Bob Dylan and the Band – Before the Flood

Here’s another old album review from the dark, dark ages of 2004.

Before the Flood is a collection of cuts from a 1974 tour that Bob Dylan and the Band–both coming off mediocre albums–put on to recapture their audience’s attention. And damn did it ever work.

The Dylan cuts here seem as if they were performed by a man and a band possessed. He tears through familiar tunes in new arrangements and new settings, completely altering familiar songs until they were barely recognizable. And the songs that were recognizable were still so different and alien, the audience barely knew how to react.

That being said, the reinterpretations are phenomenal. Dylan has always made an effort to defy his audience’s expectations, and by the mid-’70s, they’d finally come to appreciate this fact and to embrace it. The roar of the crowd on the double album makes it clear that Dylan’s fans still love him and his music, however he may twist it and change it.

The Band’s tunes, which mostly appear in the middle of the set, are a brief respite from the storm. There are no surprises here–The Band play things pretty straight, giving close reads of some of their best-known tunes, including “Up on Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down,” and “Stage Fright” on disc one, and “The Weight” on disc two. This straight-forward work by The Band on their original tunes actually works to the album’s advantage, though, as it provides a baseline against which to compare and interpret Dylan’s radical reworkings.

Dylan’s song selection stuck mostly to older, more established tunes from his first six or seven albums. Tunes such as “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Lay Lady Lay,” “Blowing in the Wind” (the album’s closer, in a very different version from the original solo acoustic), and numerous others seemed obvious and well-loved choices, but some of the tunes Dylan played were outside of expectations. Including “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Highway 61 Revisited” from Highway 61 Revisited, and “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (played by Dylan solo acoustic at a breakneck speed) kept things even more varied and unpredictable.

Before the Flood captures Dylan and The Band at a performance ability peak, and presents them as a force of nature that tore through songs, the audience, and expectations. The results are phenomenal and worth listening to, and the album rivals any of the recent excellent Bootleg Series live shows. The record is a must-have for anyone who values the work of Dylan or The Band.

The Top 25 Most-Played Songs for 2010

As with every year, I’m about to reset the play count on my iPod. Before I do that, though, let’s see what got the most play this year.

1. The New Pornographers, “The Bleeding Heart Show” – 48
2. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Cotton Fields” – 43
3. The National, “Ashamed Of The Story I Told” – 38
4. The National, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” – 38
5. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Midnight Special” – 37
6. The Gaslight Anthem, “Stay Lucky” – 35
7. Jakob Dylan, “Everybody’s Hurting” – 34
8. The New Pornographers, “Sing Me Spanish Techno” – 33
9. Harlem Shakes, “Strictly Game” – 32
10. Josh Ritter, “Wait For Love (You Know You Will)” – 31
11. Dawes, “That Western Skyline” – 30
12. A.C. Newman, “Take On Me” – 28
13. Bruce Springsteen, “Hungry Heart” – 27
14. Jakob Dylan, “Holy Rollers For Love” – 27
15. Cat Stevens, “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out” – 26
16. Andrew Bird, “Fiery Crash” – 23
17. Jakob Dylan, “Lend A Hand” – 23
18. She & Him, “In The Sun” – 23
19. The Band, “The Weight” – 22
20. Bon Iver, “Flume” – 22
21. Eric Clapton, “I’ve Got A Rock ‘N’ Roll Heart” – 22
22. Great Lake Swimmers, “Everything Is Moving So Fast” – 22
23. Great Lake Swimmers, “Pulling On A Line” – 22
24. The Spencer Davis Group, “Gimme Some Lovin'” – 22
25. Steve Winwood, “Back In The High Life Again” – 21