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Saturday, July 12, 2008

First thought, best thought

Yesterday my iPod came up with Bob Dylan's "I Pity The Poor Immigrant". I think it's one of my favourite records of any sort. I've played that one song about five times since and even tooled about with the chords on the guitar. Last night I looked out the album "John Wesley Harding" and played it all the way through.

I love the words - particularly that line about "his gladness comes to pass". You can't separate that from the singing, which is his most restrained and precise. He hits a frequency here that he never quite hit again. But there's something more than that. "John Wesley Harding" stills falls upon the ear as a blessed relief.

It was 1967. He'd written the songs in Woodstock that summer. He recorded them in Nashville. But that doesn't tell the whole story. I read here that he recorded the whole album in just three sessions of three hours each. That's what a union session was in those days. Three hours. Most of the time there were just two other musicians in the studio, drummer Kenny Buttrey and bassist Charlie McCoy. They don't really play like a rhythm section, not as we've come to understand it. Buttrey is accenting the songs rather than driving them.

Between the second and third sessions Dylan asked Robbie Roberston and Garth Hudson to think about overdubbing the tracks. They listened and couldn't hear a way they could be improved. So they were left alone. Forty years later it's still the most persuasive argument for the view that records increase in quality in inverse proportion to the amount of time spent recording them.

If you want to hear "Immigrant", it's here.