Listening to Bob Dylan

Univ. of Illinois. Sept. 2021. 152p. ISBN 9780252043956. $110. MUSIC
Given that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, one might assume that a study of the artist would read his lyrics as poetry. However, Starr (emeritus, music history, Univ. of Washington; George Gershwin) asserts that any consideration of Dylan’s work must be decidedly holistic and should incorporate analysis of both his live and studio performances. Starr discusses Dylan’s vocal variations (folk singer, bluesman, rocker, crooner), his use of the harmonica as a musical voice, and even his silences. The author’s technical analysis is helpful but never overwhelming, and his self-awareness keeps in check what could easily be a love letter from an overenthusiastic fan. There is much here to engage listeners, and readers will find themselves compelled to dip into, savor, and perhaps rediscover the prolific six decades of Dylan’s back catalogue. Dylan is a master shapeshifter, and Starr an excellent guide.
VERDICT A fascinating, worthwhile study of Bob Dylan as poet, vocalist, composer, and performer. If you’re looking for a guide to Dylan’s methods, his genius, and what’s on the tracks, don’t think twice.
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