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BOOK REVIEW: Dylan Disc by Disc by Jon Bream

| 23 February 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Dylan Disc by Disc by Jon Bream
Murdoch Books
July 2015
Hardback, $39.99
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Music Biography


Dylan Disc by Disc by Jon Bream

Rather than tackling Bob Dylan’s enormous discography single-handedly, Jon Bream (music critic at the Minneapolis Star Tribune) drew up an impressive list of luminaries – scholars, journalists, musicians – to go head-to-head in pairs album by album.

The book does exactly what it says on the tin: analyses each disc one by one, starting with 1962’s self-titled Bob Dylan (discussed here by Grateful Dead publicist & biographer Dennis McNally and Grammy Museum CEO and Dylan author Robert Santelli, and moderated by Bream), right through thirty-six studio albums, covering 406 songs, up to 2015’s Shadows In The Night (covered by NPR critic Tom Moon and WNYC DJ John Schaefer).

It’s a staggering project, and Bream seems to have fairly and appropriately apportioned responsibilities for each album. Not everyone can get their mitts on Blonde On Blonde, for instance (Geoffrey Himes, award-winning critic and writer for a slew of American publications & singer-songwriter Jason Isbell get that honour) – and someone has to tackle his lacklustre born again album Saved (singer songwriter John Wesley Harding [aka Wesley Stace] and The Roots drummer Questlove [aka Ahmir Thompson] draw that short straw).

Interestingly, each commentator discusses the album(s) they are allocated with open eyes, highlighting both the good and the bad about each offering, discussing the motivations behind each recording – where was Dylan at that point in his life? What drew him to this place, to that mindset? Bream’s moderating questions open up conversation and thought about what may in some cases have been either simply accepted as a classic, or dismissed as a low point – and in every case the critics involved have strong opinions about the material.

In the end DYLAN DISC BY DISC is most likely only going to appeal to those who have already formed their own opinions about Dylan (mostly positive we assume, otherwise why would they purchase 240 pages on the subject?) but Bream’s format opens the doors to reappraisal of the source material, and may illuminate some of the life of the creator along the way.

Category: Book Reviews

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