Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Dylan & the Dead [extended]

  • The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan [Columbia, 1963]
  • Bringing It All Back Home [Columbia, 1965]
  • Highway 61 Revisited [Columbia, 1965]
  • Blonde on Blonde [Columbia, 1966]
  • The Grateful Dead [Warner Bros., 1967]
  • John Wesley Harding [Columbia, 1968]
  • Aoxomoxoa [Warner Bros., 1969] A
  • Live/Dead [Warner Bros., 1969] A+
  • Nashville Skyline [Columbia, 1969]
  • Workingman's Dead [Warner Bros., 1970] A
  • Self-Portrait [Columbia, 1970] C+
  • New Morning [Columbia, 1970] A-
  • Vintage Dead [Sunflower, 1970] B-
  • American Beauty [Warner Bros., 1970] A-
  • Grateful Dead [Warner Bros., 1971] B+
  • Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume II [Columbia, 1972] A
  • Europe '72 [Warner Bros., 1972] B+
  • Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid [Columbia, 1973] C+
  • Dylan [Columbia, 1973] E
  • Bear's Choice: History of the Grateful Dead (Vol. 1) [Warner Bros., 1973] C+
  • Wake of the Flood [Arista, 1973] B-
  • Before the Flood [Asylum, 1974] A
  • Planet Waves [Asylum, 1974] A-
  • From the Mars Hotel [Grateful Dead, 1974] B-
  • Blood on the Tracks [Columbia, 1975] A
  • Desire [Columbia, 1975] B-
  • The Basement Tapes [Columbia, 1975] A+
  • Blues for Allah [Grateful Dead, 1975] C-
  • Hard Rain [Columbia, 1976] B-
  • Steal Your Face [Grateful Dead, 1976] C-
  • Terrapin Station [Arista, 1977] B
  • What a Long Strange Trip It's Been: The Best of the Grateful Dead [Warner Bros., 1977] B
  • Street-Legal [Columbia, 1978] C+
  • Shakedown Street [Arista, 1978] C
  • Bob Dylan at Budokan [Columbia, 1979] C+
  • Slow Train Coming [Columbia, 1979] B+
  • Saved [Columbia, 1980] C+
  • Go to Heaven [Arista, 1980] C
  • Shot of Love [Columbia, 1981] B-
  • Reckoning [Arista, 1981] B+
  • Infidels [Columbia, 1983] B-
  • Real Live [Columbia, 1984] B
  • Empire Burlesque [Columbia, 1985] B+
  • Knocked Out Loaded [Columbia, 1986] B
  • In the Dark [Arista, 1987] C+
  • Down in the Groove [Columbia, 1988] C+
  • Oh Mercy [Columbia, 1989] B
  • Dylan & the Dead [Columbia, 1989] C-
  • Built to Last [Arista, 1989] C+
  • Under the Red Sky [Columbia, 1990] A-
  • The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased) [Columbia, 1991] **
  • Good As I Been to You [Columbia, 1992] B+
  • Two from the Vault [Grateful Dead, 1992] A-
  • World Gone Wrong [Columbia, 1993] A-
  • Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 [Columbia, 1994] B+
  • Unplugged [Columbia, 1995] *
  • Dick's Picks, Vol. 2 [Grateful Dead, 1995] ***
  • Dick's Picks Volume Three [Grateful Dead, 1995] Neither
  • Hundred Year Hall [Arista, 1995] Neither
  • Dick's Picks, Vol. 4 [Grateful Dead, 1996] *
  • Dozin' at the Knick [Arista, 1996] A-
  • The Arista Years [Arista, 1996] Neither
  • Time Out of Mind [Columbia, 1997] A-
  • Live 1966 [Columbia/Legacy, 1998] B+
  • Love and Theft [Columbia, 2001] A+
  • Modern Times [Columbia, 2006] A+
  • Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 [Columbia/Legacy, 2008] ***
  • Together Through Life [Columbia, 2009] B+
  • Christmas in the Heart [Columbia, 2009] *
  • Tempest [Columbia, 2012] B+
  • 1965-1966: The Best of the Cutting Edge [Columbia, 2015] *

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan [Columbia, 1963]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home [Columbia, 1965]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited [Columbia, 1965]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde [Columbia, 1966]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Grateful Dead: The Grateful Dead [Warner Bros., 1967]
One of the year's few supposedly psychedelic LPs that wasn't actually a pop LP (cf. Sgt. Pepper, Forever Changes, Mellow Yellow), the already legendary San Francisco band-collective's debut stood out and stands tall because its boogieing folk-rock epitomizes the San Francisco ballroom ethos/aesthetic--blues-based tunes played by musicians who came to rhythm late, expanded so they were equally suitable for dancing and for tripping out. It's also the only studio album that respects and documents the impact of Rod "Pigpen" McKernan, who died in 1973 of cirrhosis of the liver. McKernan's organ is almost as pervasive as Jerry Garcia's guitar. And although Garcia and Bob Weir both take vocal leads, their singing styles are still in Pigpen's white-blues thrall. [Rolling Stone: The 40 Essential Albums of 1967]

Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding [Columbia, 1968]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa [Warner Bros., 1969]
One experimental cut which hasn't made it for me yet, otherwise fantastic. A

Grateful Dead: Live/Dead [Warner Bros., 1969]
An admitted fanatic raves to all the other admitted fanatics. Side two of this four-sided set contains the finest rock improvisation ever recorded, and the rest is gently transcendent as usual. Beautifully recorded, too. A+

Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline [Columbia, 1969]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library; CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

Grateful Dead: Workingman's Dead [Warner Bros., 1970]
Of course they don't sing as pretty as CSNY--prettiness would trivialize these songs. The sparse harmonies and hard-won melodies go with lyrics that make all the American connections claimed by San Francisco's counterculture; there's a naturally stoned bemusement in their good times, hard times, high times, and lost times that joins the fatalism of the physical frontier with the wonder of the psychedelic one. And the changeable rhythms hold out the promise of Uncle John's Band, who might just save us if we'll only call the tune. Inspirational Verse: "Think this through with me." A

Bob Dylan: Self-Portrait [Columbia, 1970]
Jon Landau wrote to suggest I give this a D, but that's pique. Conceptually, this is a brilliant album which is organized, I think, by two central ideas. First that "self" is most accurately defined (and depicted) in terms of the artifacts--in this case pop tunes and folk songs claimed as personal property and semispontaneous renderings of past creations frozen for posterity on a piece of tape and (perhaps) even a couple of songs one has written oneself--to which one responds. Second, that the people's music is the music people like, Mantovani strings and all. But in order for a concept to work it has to be supported musically--that is, you have to listen. I don't know anyone, even vociferous supporters of this album, who plays more than one side at a time. I don't listen to it at all . The singing is not consistently good, though it has its moments, and the production--for which I blame Bob Johnston, though Dylan has to be listed as a coconspirator--ranges from indifferent to awful. It is possible to use strings and soprano choruses well, but Johnston has never demonstrated the knack. Other points: it's overpriced, the cover art is lousy, and it sounds good on WMCA. C+

Bob Dylan: New Morning [Columbia, 1970]
In case you were wondering how definitive that self-portrait was, here comes its mirror image four months later. Call it love on the rebound. This time he's writing the pop (and folk) genre experiments himself, and thus saying more about true romance than is the pop (or folk) norm. Two side-closing throw-ins--a sillyditty about a gal named "Winterlude" and the scatting beatnik send-up "If Dogs Run Free"--almost steal the show. And the two other side-closers, which make religion seem dumber than it already is, damn near give it back. A-

Grateful Dead: Vintage Dead [Sunflower, 1970]
This resurrection from the golden days of the Haight suggests something about the value of iron pyrite when the assay office is far away. The singing is weak, the guitar work often uninspired and the recording stinky. Recent converts beware. B-

Grateful Dead: American Beauty [Warner Bros., 1970]
This is the simplistic folk-rock album Workingman's Dead is supposed to be--sweeter vocally and more direct instrumentally, with words to match. Robert Hunter is better at parsing American conundrums than at picking American beauties, so too many of the lyrics revolve around love, dreams, etc. But only "Attics of My Life" has nothing upstairs. A-

Grateful Dead: Grateful Dead [Warner Bros., 1971]
I wish some of this live double had been done in the studio--might have saved Bob Weir's faint "Playing in the Band" if not his "Me and Bobby McGee"--and the drum-and-guitar interlude isn't going to inspire anybody to toke up, much less see visions. But even there they gather some of that old Dead magic. And it's about time they documented their taste in covers--I've craved their "Not Fade Away" for years. B+

Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume II [Columbia, 1972]
Yet another self-portrait. With all of Dylan's overexposed stuff relegated to Volume I, it unlooses one indubitable classic after another, and because it spans a decade without pretending to (or bothering with) thematic/stylistic coherence, the only overall impression it creates is a staggering, unpredictable virtuosity. Mixed into the star persona are protest ("Hard Rain") and antiprotest ("My Back Pages"), callow ass man ("All I Really Want to Do") and manly ass man ("Lay Lady Lay"). And just in case you think you already own it all, five of the twenty-two cuts are previously uncollected or unreleased. Three of them have been established as indubitable classics by other artists, and the other two begin and end the album. From "Watching the River Flow" to "Down in the Flood"--now what can that mean? A

