Album + Compilation
Who on earth would be interested in a set collecting the mono mixes of Bob Dylan's first eight albums?
Well, as the success of The Beatles' similar venture The Beatles in Mono demonstrates, quite a lot of people. And with good reason. Dylan - like the Fab Four and all of their contemporaries - didn't start treating stereo mixes as anything other than a sop to an elite part of the record buying market until the end of the 1960s. Mono mixes were supervised and approved by the artist, stereo mixes done as an afterthought by third parties. The albums Bob Dylan (1962) through John Wesley Harding (1967), then, are being presented here in the way the artist intended you to hear them. As Dylan's mono albums were deleted unusually quickly, this is the first opportunity to experience such 'director's cuts' for four decades.
It's the early, acoustic albums that benefit most: stereo versions brutally divided up the elements of voice, guitar and harmonica on the debut, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changin' and Another Side of Bob Dylan. As for the electric material, Blonde on Blonde's epic Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands sounds significantly sweeter and more focused in mono, while Bringing It All Back Home sounds bolder and punchier throughout, with the excellence of the bass-playing on It's All Over Now, Baby Blue particularly brought into focus. However, surprisingly it is not all one-way traffic, as illustrated by Like a Rolling Stone, which here sounds dismayingly sterile compared to the powerful stereo mix that has become far more familiar down the years. Meanwhile, the mono mixes on Stone's parent album Highway 61 Revisited are sometimes shorter by half a minute - not a good thing when we're talking about one of history's all-time classics. John Wesley Harding sounds sharper and harder, but it's noticeable how much less eerie is the monaural The Wicked Messenger.
The set is beautifully packaged, a handsome slipcase housing a lavish booklet and CDs in card facsimiles of the original album sleeves, with detail accurate enough to incorporate the original rough texture of the Times jacket and the trashy, advert-adorned inner bag of the debut. This will all presumably be some compensation for those purist audiophiles shocked to discover that mixing and matching between stereo and mono releases will be necessary to obtain the best listening experience.
(A single-disc 'best of' of these mono recordings is available - its tracklisting is to the left.)