raw, brilliant folk from the Great One

World Gone Wrong (Columbia)
Bob Dylan

By John Goodin

Folks who don't like the sound of Bob Dylan's voice can stop right here. The "he writes good songs, but he can't sing in tune" crowd can just move on along to the next review. World Gone Wrong is for the believers.

Those who got excited over the previous solo acoustic release Good As I Been to You and were a little disappointed, hold on to your hats. Your faith and patience have been rewarded. On paper, World Gone Wrong is just another collection of solo acoustic performances of old folk songs, a friendly nod from an aging rock star to his roots. On listening, we hear the cries and thrashings of a man transported against his will from a celebration in Madison Square Garden to some dark, empty Delta crossroads with an old guitar and a fifty-year-old body.

Song after song features the elusive Mr. Dylan laying it on the line. His guitar playing and singing are ragged but powerful. His performances of "World Gone Wrong," "Blood in My Eyes," "Broke Down Engine," "Delia" and others are of the same intensity as (and not far from the sound of) the songs recorded by Robert Johnson in the 1930s. He wants us to hear these stories; not just the words and music but their meanings. He doesn't expect it to be easy.

Almost as astounding as the music of World Gone Wrong is the literary commentary provided by the artist. A short essay pretending to be liner notes and titled "About the songs (what they're about)" accompanies the recording. Here, as in the music, Mr. Dylan addresses his unruly, demanding and loyal flock. He responds, in a masterful way, to harsh criticism of his failure to acknowledge his sources on Good As I Been to You. He cites and praises each performer that he bases his performances on and then describes each song in his best mid-60s songwriter-as-poet style. Set to music, these descriptions would easily be the best Dylan songs written since 1966.

Equally surprising is the tone of the essay. Dylan has chosen to conceal himself from his audience for most of his career, yet here he intimately speaks to his record-buying public. He's saying, "Just between you and me, here's what I really think. Don't listen to Them." This epistle to the faithful even ends with some comments about Dylan's recent touring activities and a suggestion to consult playlists to find out what's really going on.

Those who value technique over soul will find this recording below Dylan's always low technical standard. The Rev. Mr. Dylan will not let a few missed guitar licks stand in the way of the Spirit. The theme of the sermon is World Gone Wrong, but the preacher, in the act of preaching, shows us a better day is coming.