Talk about bringing it all back home. With the dust barely settled on the recent star-studded Bob Dylan tribute, leave it to the guest of honor to once again send Dylanologists everywhere scrambling. Mr. Zimmerman’s latest, Good As I Been To You, is yet another of his unpredictable, inscrutable musical chess moves — a collection of 13 traditional blues, ballads, and folk songs recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. All you’ll hear throughout this stunningly humble offering are an acoustic guitar, a spare harmonica, and one singularly raspy, nasally voice. Listen hard enough, though, and you just might feel the spirit of Woody Guthrie hovering overhead as well.
You could brand Dylan either enormously foolish or rather courageous for releasing an album featuring such decomposed folk fare as ”Jim Jones,” a sea shanty about a British galley slave, and ”Diamond Joe,” a Texas prairie tale of cowpunchers and rounders — not to mention such golden moldies as ”Blackjack Davey,” ”Sittin’ on Top of the World,” and (don’t laugh) ”Froggie Went A Courtin’.” I say courageous, for the cumulative effect of this album is to remind us, in these divisive times, that we are the product of countless cultures and viewpoints. Those cultures and viewpoints survive through songs and stories passed from one generation to another. Which is precisely what Bob Dylan, without ceremony or superstar ego, is doing here. Somebody throw that minstrel boy a coin. A