Review Summary: The Band joins Bob Dylan for a legendary moment in Rock & Roll.
The early 70's were hard on Bob Dylan. After unintentionally rising to become the voice of the decade prior, the quality of his output took a steep decline starting with 1970's painfully average covers album Self Portrait
and the lackluster keyboard experimentation on New Morning
. Things only went downhill from there. In 1973 his former label, Colombia records, released the much maligned Dylan
without the consent of the singer. Comprised of outtakes from the New Morning
and Self Portrait
was seen as Colombia's one last chance at a cash in on Bob Dylan's name. Luckily for the beloved singer-songwriter he was primed for a fantastic turnaround, all starting with his recruitment of The Band as his backing band. While their collaboration on the album Planet Waves
was only a sign of things to come, its subsequent tour has become a thing of legend.
The 1974 live album Before The Flood
captures Bob Dylan and The Band at their best. Comprised mostly of recordings from the tour's final nights at the Los Angeles Forum, the track list of Before the Flood
reads like a greatest hits compilation of the decade past with the inclusion of such favorites as "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Rainy Day Women # 12 and 35". Just as Dylan's pairing with The Band rekindled the flame of his career, it also sparked a new found sense of urgency in his live show. Instead of the nasally speech of his albums, Dylan's voice on Before The Flood
commands attention with its thunderous presence and bluesy grit. This new found bellow breathes new life into old classics. On "Its Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" the thoughtful sarcasm of the original has been transformed into a jarring sense of rage that makes the version on Bringing It All Back Home
seem timid in comparison.
The Band also take part in transforming Dylan's classics. When relegated to a backing position they run with a loose, free-flowing, almost improvisational sound that brings the slight bluesiness in Dylan's original compositions to the forefront. "It Ain't Me, Babe" takes on a whole new life as it is turned into a jangly upbeat rocker filled with bluesy licks, and soulful touches of Hammond organ all set to Levon Helm's driving syncopated drum beat. At points throughout Before the Flood
, Dylan concedes the stage and lets The Band steal the show. When given time to perform their own songs, The Band drop the barnstorming approach that they took while performing Dylan's material to become a tight and precise unit. This change in dynamic allows The Band's songs to compete with Dylan's for many of the top moments on Before the Flood
. In fact, their flawless performance of "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down" beats out such classic songs as "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" to be the definitive highlight of the first disc.
Before the Flood
is a fitting documentation of one of Rock & Roll's most storied collaborations. Not only does it paint Bob Dylan as a master performer, it shows the power of his songs regardless of format. Any fan of Bob Dylan that has a Before the Flood
sized hole in their record collection would be doing themselves a favor by filling it.