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Comrades From The North

As we sit here in a deep and dark December (well November anyway) there are some juicy Dylan-type items to chew on. Good things come in threes they say and between then and now we have seen the release of the DVD The Other Side Of The Mirror, the movie I'm Not There and Sid Griffin's comprehensive retrospective on the marvellous and mysterious Basement Tapes. Perhaps the most illuminating of these delicacies is the first one which is a straightforward presentation of Dylan performing at the Newport Folk Festival in the years 1963-1965. Even at this time distance from the events, it is astonishing to witness the transformation that Dylan undergoes from the directness and on-the-edge-of-folk-greatness of the 1963 performances of an almost juvenile looking, earnest strummer through the jaw-dropping personal and at the same time universal songs of the human condition of 1964 to the exhilarating, liberating, abrasive and explosive Elliot-meets-Lear of the 1965 electric performances. And they were only the jumping off point for what came after.

Many of us like to characterise the great keystone of Dylan's catalogue as the Bringing It All Back Home-Highway 61 Revisited-Blonde On Blonde trilogy. And that's probably right but the great developmental arc which led there is the Times-Another-Side-Bringing It All Back Home threesome which perfectly express this development. Just as, when discussing that other great music shaper, Miles Davis, one is tempted to cite the Miles In The Sky - In A Silent Way - Bitches Brew as the defining steps to and evocation of the tempestuous electric period. The more obvious developmental strides are taken in the Miles Smiles - Nefertiti - Filles de Kilamanjaro sets. If you are not familiar with these discs then try them.

Moving on to Griffin's book it really is a joy of detail, insight and silver prose. Well researched and catalogued, the narrative brings new perspectives on some familiar and other lesser trodden musical byways. Well worth the admission price.

Here's hoping that you have the Christmas break that you hope for - all best wishes from us.

May you climb on every rung ..........

Mike & John

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