Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dylan Album Project: As Good As I Been To You

Good As I Been To You (1992)

Finally having given up on trying to be hip, Dylan decided to return to his roots. He recorded an album of covers, mostly of old folk songs, with David Bromberg in early ’92. Unhappy with the results (although what has been released is really good), he decided to record a whole different set of songs in his garage with just him and his guitar. Old murder ballads, songs by Stephen Foster, sea shanties, etc. Dylan would repeat this strategy the next year with World Gone Wrong, though this is known as being the album with more well-known songs. A few – “Frankie and Albert,” “Froggie Went A-Courtin’” – I can see that about, but I certainly didn’t know “Canadee-I-O” or “Diamond Joe” before I picked this up, and I only knew the songs I did know from having studied my folk music. Trying to pick favorites from this is a really tough call. Everything on it is so strong.

While most critics consider this the weaker of Dylan’s two early nineties acoustic folk albums, it has the better guitar work. “Frankie and Albert” and “Step It Up and Go” in particular show off the nimbleness of Dylan’s fingers. The album puts to rest any questions over Dylan’s guitar-playing ability. Usually his guitar sound is hidden behind a sea of more famous guitarists, but here his guitar is naked and on par with his voice, and it turns out to be a thing of beauty.

While the songs here may not be considered quite as unique, there is some really interesting material. The frog-mouse nuptials of “Froggie Went A-Courtin’,” the cross-dressing female naval officer of “Canadee-I-O,” a song about having a crush on a woman simply because she’s liable to drink you under the table then crush your nuts in a vice (that would be “Little Maggie” for those keeping score at home), as well as stuff like the anti-military ballad “Arthur McBride.” A more diverse set would be hard to find, especially on an album of acoustic covers.

Best song: Step It Up and Go – I rarely go back to the album to hear this song – I rarely think about it – but that guitar playing is just amazing. He’s pulling a Leadbelly on this song, playing lead over his own rhythm.

Worst song: You’re Gonna Quit Me, Baby – Good song, but not good enough to name the album after it.

Outtake: You Belong To Me – This song was a hit for Jo Stafford in the mid-50s. Dylan recorded it for this album, then gave it to Oliver Stone for inclusion on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, where Dylan sat alongside Dr. Dre for probably the first time in his career.

Live rendition: Hard Times – A year after this album was released, Dylan performed two songs at Willie Nelson’s 60th birthday. He opened with this and then dueted with Willie on “Pancho & Lefty,” which Dylan rewrote the lyrics too. He nailed them both.

No comments: