Tuesday, January 3, 2017

30 Years Down the Line: Good As I Been To You

Released November 3, 1992
Thirty years after Bob Dylan's debut LP of mostly traditional covers he returned to his folk roots on Good As I Been to You. The record is a one man show featuring Dylan on acoustic guitar, harmonica, and vocals - showcasing his picking skills and increasingly gravel voice. 

"Frankie and Albert" tells the story of a love triangle that ends in murder, the twist being the scorned woman Frankie shoots her man Albert. "Jim Jones" takes direct inspiration from an Australian folk song about a tragedy at sea. "Black Jack Davey" tells the story of an innocent beauty with a "lily-white hand" who runs off with a rogue. More intrigue at sea happens on "Canadee-I-O", a Canadian ballad of a woman disguising herself as a sailor to be with her beloved on his sea voyage only to be rejected and eventually courted by the Captain!

Dylan revisits the blues standard "Sittin' on Top of the World" recorded in 1930 by the Mississippi Sheiks. Many greats including Doc Watson, Ray Charles, Howlin' Wolf, and Cream have all covered the song, an expression of defiance and swagger in the face of misfortune. Dylan's snarling performance pours water on the fire as he gleefully watches the smoke rise.  

Unrequited love eats away at the narrator in "Little Maggie" as he angrily watches the woman drink away her troubles "over courtin' some other man." Next comes a Stephen Foster tune "Hard Times." The title says it all. "Step It Up And Go" brings a rock and roll vibe, a rollicking tune better known as "Bottle Up and Go" recorded by the Memphis Jug Band. The romantic ode "Tomorrow Night" was written in 1939 by Sam Coslow and Will Grosz, a standard for Sun Record artists in the 1950s including Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.  

"Arthur McBride" originates from the British Isles, an "anti-recruiting" song telling the tale of a recruiter's attempt to persuade McBride and his cousin to join the army.  On "You're Gonna Quit Me" Dylan offers a playful take on a blues traditional. The penultimate track "Diamond Joe" was a cowboy tune popularized by Dylan's old buddy "Ramblin"Jack Elliot. The closer "Froggie Went A Courtin" originates from Scotland, 19 verses of fairy tale intrigue between Froggie and Miss Mousey that ends in macabre tragedy.

Good As I Been To You feels like a work of scholarship at times, but in retrospect the album set the course of Dylan's future. Attempts to keep up with the music scene in the 1980s met with mixed results so Dylan decided to go his own way in the 1990s by getting back to basics, keeping the folk tradition vibrant for the new millennium on the horizon.