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Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde
1966 (1999) - Columbia Records

review by Grey Cavitt of MusicTAP

Super Audio CDStereoDirect Stream Digital

Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (SACD) Album Rating: A+

Audio Ratings (SACD 2.0): A-

Extras Rating: N/A

Specs and Features

73 mins, single-sided, single-layered, jewel case packaging, liner notes booklet, track access (14 tracks - see track listing below), audio formats: SACD DSD 2.0

Stereo Mix Produced by: Bob Johnston
Re-mixed by: Vic Anasini
Mastered by: Stephen Saper

Bob Dylan (vocals/guitar/harmonica/piano), Charlie McCoy (bass/guitar/trumpet/harmonica), Wayne Moss (guitar/vocals), Kenneth A Buttrey (drums), Hargus Robbins (piano/keyboards), Jerry Kennedy (guitar), Joe South (Guitar), Al Kooper ( various), Bill Aikins (keyboards), Henry Strzelecki (bass), Jaime (Robbie) Robertson (various)



Highway 61 Revisited melded Dylan's mighty folk with blues and rock to create a new music. On Blonde on Blonde, Dylan drives his experiments even farther, proving that no musical style exists that cannot be grafted onto a well-written song. This album is simply breathtaking. He tackles so much, but he achieves even more. Each song becomes a journey into narcotic landscapes, another world where the terrain constantly shifts, one's footing is none too certain, and the slightest word can mean everything. Spewing such brilliant songs over two albums, Dylan especially shocks with the coherent nature of the work. Even if he rockets one around a strange world, the journey is still one united, wild trip that never seems disjointed or diffuse. Visions of Johanna sounds like a murky yet revelatory sad dream, and Just Like a Woman is drenched in loss and regret. How an artist can sound both this adventurous and in control at once is one of the many mysteries and enchantments of this unique, ground-shattering album.

Dylan's musical trek is much smoother than Blonde on Blonde's transfer through several different versions and formats over the last thirty-five years. On the way to this Super Audio Compact Disc release, Blonde has been through more than one mono vinyl version and several vinyl stereo mixes. In the digital age it has emerged in a couple of crassly edited CDs, a standard CD with the correct running time but dull sound, and a MasterSound Gold CD version that tweaked the music much too far into the trebly regions of bass-less shrillness. Finally, this masterpiece arrives as an SACD, and delightfully, it has seldom sounded better.

This Blonde on Blonde is a remix, as the original stereo master tapes are reportedly over worn. Rather than second-guessing the artist and original engineers with a new, more modern sounding mix, the remixers (just who they are is a matter of great dispute) painstakingly strove to recreate the standard vinyl mix with careful, studied detail. This is a wise move when recreating an acknowledged masterpiece such as this, and the decision strengthens this new release.

Immediately, Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35 highlights the sonic excellence of this SACD. The instrumental separation is startling, and the clarity and detail the format's increased resolution offers is breathtaking. From the drum announcing the first song, softly mushy but clear and powerful, to the acid-scorched wired guitars of Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat and Obviously 5 Believers, this music impresses with an in-the-room quality most audiophiles live for. Throughout the album, the harmonica leaps out with a definition and presence that shreds, whines, and soothes, and the piano approaches the depth the ivories plunk out on the vinyl versions. The cymbals magnificently sound rather than simply sizzle, and the bass and midrange bounce out from whatever pits the former MasterSound disc thrust them. Listen to how the descending bass after the chorus of Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again smoothly and powerfully blossoms without blooming into over-booming. Still, while the mix brings out each instrument and the SACD faithfully and sharply reproduces it, these sounds can swirl into an intertangled musical swell such as in the chorus of One of Us Must Know.

The mix is also wonderfully dynamic. Unlike so many modern remasters, here quiet instruments linger behind the others while louder strains take center stage. A great example is the organ in Temporary like Achilles; it leaps and ducks throughout the musical maze, now nearly dominant, now barely audible. SACD has an incredible dynamic capacity and Blonde on Blonde luckily takes full advantage of it.

The major drawback is an occasional lack of air and space between those well-separated strings, skins, and horns jumping out of the opposite speakers. Perhaps it is partly a result of a tad too much brightness in the upper range; though not shrill as the gold disc, this is still rather hot. Perhaps the age of the tapes are to blame. Perhaps only the mastering engineers know the reason. Whatever the cause, Visions of Johanna, for example, simply does not have the smoky yet real sense of atmosphere between the players that the standard vinyl had.

The minor drawback here is that this wonderfully mixed SACD is not a hybrid. No SACD player in your car, no new Blonde on Blonde in your car.

Still, when the final two tracks play with such revelatory wonder, it is hard to complain. Obviously 5 Believers is a humming, strumming, squelching glory never quite captured on previous digital releases, and Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands is fresh and freed from the dingy film it has been trapped under since its move from record to CD.

Blonde on Blonde has always been an essential rock album. Now, it is also a necessary SACD. Here's hoping the release of 15 Dylan albums in the format this fall imitates this excellent example of instrumental clarity and detail, faithfulness to the original mixes, and dynamic range. Dylan definitely deserves no less.

Grey Cavitt
gcavitt@musictap.net
Visit Matt Rowe's MusicTAP ------ Music Flows There!


Track Listing:

Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Pledging My Time
Visions of Johanna
One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)
I Want You
Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like a Woman
Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine
Temporary like Achilles
Absolutely Sweet Marie
4th Time Around
Obviously 5 Believers
Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands


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