Good As I Been To You (Columbia)
Bob Dylan

By Bob Bahr

This is strictly DFO. Dylan Fans Only.

Bob Dylan's voice has never been more comically nasal, his subject matter more folky. Good As I Been To You is dang good, but people caught up on the problem of his vocals will run fast from this effort. Dylan fans will take this disc just as quickly to their heart.

Dylan continues to surprise and astound. After 30 years in the business, that's quite a trick. We've heard it all from the man, haven't we?

How about a record of 13 traditional folk songs? Dylan, one of the most important songwriters of our time, wriggles free of expectations by singing and playing unclaimed songs from our heritage. "Froggie Went a Courtin'," "Hard Times," and "Sittin' on Top of the World" never sounded better.

Dylan's harmonica appears on a couple tracks and, as usual, it's a bust. But his guitar playing shines with a brilliance no one can question. You're forgiven if you feel surprise at learning that this moving, bobbing, weaving, lilting acoustic strumming and picking is coming from the Demigod of Duluth. It also begs the question of why he would tour with a band at all? And wouldn't "Dylan Unplugged" be the final word on acoustic performances?

Dylan's take on "Step It Up and Go" is the final word on that song for sure. Easily the jumpin'-est cut on the album, "Step" shakes up the vision of a barn burning hoedown, our grizzled, bearded hero at the helm. If Good As I Been To You is an acknowledgement of Dylan's source material, then "Step It Up and Go" is the explanation for his rock 'n' roll heart.

Nearly every song here hints at something in Dylan's own catalog. "Blackjack Davey" has a clear descendant in Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts." The surrealism of "Froggie Went a Courtin'" has compatriots in much of Dylan's past work, especially the album Bringing It All Back Home. Some specific phrases and wordplays found in Dylan songs find their true parentage here.

There's a feeling of disappointment when one hears this disc for the first time. After all, new Dylan records are treasures because of the man's nonpareil lyrical skills. Good As I Been To You makes you relax and enjoy the timelessness of these traditional and public domain folk songs. Dylan is clearly paying tribute to the universality of some sentiments, stories and natural laws. We have sensed this universality in his past work; here is a collection of it assembled by a loving custodian. And as Dylan possibly infers in the album's title, doesn't this rootsy indulgence deserve a listen, good as he's been to us?