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In recent years there has been a plethora of books on the enigmatic Mr. Dylan, but this entry in Rowman & Littlefield’s Tempo music series on rock, pop, and culture is a bit different as it explores Dylan’s music through the lens of social and cultural history. In nine fascinating chapters, Brown, a freelance writer and editor, follows Dylan chronologically through his career, from young troubadour in Greenwich Village who unwittingly became the spokesman of a generation through his controversial electric transformation to the rural glory of the Basement Tapes to his richly creative Blood on the Tracks period to his born-again phase to his current renaissance as a rock elder and cultural force. Brown’s discussion of individual songs and albums is particularly insightful. This concise examination of the Dylan corpus is especially good for younger generations who may want to better understand how a musician in his early seventies can still be so compelling and relevant in twenty-first-century America. A useful Dylan and cultural-events time line and an annotated discography round out the volume. --June Sawyers
In recent years there has been a plethora of books on the enigmatic Mr. Dylan, but this entry in Rowman & Littlefield’s Tempo music series on rock, pop, and culture is a bit different as it explores Dylan’s music through the lens of social and cultural history. In nine fascinating chapters, Brown, a freelance writer and editor, follows Dylan chronologically through his career, from young troubadour in Greenwich Village who unwittingly became the spokesman of a generation through his controversial electric transformation to the “rural glory” of the Basement Tapes to his richly creative Blood on the Tracks period to his born-again phase to his current renaissance as a rock elder and cultural force. Brown’s discussion of individual songs and albums is particularly insightful. This concise examination of the Dylan corpus is especially good for younger generations who may want to better understand how a musician in his early seventies can still be so compelling and relevant in twenty-first-century America. A useful Dylan and cultural events timeline and an annotated discography round out the volume. (Booklist)
Many studies of Bob Dylan’s life and career have been overly comprehensive, to the delight of his obsessive fans. It is refreshing to read editor, theater critic, and blogger Brown’s crisp and concise contribution to Dylan scholarship. The author organizes the book into nine chronological periods of the musician’s ever-changing life, up through the release of Tempest in 2012. Along the way he references key national and world events and cultural influences that were relevant to Dylan’s creative output. The narrative flows smoothly, and many songs receive a paragraph of mini-interpretation. The final section, covering the years 2000–12, is especially interesting as it documents the unexpected resurgence of Dylan’s career with three major albums and relentless touring. Brown devotes much more space to a close reading of the newer songs. VERDICT Brown proves that he is very well versed in all things Dylan with this very accessible work. While it covers familiar territory, the book’s strength is a thorough assessment of Dylan’s career, album by album, song by song. Both longtime fans and newcomers to Dylan’s work will appreciate Brown’s approach. (Library Journal)
Cultural critic Brown explores the entire catalogue of Bob Dylan in tandem with the social, political, and personal events that unfolded over the course of the artist’s lifetime. Emphasizing the dual history approach, the book begins by aligning Dylan’s timeline with the national one. Dylan performs at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, reads Joseph Conrad while recording 'Blood on The Tracks,' and influenced by the women in his life, moves towards religious music in the early 80s. Brown dissects almost every song on each of Dylan’s albums, including the records he produced in the late 80s, which he admits represent a 'nadir' for the artist. The string of in-depth, song-by-song album reviews are glued together with quick history lessons. Many writers have already explored Dylan in his historical context, including most of the great first wave of pop critics, like Ellen Willis and Greil Marcus, as well as academic historians such as Princeton’s Sean Wilentz. Brown is thorough in his analysis (Publishers Weekly)
While many of the stories of Dylan’s life have been dissected ad nausea in just about every bit of medium imaginable, Brown’s approach is refreshing; a nearly album by album retrospective of one of the most culturally significant and musically influential musicians in modern history. In addition, unlike many biographies on Dylan, Brown is objective enough to point out when the albums were uneven and, for most of the 1980’s, downright mediocre. While it’s clear from his writing and exhaustive knowledge of the music, that Brown is a fan of the singer, it’s nice to read an impartial take on this exhaustive catalog of music. ... Brown has written a book that manages to be ideal for both the casual Dylan fans and the diehard acolytes of the singer. (Examiner)
Bob Dylan: American Troubadour is a welcome addition to the Dylan library, simply because it is one of the better general introductions to Dylan's work. . . that has appeared in recent years. [It] is an excellent starting point for the novice Dylan fan [and]. . . contains enough surprising insights to have even the most seasoned Dylan reader leading towards the edge of his seat. Excellent book. (Bob Dylan in (Het) Nederland(s))
In nine fascinating chronological chapters, music and literature critic Donald Brown analyzes Bob Dylan's recording career. Drawing on an array of published sources but mostly the recordings themselves, the author begins with 'Becoming Bob Dylan.' Because of the plethora of Dylan biographies, many listed in the helpful bibliography . . . . Brown offers limited biographical details and . . . plunges into Dylan's first record, Bob Dylan, with an analysis of each song. This is the format of all the chapters: a brief description of the musical, historical, and biographical context of the record, then a critical analysis of the songs. . . .There is a helpful discography. The book's chief contribution lies in Brown's critical analyses of so many songs. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. (CHOICE)
Time spent with this highly readable book will almost certainly send readers back to rediscover Dylan’s work, and the reader will come away with a new appreciation for Dylan’s more popular material, as well. Highly recommended. (Musoscribe)
Many years ago, I asked the author to interpret a Dylan line. The answer was cogent, rich, and filled with meaning. This is the book Donald Brown was always meant to write. If you desire a pathway into the worlds within Dylan's words, this book is one you need to read. If you want a history of Bob's marriages, touring, or commercials, skip it, because this is not for you. While it may seem lengthy, no words are minced, and many interpretations are revealed with poetic skills.
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This book is smart and fun and different from any other Dylan book you have ever read. Take that to the bank. Don Brown has hit platinum with this book. His treatment of Dylan is comprehensive and deep --- his analysis is that of a brilliant literary critic. If you don't read this book, your Dylan creds drop about a dozen notches. Anyone who reads this is going to understand Dylan better than anyone who doesn't... and that includes maybe even Dylan himself!
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