Grateful Dead: Europe '72 [Warner Bros., 1972]
This live triple is where everybody except certified Grateful Dead freaks gets off the bus, but I've still got my card and it ain't a joker. Sure they're beginning to sound very complacent--the whole "Morning Dew" side could be scratched, and the long version of "Truckin'" proves conclusively that the song doesn't truck much. But the best stuff here--the ensemble playing on "Sugar Magnolia," the movement of "China Cat Sunflower," Garcia's It Hurts Me Too" solo, the lyric to "Ramble On Rose"--is a lot more than laid-back good. It's laid-back brilliant. Most of the rest, patchy though it may be, is laid-back good. Also, I like the way they sing. (And write.) B+

Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid [Columbia, 1973]
At least the strings on this soundtrack are mostly plucked and strummed, rather than bowed en masse, but it's still a soundtrack: two middling-to-excellent new Dylan songs, four good original Bobby voices, and a lot of Schmylan music. C+

Bob Dylan: Dylan [Columbia, 1973]
Listening to this set of rejects from what used to be Dylan's worst album does have its morbid fascination--if you'll forgive the esoteric reference, it's like watching Ryne Duren pitch without glasses. Not only are the timbre and melody off--he was always wild--but he also doesn't phrase cogently, and the songs just hit the dirt. All of which is CBS's punishment after Bobby had the bad manners to sign with another label. I wonder how he could imagine that Columbia is less than benevolent. E

Grateful Dead: Bear's Choice: History of the Grateful Dead (Vol. 1) [Warner Bros., 1973]
Really a Pigpen memorial album, although the Dead would never be so mundane as to put it that way. Recorded Fillmore East, February 1970, and you had to be there. C+

Grateful Dead: Wake of the Flood [Arista, 1973]
Capturing that ruminative, seemingly aimless part of the concert when the boogiers nod out, which doesn't mean nothing is going on--what do the boogiers know by now? Musically, this is a deceptively demanding combination of American Beauty and Aoxomoxoa, sweet tunes mined for structure and texture--including good fiddle, which figures, and good horns, which doesn't. But the lyrics are more of the old karma-go-round, with barely a hook phrase to come away with. I remember Robert Hunter when he was making up American myths. B-

Bob Dylan/The Band: Before the Flood [Asylum, 1974]
At its best, this is the craziest and strongest rock and roll ever recorded. All analogous live albums fall flat. The Rolling Stones are mechanical dolls by comparison, the Faces merely sloppy, the Dead positively quiet. The MC5 achieved something similar by ignoring musicianship altogether, but while the Band sounds undisciplined, threatening to destroy their headlong momentum by throwing out one foot or elbow too many, they never abandon their enormous technical ability. In this they follow the boss. When he sounded thin on Planet Waves, so did they. Now his voice settles in at a rich bellow, running over his old songs like a truck. I agree that a few of them will never walk again, but I treasure the sacrilege; Uncle Bob purveying to the sports arena masses. We may never even know whether this is a masterpiece. A

Bob Dylan: Planet Waves [Asylum, 1974]
In a time when all the most prestigious music, even what passes for funk, is coated with silicone grease, Dylan is telling us to take that grease and jam it. Sure he's domestic, but his version of conjugal love is anything but smug, and this comes through in both the lyrics and the sound of the record itself. Blissful, sometimes, but sometimes it sounds like stray cat music--scrawny, cocky, and yowling up the stairs. A-

Grateful Dead: From the Mars Hotel [Grateful Dead, 1974]
Brighter and more uptempo than Wake of the Flood (which is not to claim it's "high energy"), with almost as many memorable tunes as American Beauty. Robert Hunter is not progressing, however--even "U.S. Blues," an entertaining collection of conceits, seems received rather than found. And a Weir-Barlow song about money is just one more way for rich Marin hippies to put women down. B-

Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks [Columbia, 1975]
The first version of this album struck me as a sellout to the memory of Dylan's pre-electric period; this remix, utilizing unknown Minneapolis studio musicians who impose nothing beyond a certain anonymous brightness on the proceedings, recapitulates the strengths of that period. Dylan's new stance is as disconcerting as all the previous ones, but the quickest and deepest surprise is in the music itself. By second hearing its loveliness is almost literally haunting, an aural déjà vu. There are moments of anger that seem callow, and the prevailing theme of interrupted love recalls adolescent woes, but on the whole this is the man's most mature and assured record. A

Bob Dylan: Desire [Columbia, 1975]
In the great tradition of Grand Funk Railroad, Dylan has made an album beloved by tour devotees--including those who were shut out of Rolling Thunder's pseudocommunitarian grooviness except via the press. It is not beloved by me. Although the candid propaganda and wily musicality of "Hurricane" delighted me for a long time, the deceitful bathos of its companion piece, "Joey," tempts me to question the unsullied innocence of Rubin Carter himself. These are not protest songs, folks, not in the little-people tradition of "Hattie Carroll"; their beneficiaries are (theoretically) wronged heroes, oppressed overdogs not unlike our beleaguered superstar himself. And despite his show of openness, our superstar may be feeling oppressed. His voice sounds viscous and so do his rhymes, while sisters Ronee and Emmylou sound distinctly kid, following the leader as if they're holding onto his index finger. More genuinely fraternal (and redeeming) are the pained, passionate marital tributes, "Sara" and "Isis." B-

