Good as I Been to You: a Roots Return

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It’s summer y’all. Highs in the 90s. Shorts and tank tops all about the city. Time to relax, to contemplate, to exercise. I’m reading another poem, headed back to the gym, working on myself in mind and body.

I wonder if Dylan conceived Good as I Been to You in the hot summer, too. Here is a return to his folk roots, an album that indulges and solidifies his fundamentals. Gone are the synths, the splashy drums, the wheezing overreaching lyrical and vocal efforts. Hardly a whiff of Christianity lingers in this album. It’s Dylan solo, seeming settled into his most natural state: acoustic guitar, harmonica, and a slew of folk traditionals like “Frankie and Albert” (with lyrical echoes of “Stagger Lee”), “Sitting on Top of the World,” and “Diamond Joe.”

One gets the sense Dylan didn’t need to brush up on these songs, didn’t need to rehearse. The mastery of the material with which he performs, the fullness of the arrangements and nuance of the phrasings, reminds us that Dylan plays folk standards like a fish swims in water. After the brutality of the recent albums, Good as I Been to You reminds us why Dylan rose to fame in the first place, before he went electric.

I wonder if his time with the Traveling Wilburys encouraged him to tap back into his roots. Petty obviously feels at home wailing the electric ballad; Lynne producing cascades of rock tones; Harrison playing the wry electric sage. Performing with this supergroup must’ve reminded Dylan of his own strengths. And here we have it–his voice a bit ragged and timeworn but fitting the aged essence of this material in a manner he could only imitate in his first, eponymous effort.

Do I get this album? I do get why, after so much apparent misery within the recording industry, Dylan took to his garage alone and sang what he knew best. Do I need the previous albums to get it? This one reaches back to Bob Dylan, Freewheelin’, The Times, and Another Side, as if we could leapfrog the electric decades of fame and failure between. Do I like it? Things are looking up.

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