Review Summary: If you have the extra 25 dollars, skip it and get the Bootleg Series Vol 5. first, but really, I dont expect you to have 25 dollars.
I picked up the CD “Hard Rain” at my local HMV while I was on a school trip. I had about 10 dollars and this as well as another Dylan CD, New Morning, was on sale for dirt cheap. I pondered whether it was worth buying them both with my ten dollars and scrapping the lunch money I had. I didn’t even know that this was a live album when I bought it. But this is a live CD; one of the many obscure Bob Dylan live albums.
Hard Rain is a document of the mid 70s Dylan extravaganza “The Rolling Thunder Revue”. One thing is for sure, after a long absence in the later 60s and early 70s, Bob sounds positively rejuvenated.
The album kicks off with one of my favourite tracks from Bringing it all Back Home, “Maggie’s Farm”. If anyone is familiar with this track, you will be immediately offset by the complete change in the song. It has been translated from a rollicking hard driving anti-conformity song into a jittery, shouted, joyous mess of guitar, bass, drums, and background vocals. And I love it. One thing that I hate when listening to live albums, is replications of album versions, and this is the farthest from that Dylan could get. The drumming especially on this track is so fast and amazing; it almost controls the song and makes it work in the way it is arranged. The track finishes, and rolls into the next “One Too Many Mornings” which again is changed so much from the version I know (I only have the Bootleg Series Albert Hall Concert version) it is impossible to see they are the same. The way the instruments sweep under Bobs powerful and commanding voice is actually inspirational in a way, like Bob is already starting to make Christian music out of his existing songs.
One thing that needs to be addressed to somebody looking at this album, or the Live 1975 Bootleg Series counterpart, or really any album after Blonde on Blonde, is that Dylan’s voice has changed drastically. It’s no worse or better, but he has traded his nasal drawl for a stronger, cracking yell that really suits the way he has arranged these songs.
“Stuck Inside The Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” is not changed an extreme amount from the original, but it’s the feeling that has been changed. The drumming again takes away the original urgent mercury sound so well loved on the original and replaces it with a driving pulsing rhythm which climaxes at each refrain, and after each refrain, instead of the bass and drum interlude on the original, it is a guitar solo that steps in and brings a bigger sound to the song.
“Oh Sister” is purely majestic in every version I have heard, and this one is no different. It has different lyrics, or at least rearranged lyrics. The only issue I have with this song it that it just isn’t as good as the other versions out there. The lack of good production just brings the song way down, and the best part of the song–the violin—is seriously lacking in this version compared to the perfection found on Live 1975 or Desire. “Lay Lady Lay” is almost pure yelling, but it still ends up being more enjoyable than the original version to my ears.
One formula that Dylan uses a lot on these reworked versions of songs is the constant pause of music, while he yells something with the backup singer, and then the music joins in after with them. It is dynamic the first few times, but when the entire song consists of starting and stopping, as it does on “Lay Lady Lay”, then it can become tiresome to some.
“Shelter From The Storm” brings the album to another high point, and seems to drive the point home in a more immediate and likeable form than the “Blood On The Tracks” version. I just can’t find myself to dislike this track, there is something about the way that it is presented, it almost is like a crystallization of the “Don’t Look Back” theology that I love so much about Dylan and his music. The bass pops along with the similar joyous drumming found throughout the album, and Dylan delivers his lament carefree and wild.
“You’re A Big Girl” at once sounds like the perfect answer to the song which came before it. It is a evangelical funeral procession of a song in the way it is presented here. The slow up and down of the band perfectly compliments the lyrics and voice of Dylan. Some may find it too long of a song, considering it is the same chords over and over for 7 minutes straight, but in the right mood it will kill you in its honesty and beauty which Dylan rarely exhibits.
“I Threw It All Away” sounds a lot like “Lay Lady Lay” the way it is performed, and really doesn’t come off as too enjoyable, considering it again relies on the dynamic as most other songs on the album. Yelling, starts and stops, with the instruments doing nothing really special, it was probably a bad choice to include this on the album just out of continuity issues.
The conclusion of the album is the epic “Idiot Wind”. Dylan snarls and yells his way through with the same passion as most of the album, and really this song is very representative of the most of the album. It is a different, defiant Dylan, which sounds rejuvenated, and like he may actually be having fun for the first time in a long time.
Really, this album is only for someone with an already established collection of Bob Dylan recordings, or who is up for something completely random. Even then, the Bootleg Series Volume 5: Live 1975 “The Rolling Thunder Review” is a much better produced and packaged document of the exact same tour. But then again, this CD does have different songs and a certain freewheelin’ aspect to it that I have a hard time denying. If you have an extra five dollars lying around and you happen to see this, I fully recommend checking it out. You may love it, you may hate it, but it will certainly be a fascinating listen.
My Rating: 4/5