Bob Dylan/The Band: The Basement Tapes [Columbia, 1975]
These are the famous lost demos recorded at Big Pink in 1967 and later bootlegged on The Great White Wonder and elsewhere. Of the eighteen Dylan songs, thirteen have been heard in cover versions, one by Dylan himself; the six Band songs have never even been bootlegged and are among their best. Because the Dylan is all work tape, the music is certifiably unpremeditated, lazy as a river and rarely relentless or precise--laid back without complacency or slickness. The writerly "serious" songs like "Tears of Rage" are all the richer for the company of his greatest novelties--if "Going to Acapulco" is a dirge about having fun, "Don't Ya Tell Henry" is a ditty about separation from self, and both modes are enriched by the Band's more conventional ("realistic") approach to lyrics. We needn't bow our heads in shame because this is the best album of 1975. It would have been the best album of 1967 too. And it's sure to sound great in 1983. A+

Grateful Dead: Blues for Allah [Grateful Dead, 1975]
I've been hypersensitive to this band's virtues for years. This time I find the arch aimlessness of their musical approach neurasthenic and their general muddleheadedness worthy of Yes or the Strawbs. C-

Bob Dylan: Hard Rain [Columbia, 1976]
The only reason people are disgusted with this record is that they're sick of Dylan--which is understandable, but unfair to the record. The palookas who backed him on this tour sure ain't the Band, and the music and arrangements suffer accordingly--these guys are folkies whose idea of rock and roll is rock and roll clichés. But the material is excellent, and on a few occasions--I gravitate to "Oh Sister" and "Shelter From the Storm"--Dylan sings very well indeed. B-

Grateful Dead: Steal Your Face [Grateful Dead, 1976]
Their fifth live double (or triple) of the decade is the first with the sorry earmarks of the genre--namely, lots of stretched-out remakes. And believe me, the Dead can rilly stretch 'em out. C-

Grateful Dead: Terrapin Station [Arista, 1977]
Although this may be the Dead's best studio album since American Beauty, it runs a distant second, just nosing out the likes of Wake of the Flood, and will convert no one. In fact, it's a good thing Weir-Barlow's "Estimated Prophet" and Lesh-Monk's "Passenger" are the band's best originals in years, because Donna Godchaux's singer-songwriting debut is a disgrace; similarly, it takes a terse, jumping arrangement of "Samson and Delilah" to cancel out (and then some) a questionable "Dancing in the Streets." A confusion of quality also pervades the Garcia-Hunter title suite on side two. It works pretty well musically; for a while, I was ready to turn in the kazoo on "Alligator" for Paul Buckmaster. Then I listened to the lyric, a fable so polite it sent me hustling back to the verbal, vocal, and musical crudities of Anthem of the Sun, which "Terrapin Station" recalls formally. Amazing how all the hard-won professionalism of a decade disintegrates in the face of the sporadic, irresistible inspiration of their lysergic youth. B

Grateful Dead: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been: The Best of the Grateful Dead [Warner Bros., 1977]
In this uncommonly loving compilation, Dead head Paul Wexler does what he can to eliminate the fecklessly smug and the recklessly experimental. It coheres as well as Dead albums usually do, and offers two nice singles, which is nice. But "Me and My Uncle," which hardly counts, is the only cover, a questionable decision. Plus--here's the real catch--four (out of eight) songs from Workingman's Dead, which coheres a good deal better. B

Bob Dylan: Street-Legal [Columbia, 1978]
Inveterate rock and rollers learn to find charm in boastful, secretly girl-shy adolescents, but boozy-voiced misogynists in their late thirties are a straight drag. This divorcé sounds overripe, too in love with his own self-generated misery to break through the leaden tempos that oppress his melodies, devoid not just of humor but of lightness--unless, that is, he intends his Neil Diamond masquerade as a joke. Because he's too shrewd to put his heart into genuine corn, and because his idea of a tricky arrangement is to add horns or chicks to simplistic verse-and-chorus abcb structures, a joke is what it is. But since he still commands remnants of authority, the joke is sour indeed. C+

Grateful Dead: Shakedown Street [Arista, 1978]
"I Need a Miracle" is the first anthem any of these rabble-rousing necromancers has written in years. On the title tune, however, Jerry once again warns against "too much too fast," and this album definitely ain't the miracle they need. C

Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan at Budokan [Columbia, 1979]
I believe this double LP was made available so our hero could boast of being outclassed by Cheap Trick, who had the self-control to release but a single disc from this location. Although it's amazing how many of the twenty-two songs--twelve also available on one of the other two live albums Dylan has released since 1974--hold up under slipshod treatment. And not only that, lyrics and poster are included. C+

Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming [Columbia, 1979]
The lyrics are indifferently crafted, and while their one-dimensionality is winningly perverse at a time when his old fans will take any ambiguity they can get, it does serve to flaunt their theological wrongheadedness and occasional jingoism. Nevertheless, this is his best album since Blood on the Tracks. The singing is passionate and detailed, and the pros behind him--especially Mark Knopfler, who has a studio career in store--play so sharply that his anger gathers general relevance at its most vindictive. And so what if he's taken up with the God of Wrath? Since when have you been so crazy about the God of Love? Or any other species of hippie bullshit? B+

Bob Dylan: Saved [Columbia, 1980]
In case you were wondering, Slow Train Coming wasn't Jerry Wexler's album, or the former R. Zimmerman's, or Jesus Christ's. It was Mark Knopfler's. Anyway, the first flash of faith is the deepest. May Bobby never indenture soul sisters again. C+

Grateful Dead: Go to Heaven [Arista, 1980]
Not counting the lovely revamped "Don't Ease Me In," the best song here is a Garcia-Hunter trifle called "Alabama Getaway." It grieves me to report that it isn't about dope dealers fleeing the troopers. 'Cause without hippiedom, they're lost. Utter wimp: new keybist Brent Mydland. C

Bob Dylan: Shot of Love [Columbia, 1981]
Dylan's abandonment of Muscle Shoals for the fleshpots of El Lay--Benmont Tench! Ron Wood! Ringo Starr on tom tom!--has a reassuring aura of apostasy, which may be why I think this year's born-again boilerplate "sounds better" than last year's. But two songs that belong in the lower reaches of his canon don't hurt. "Property of Jesus," about how bad it is to mock born-againers, has Staple Singers written all over it. "Lenny Bruce" is apostasy down to its reverent setting. B-

Grateful Dead: Reckoning [Arista, 1981]
I know you're not going to care, but I've played all of this live-acoustic twofer many times and felt no pain. Sure it's a mite leisurely, sure Jerry's voice creaks like an old floorboard, sure there are remakes if not reremakes. But the songs are great, the commitment palpable, and they always were my favorite folk group. B+

Bob Dylan: Infidels [Columbia, 1983]
All the wonted care Dylan has put into this album shows--musically, "License to Kill" is the only dud. His distaste for the daughters of Satan has gained complexity of tone--neither dismissive nor vituperative, he addresses women with a solicitousness that's strangely chilling, as if he knows what a self-serving hypocrite he's being, but only subliminally. At times I even feel sorry for him, just as he intends. Nevertheless, this man has turned into a hateful crackpot. Worse than his equation of Jews with Zionists with the Likud or his utterly muddled disquisition on international labor is the ital Hasidism that inspires no less than three superstitious attacks on space travel. God knows (and I use that phrase advisedly) how far off the deep end he'll go if John Glenn becomes president. B-

Bob Dylan: Real Live [Columbia, 1984]
Hitch Mick Taylor to a locomotive, make sure the songs are twenty years old, and you could get shit. But you could also get a decent live album if the auteur happened to be interested that night. "Maggie's Farm" and "Tombstone Blues" are the keepers, "License to Kill" and the ludicrous white reggae "I and I" are the ringers, and "Tangled Up in Blue" gets some new lyrics--or maybe they're really old ones. B

Bob Dylan: Empire Burlesque [Columbia, 1985]
The absurd contention that by utilizing electronic horns and soul girls and big bam boom he's finally mastered pop fashion and state-of-the-craft production--I've actually heard this referred to as "Disco Dylan"--proves only that his diehard fans are even more alienated from current music than he is. At best he's achieved the professionalism he's always claimed as his goal. No longer "relevant" enough to make "statements" that mean shit to any discernible audience--vide Infidels or, on this record, "Trust Yourself" (only if you say so, Bob)--he's certainly talented enough to come up with a good bunch of songs. Hence, his best album since Blood on the Tracks. I wish that was a bigger compliment, but debunking comparisons to Street-Legal are also way off--the arrangements and especially the singing are, yes, tasteful enough to support material that puts Elton John to shame. I mean how did he get that ominous calm, that soupcon of prophecy? And how did he come up with the toughest Vietnam-vet song yet? B+

Bob Dylan: Knocked Out Loaded [Columbia, 1986]
Automatic horns and Dylanettes echoing every chorus, covers and collaborations--sounds like something he threw together in a week and away forever. But throwing it away is how he gets that off-the-cuff feel, and side two is great fun. Tough rocker with Tom Petty, lissome popper with Carole Bayer Sager, and with Sam Shepard one of the greatest and most ridiculous of his great ridiculous epics. Doesn't matter who came up with such lines as "She said even the swap meets around here are getting corrupt" and "I didn't know whether to duck or run, so I ran"--they're classic Dylan. And on side one we have automatic horns and Dylanettes echoing every chorus, covers and songs he wrote all by himself. B

