. And it’s not just because these are in mono either. You see, Bob and I kind of came of age together, in a roundabout sort of way. His songs were a big part of the soundtrack to my youth. I thought I knew his vocal talents very, very well. Yet here, within the grooves of these Sundazed LPs, were some significant differences from my old Columbia Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol.1 album that I always pulled out whenever I wanted my Dylan fix.

There isn’t much to say regarding the music contained within these five records that hasn’t already been said many times over. This is primal stuff. It’s the atomic particles that made up the building blocks for much of the rock and folk music that was to follow. It not only gave voice to, but was also the foundation used by, an entire generation to build their values upon. Then think of the diverseness of those who partook of Dylan’s musical offerings, expressing his ideas in their own voices. Musicians and bands such as The Byrds, Peter, Paul & Mary, Jimi Hendrix, The Band (Dylan’s early back-up group initially known as the Hawks), Joan Baez, Eric Clapton and many, many others have given us what are considered by some to be almost definitive performances of Dylan tunes. Yet, in my mind, Dylan’s own versions have never been completely surpassed, just equaled.

These LPs also document the evolution of Bob Dylan from acoustic-folk hero to electric-folk rocker. The first glimpse the musical universe had of the change in store for it was when it heard the second side of Bringing It All Back Home. Here was Dylan’s music going electric in ways not heard previously. But the controversy that swirled around that one side was spit in the wind compared to the storm that erupted upon the release of Highway 61 Revisited. This was Dylan thumbing his nose at all those folkies who had named him their messiah and laying down a new testament for his acolytes to follow. It’s a document that Dylan has remained true to through today.

But the real point of interest for those exploring the possibility of purchasing these records is how they sound. Were they worth all the hassle? And finally, for the audiophile, was mono really the way to go in reissuing these vital recordings? "Great," "yes" and "absolutely."

Right from my initial listen I was highly impressed by how real these mono recordings sounded. I was transported from my 21st-century listening room back to a more innocent time. Dylan was there in front of me, playing his guitar, blowing his harmonica and singing just for me. It was great! I could "see" Dylan’s fingers picking at his guitar strings. I could hear the air as it came up from his chest and was formed into words or blown through his mouth organ. Gone was the unrealistic stereo image of Dylan’s voice emanating from one channel, while his guitar arrived from the other. Perhaps it was the simplicity of these early recordings that allowed Columbia’s engineers to capture such a realistic image of a youthful Dylan. Whatever the reason, these mono master tapes were more than good enough for Sundazed to create such wonderful transfers.

Album after album, I was enthralled by the sound. Never, not even once, was I disappointed that these were being played back in mono. Air and space were evident within these grooves. I could close my eyes and feel as though I was there at the recording studio. It wasn’t until I reached Highway 61 Revisited that this illusion of realness was somewhat shattered. Again, perhaps this was due to all the additional musicians and/or the electronic nature of the music, or that perhaps the mono playback was finally the limiting factor in my enjoyment. But whatever the reason, this album made it harder for me to pretend that I was listening to the real thing and not a recording. Still, I could follow any musical line I chose. The clarity that infused the earlier solo recordings still shone through.

As I write this, I’m sitting here listening to Dylan’s latest offering, the CD of Love And Theft. The biggest difference I heard was in the starkness that those early recordings displayed that is missing from our day’s slicker productions. Yet Dylan still sounds true to himself, if a tad more rock-n-rollish. It’s this type of connection that makes these early Dylan vinyl albums all the more meaningful to us now. We have Sundazed to thank for bringing such relevant pieces of history alive once again -- for those of us old enough to remember their debut and especially for those hearing these records for the very first time.

...John Crossett
johnc@soundstage.com

 

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