Before The Flood

Bob Dylan / The Band

Asylum, 1974

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The fact that it took over a decade into his career for Bob Dylan to put out a live album (not including the one live track included on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume Two) is somewhat amazing; the fact he released one in conjunction with The Band, however, is not. After all, it was working with them on the then-still-unreleased Basement Tapes that Dylan seemed to finally find the spark he had lost regarding music around the time of his infamous motorcycle accident. And while he wasn't following the script that his record label (or, by this time, labels) had perhaps wanted him to follow, he seemed content enough with what he was doing.

So one would expect that Before The Flood, a live album credited to both artists, would be the ultimate cementing of their similar musical values. Instead, it features both of them seeming to speed through their best-known songs, in the process killing off any idea that either Dylan or The Band were willing to allow their music to be heard in the same manner that the songs were first heard, even if it had been just a few years prior.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Speaking in terms of records – you remember records, right, kids? – aside from one side of one album and three songs on another side (as well as three songs Dylan performs solo), all the tracks turn The Band into Dylan's backing group. Now, this should be a good thing in and of itself, but the versions of classic Dylan songs that are heard – well, quite frankly, they're a little off-putting. Yes, I know that music must evolve over time, even if that means re-inventing classics we all know and love. But when songs like “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” “Like A Rolling Stone” and even “Lay Lady Lay” are so radically reinvented, it truly does seem that Dylan is giving the musical version of the finger to the folksinger he once was. And that's kind of a shame.

The diehard Dylan fan will find enough to smile about in versions of “Knockin' On Heaven's Door,” “It Ain't Me, Babe” (which had already become a hit for The Turtles), “Don't Think Twice, It's All Right” and “Blowin' In The Wind,” but the casual fan may still experience a bit of culture shock to hear these songs in this format.

As for The Band – it seems like they're relegated to second banana on Before The Flood, garnering barely a full record's worth of their own material. Yes, it's nice hearing “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The Shape I'm In” again, but even songs like “The Weight” and “Stage Fright” suggest that Robbie Robertson and crew also were seeking to have their music evolve. Or, just maybe, they were starting to get tired, as it was just two years until their famous “farewell” concert The Last Waltz.

For a first official live effort from Dylan, this album still feels like it's lacking. It doesn't have the warmth or emotion that his studio efforts effuse; rather, it seems like the performances here are rote and, although changed, by the book. It's still worth checking out, but if you're expecting to be absolutely wowed by this joint effort, you may find yourself a bit disappointed by both artist and band.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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