If you don’t already have the bulk of Bob Dylan’s glorious catalog in your collection, The Complete Albums Collection Vol. One is pretty comprehensive one-stop shopping. 35 studio albums, 6 live sets, and a two-disco sampler of non-album singles, B-sides, and other rarities are included. Many of the discs have been remastered for the first time, which will come in handy for those who bought the CDs when they were first produced in the 80’s and have been waiting to replace them. Throw in a hardcover book of liner notes from Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin and you’ve got a pretty good deal.
One of the great benefits of a compilation like this is that it gives fans a chance to reevaluate a catalog where the nooks and crannies are every bit as fascinating as the bold-faced titles often cited by those discussing Dylan’s brilliance. With that in mind, here are the five most overlooked, underrated albums in the Bob Dylan catalog, albums which will be revelations to first-timers to his music and could even surprise those who have dismissed them as inferior to Bob’s finest work.
Another Side Of Bob Dylan (1964): The sales were poor and reviews were mixed, as everybody wondered where the protest songs had gone. In their place were introspective songs that found Dylan at his most poetic and probing. The romantic songs, alternately jaunty (“I Don’t Believe You”), tender (“To Ramona”), sarcastic (“It Ain’t Me”) and harrowing (“Ballad In Plain D”), were alluringly complex. And while “Chimes Of Freedom” might not have had a particular issue attached to it, it displays as much empathy in its surreal fashion as any of his previous topical material.
Street-Legal (1978): Dylan got savaged by critics for the rocking big band approach he brought to his material and for the record’s lousy sound quality. The latter problem has long since been corrected by remastering, while the former complaint seems silly now when you hear how stirring songs like “Is Your Love In Vain?” and “Changing Of The Guards” sound after all these years. The album might be a tad inconsistent, but the high points are staggeringly great, including the epic noir “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)” and the eerie Western “Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)”.
Empire Burlesque (1985): Seemingly endless recording sessions coupled with Dylan’s desire to stay current at the peak of the MTV era created an album that many dismiss as 80’s production run amok. Yet Dylan is at his most soulful on songs like “Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)” and ‘Emotionally Yours” and effortlessly jerks tears with “I’ll Remember You.” And as if to prove he could still enthrall without all the bells and whistles, Dylan dusted off his acoustic guitar and harmonica for the haunting closing track “Dark Eyes.”
Good As I Been To You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993): Many fans know of these two albums for their importance in Dylan lore, as their cover versions of old folk and blues songs presaged Bob’s back-to-roots songwriting rejuvenation that began with 1997’s Time Out Of Mind. But these albums are more than just palette-cleansers. They provide consistently stunning evidence of Dylan’s mastery of interpretive singing and the mesmerizing power of his solo acoustic performances.