Grateful Dead: In the Dark [Arista, 1987]
Despite the hooks, highlighted unnaturally by do-or-die production, this is definitely the Dead, not Journey or Starship. But only "When Push Comes to Shove," a ruminative catalogue of paranoid images that add up to one middle-aged man's fear of love, shows up the young ignorami and old fools who've lambasted them as symbols of hippie complacency since the '60s were over. One problem with the cosmic is that it doesn't last forever. C+

Bob Dylan: Down in the Groove [Columbia, 1988]
Where Self-Portrait was at least weird, splitting the difference between horrible and hilarious, now he's forever professional--not a single remake honors or desecrates the original. All he can do to a song is Dylanize it, and thus his Danny Kortchmar band and his Steve Jones-Paul Simonon band are indistinguishable, immersed in that patented and by now meaningless one-take sound. And yet, and yet, there's a glimmer--the Dylan-Hunter throwaway "Ugliest Girl in the World," guaranteed to remind the faithful how much fun the one-take ethos used to be. C+

Bob Dylan: Oh Mercy [Columbia, 1989]
His seventh studio job of the decade is the third he didn't just churn out and thus the third to get hyped as a turnaround, but really, there is a difference. Daniel Lanois's understated care and easy beat suit his casual ways, and three or four songs might sound like something late at night on the radio, or after the great flood. All are modest and tuneful enough to make you forgive "Disease of Conceit," which is neither. So I forgive him. B

Dylan & the Dead [Columbia, 1989]
Dylan is Bob, the influential singer-songwriter who's resurfaced as the brains of the Traveling Wilburys; the Dead are Grateful, and not just because charismatic guitarist-antileader Jerry Garcia survived an offstage coma--they're rich men, and they sound it. Like Dylan, Garcia plays hardest and works most playfully when somebody pokes him a little--Ornette Coleman, say. But unlike Ornette, Dylan's not forever young, and what he makes of his catalogue here is exactly what he's been making of it for years--money. C-

Grateful Dead: Built to Last [Arista, 1989]
Though the hookwise production values are even more obtrusive, this still sounds like the good old Grateful Dead. Except for newish guy Brent Mydland, who sounds like Don Henley. Survivors have to stick together. C+

Bob Dylan: Under the Red Sky [Columbia, 1990]
This Was Bros. pseudothrowaway improves on the hushed emotion, weary wisdom, and new-age "maturity" of the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy even if the lyrics are sloppier--the anomaly is what Lanois calls Oh Mercy's "focused" writing. Aiming frankly for the evocative, the fabulistic, the biblical, Dylan exploits narrative metaphor as an adaptive mechanism that allows him to inhabit a "mature" pessimism he knows isn't the meaning of life. Where his seminal folk-rock records were cut with Nashville cats on drums--Kenny Buttrey when he was lucky, nonentities when he wasn't--here Kenny Aronoff's tempos are postpunk like it oughta be, springs and shuffles grooving ever forward. The fables are strengthened by the workout, and as a realist I also treasure their literal moments. I credit his outrage without forgetting his royalty statements. I believe he's gritted his teeth through the bad patches of a long-term sexual relationship even if he still measures the long term in months. And when he thanks his honey for that cup of tea, I melt. A-

Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased) [Columbia, 1991]
Dylanology--the thinking man's philately ("Catfish," "It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry," "Blind Willie McTell," "Quit Your Low Down Ways," "Call Letter Blues," "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie") **

Bob Dylan: Good As I Been to You [Columbia, 1992]
Dylan's last cover album confused his followers mightily, not least because he called it Self-Portrait. And maybe he tossed this one off as per contract too--his boyish tenor and nimble acoustic guitar don't rescue "Frankie and Albert" or "Sittin' on Top of the World" from the taxidermist, and though "Tomorrow Night" could be a mean parody of Lonnie Johnson's sour-voiced original, it probably just sucks. But most of these old tunes he gooses or caresses to some kind of arousal--he clearly knows the sensitive spots of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times" and the antiredcoat jig "Arthur McBride." Not that he thinks such intimacy yields a self-portrait. Older than that now, he merely explores a world of song whose commonness and strangeness he knows he'll never comprehend. B+

Grateful Dead: Two from the Vault [Grateful Dead, 1992]
The preserve of a huge, insular cult accustomed to rendering its very real aesthetic discriminations within a context so uncritical no outsider need pay them the slightest mind, the Dead's music has disappeared into the mythology it engendered. They were a great band--probably still are on the right night. But trying to convince an unbeliever is like trying to tell a stranger about LSD. Recorded in August 1968, when Pigpen McKernan was still living in his body, these nine songs include all six on the classic Live/Dead; playing is comparable, audio superior. Great drummers were hard to come by in the hippie era, and the Dead were too discursive to want one anyway--Bill and Mickey rocked out by revving tempo and volume and letting Pigpen take it away. But often the Dead's ruminations have content--they listened more responsively than any other band of the era. And on solos of over a chorus or two, Jerry Garcia stands as the era's most inventive guitarist short of Hendrix and Page. God they were a trip. A-

Bob Dylan: World Gone Wrong [Columbia, 1993]
Dylan's second attempt to revive the folk music revival while laying down a new record without writing any new songs is eerie and enticing. He cherishes the non sequiturs, sudden changes of heart, and received or obscure blank spots in these buried songs--all usages he's long since absorbed into his own writing because he believes they evoke a world that defies rationalization. Me, I'm not so sure it doesn't just seem that way because there's no way we can be intimate with their worlds anymore. And while only a crank could resist his liner notes, that doesn't mean it isn't cranky in the extreme to hold, for instance, that the two-timing aristo who gets his in "Love Henry" is "modern corporate man off some foreign boat, unable to handle his `psychosis' responsible for organizing the Intelligentsia," und so weiter. We do not live in "the New Dark Ages." And if we did, Dylan would call out for rationalization right quick. A-

Bob Dylan: Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 [Columbia, 1994]
He can climax with "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" if he wants--Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a piece of crap, the song a work of genius, which is the basic idea on this living testament to random forethought. But shaggy dog story or no shaggy dog story, "Tangled Up in Blue" doesn't belong, and neither does that supernal piece of crap "Forever Young," because both are classic tracks from albums that precede Rolling Thunder and Desire, events that marked his epochal commitment to hackdom even if no one dreamed it at the time. On 14 cuts employing 57 session musicians, four of whom appear twice and none thrice, this collection celebrates that commitment. Its sonic trademark is the soulettes who back "Changing of the Guards" (Street Legal, 1978), "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" (Shot of Love, 1981), "Silvio" (Down in the Groove, 1988), and the magnificent 11-minute Sam Shepard collaboration "Brownsville Girl" (Knocked Out Loaded, 1986)--all obscure, all compelling, all cockeyed flights of prophecy or mythic narrative, and all featuring the backup pipes of Carol (sometimes Carolyn) Dennis, who I bet has been feeding him lines for two lost decades. B+

Bob Dylan: Unplugged [Columbia, 1995]
excellent songs pronounced with gratifying clarity ("Knockin' on Heaven's Door," "Dignity") *

Grateful Dead: Dick's Picks, Vol. 2 [Grateful Dead, 1995]
the good old days, circa Keith Godchaux ("Jam," "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad") ***

Grateful Dead: Dick's Picks Volume Three [Grateful Dead, 1995] Neither

Grateful Dead: Hundred Year Hall [Arista, 1995] Neither

Grateful Dead: Dick's Picks, Vol. 4 [Grateful Dead, 1996]
three (more) CDs from their Fillmore East heyday ("China Cat Sunflower," "That's It for the Other One") *

Grateful Dead: Dozin' at the Knick [Arista, 1996]
For years I've sought concrete proof that two decades of Deadheads weren't the marshmallow-ears the world believed, but after several concert tapes failed to get over I decided I had more pressing business than finding the good nights that were probably still there. Now, finally, after several half stabs (Hundred Year Hall, Fallout From the Phil Zone), comes this four-hour three-CD document from historic Albany, New York. Solid new Bob Weir opener, coupla excellent! Bob Dylan covers, Brent Mydland more Rod McKernan than Page McConnell, creaky and transcendent "Black Peter," "Walkin' Blues" and "Jack-a-Roe," the nightly "Drums" and "Space" excursions scenic enough. And above all, that mesh of the tight and the shambolic that on their best nights rendered their music responsive and interactive in a way marshmallow-heads will never understand and therefore never hear. A-

Grateful Dead: The Arista Years [Arista, 1996] Neither

Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind [Columbia, 1997]
A soundscape as surely as Maxinquaye or The Ballad of Tom Joad, only more tuneful and less depressive--that is, merely bereft, rather than devoid of will or affect. Lyrically, it splits the difference between generalized El Lay schlock and minor Child ballad; a typical couplet goes, "You left me standing in the doorway crying/In the dark land of the sun." So the words are good enough except on the Billy Joel-covered "Make You Feel My Love," yet rarely what you come back for. The hooks are Dylan's spectral vocals--just his latest ventriloquist's trick, a new take on ancient, yet so real, so ordained--and a band whose quietude evokes the sleepy postjunk funk of Clapton's 461 Ocean Boulevard without the nearness of sex. Special kudos to Augie Meyers, the Al Kooper we've been waiting for. A-

Bob Dylan: Live 1966 [Columbia/Legacy, 1998]
What no one ever mentions about this legendary Manchester concert is that the folk set stinks. It's arty, mannered, nervous, as if Dylan is sick of these songs, although three of the seven haven't even been released yet. And when they are, on Blonde on Blonde, they'll be band- if not Band-backed like all the others except "Mr. Tambourine Man," and as such relaxed, confident, committed, meaningful. Appallingly ideological though it is that anyone could have preferred this static display to what followed, the rock set is warmly received. This is not to say, however, that it lives up to its myth. You'll hear some of the most freewheeling, locked-in live music of the '60s--far more detailed and responsive than comparable Stones and Who, with Robbie Robertson so cockeyed funky he almost careens off the stage. You'll also hear some folkie fool shouting "Judas" and Dylan calling him a liar and, if you strain, somebody muttering "play fucking loud." But you will not hear the times a-changin' or Robert Zimmerman jousting with destiny. That stuff's for historians. And if we owe the historians for the terrific electric disc, they owe us for the awful acoustic one. B+

Bob Dylan: Love and Theft [Columbia, 2001]
Before minstrelsy scholar Eric Lott gets too excited about having his title stolen--"He loves me! Honey, Bob Dylan loves me!"--he should recall that Dylan called his first cover album Self-Portrait. Dylan meant that title, of course, and he means this one too, which doesn't make "Love and Theft" his minstrelsy album any more than Self-Portrait's dire "Minstrel Boy" was his minstrelsy song. All pop music is love and theft, and in 40 years of records whose sources have inspired volumes of scholastic exegesis, Dylan has never embraced that truth so warmly. Jokes, riddles, apercus, and revelations will surface for years, but let those who chart their lives by Dylan's cockeyed parables tease out the details. I always go for tone, spirit, music. If Time Out of Mind was his death album--it wasn't, but you know how people talk--this is his immortality album. It describes an eternal circle on masterful blazz and jop readymades that render his grizzled growl as juicy as Justin Timberlake's tenor--Tony Bennett's, even. It's profound, too, by which I mean very funny. "I'm sitting on my watch so I can be on time," he wheezes, because time he's got plenty of. A+

Bob Dylan: Modern Times [Columbia, 2006]
It took Dylan five years to create this conservative album even if he laid it down in a week, and I doubt he could have gotten it done at all without cribbing rhetoric from a shallower conservative, Confederate poet Henry Timrod. When not calling his new nation to arms or locating Satan's domicile north of the Mason-Dixon line, Timrod had a gift for genteel sentiment that's essential to the old-fashioned tone here, and Dylan grabbed what he needed. But note the intrusion of his old friend deliberate barbarism when, for instance, Timrod's "logic frailer than the flowers" produces Dylan's "more frailer than the flowers." Without such touches, the conservatism would be stultifying. The blues tropes help, too. Then again, without the '30s pop, the blues grooves would be stultifying. Instead, the entire construction is a thing of grace--conservative, and new under the sun. A+

Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 [Columbia/Legacy, 2008]
Out of 29 tracks, not counting the dozen in a deluxe edition that'll run you another hundred smackers, I count two or three stunners, eight or nine keepers, many outtakes, and a few live versions and movie songs ("High Water [For Charley Patton]," "Series of Dreams"). ***

Bob Dylan: Together Through Life [Columbia, 2009]
The singer isn't up to tenderness and the accordion gets annoying. But the first two tracks are standards in the making, the last two tracks are prophetic and mean, and the blues in between are as pointed as the pop songs are long-winded. Plus he's got Robert Hunter playing the humanizer, which on a love album is always a good flavor. B+

Bob Dylan: Christmas in the Heart [Columbia, 2009]
Funnier than the Chipmunks, give him that ("Must Be Santa," "Winter Wonderland"). *

Bob Dylan: Tempest [Columbia, 2012]
Although his voice is crumbling audibly and his band is too often static, Dylan remains one of our more thoughtful wordslingers in the ever-changing trad mode he's made his own. Still, the meme that this album is a major statement where Together Through Life was a holding action bespeaks the unseen hand of the autohype machine and the superstitious fears that attend 70th birthdays. Although the four trad relationship numbers that open build nicely on Together Through Life's strategy and groove, the closers aim higher with dubious-to-disgraceful results. For all its well-borrowed tune and well-digested details, nobody's putting the 14-minute Titanic ballad on repeat, and the seven-minute John Lennon dirge says nothing at half speed just like the naysayers neigh. That leaves four tracks, and how much you admire this record will depend on how redolent you find two of them: the quiet jeremiad "Scarlet Town" and the quieter love-triangle cut-'em-up "Tin Angel." I say they'd be better faster, possibly. As for "Early Roman Kings," a black-comedy dis of the rich and richer, and "Pay in Blood," folk-music death metal via sanguinary imagery and microphone placement, you gotta love 'em. B+

Bob Dylan: 1965-1966: The Best of the Cutting Edge [Columbia, 2015]
Scoff at Bootleg Series hype though you may (and should), you'll want to check and recheck Vol. 12's outtakes from his most amped-up period, only to conclude that the standard versions rool every goddamn time pre-Blonde on Blonde, when slowing it down a little turned out to have its downside ("Visions of Johanna," "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat") *