The Austin Chronicle

Box Sets

Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, December 17, 2010, Music

Bob Dylan

The Original Mono Recordings (Legacy)

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, when I first bought it, was monaural – as it was called back then. A few months later, when purchasing 1965's Highway 61 Revisited, I debated whether to upgrade to the stereo version ($2.99 vs. $3.69), which I did. In retrospect, it probably made no difference given the inferior quality of my crappy little record player with its two cheap-ass "stereo" speakers. Then again, most stereo separation tended to be rather crude at best, anyway. In the wake of last year's transformative Beatles reissues in both remastered stereo and "glorious mono" comes this handsomely packaged and thoroughly annotated 9-CD box set of Dylan's first eight landmark albums, "as they were expected to be heard," in mono. How much do the quartet of early, acoustic-guitar and vocal-folk LPs (Bob Dylan, Freewheelin', Another Side of Bob Dylan, and The Times They Are A-Changin') differ in the two formats? Not much. What most intrigued me was how the electric albums, starting with half of Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited ('65), Blonde on Blonde ('66), and John Wesley Harding ('67), would sound in mono instead of stereo, given their more dynamic range and sonic variation. Compared to my stereo vinyl, the tracks tend to separate the instruments on either channel, keeping Dylan and his harmonica in the middle – out front. The mono versions here are less spacious but more forcefully direct, as if blasting out of your car radio, which, not coincidentally, was how we first heard these songs. There's something to be said for both, and it largely depends on your preference. Make no mistake, though: In either format, this is the mother lode, a monumental collection that irrevocably changed the course of popular music and global culture.


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