Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour: The Best Of The Third Series
[Rating: 4 stars]
In 2006, Bob Dylan’s career took a strange turn. Though he wasn’t hurting for money, acclaim, or the spotlight, he signed up for a gig as the host of Theme Time Radio Hour, an action-packed collection of old-timey (and sometimes new-timey) tunes grouped by theme, and presented in a now-antiquated format—ye olde radio broadcast. This two-disc set culls 52 choice cuts from the show’s third season, which ran from October 2008 to April 2009. Many of the songs Dylan first heard on the radio as a boy in Minnesota. Some you know, like “Lost Highway,” “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “The Banana Boat Song,” and “So Long It’s Been Good To Know Yuh.” Others, you’ve probably only heard on Dylan’s show, if at all: “Fattening Frogs For Snakes,” “Calling All Cows, “Why Don’t You Eat Where You Slept Last Night?,” “Feelin’ High and Happy.” You’ll hear songs about Money, Night, Beginnings, Middles And Ends, Blood, War, Fruit, Street Maps, Famous People, Numbers 11 and Up, Work, Cats, Madness, Happiness, Cops and Robbers, Candy, Goodbyes, and songs that feature the word “something.”
Like Dylan’s own catalog, the blues serves as the foundation, from Muddy Waters and Elmore James to Ray Charles singing “Greenbacks.” There’s also humor (Red Foxx’s “It’s Fun To Be Livin’ In the Crazy House,” “I’m My Own Grandpa,”) and lyricism (“Searching For A Soldier’s Grave”). These are the songs floating around in Bob Dylan’s brain. It’s hard to pick a favorite—they’re all kind of MVPs, from the calypso madness of “Jack Palance” (“she prune face like Jack Palance”) to the heartfelt gospel r&b of “Straight Street.” Liner notes from Derek Barker of Isis magazine guide you along and fill in these songs’ back stories. The only thing missing is Dylan himself. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: sometimes a great artist knows it’s best to step out of the way.
Take this for a long drive, and get lost in the sounds of the past. Or play it at your next party. With Bob Dylan picking your records, how can you go wrong? He may not do weddings and bar mitzahs, but he’s a pretty great DJ.