Bob Dylan Bringing It All Back Home
Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks
he resounding cheer heard in audiophile circles over the introduction of the SACD in the early 2000s was less than a whimper among the general public. The format was clearly not the next big digital thing that Sony predicted (and wanted), but SACD abides here in the second decade of the 21st century thanks to audiophiles and the labels that service them -- Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions, and others that are content with sales in the low thousands per title, numbers that would cause yawning fits at the major labels.
One of the true events in SACD's early days was the release of 15 titles from the Bob Dylan catalogue as hybrid discs. Mobile Fidelity is reissuing 15 as well, also as hybrid discs. While such redundancy may seem counterintuitive, it's actually in perfect keeping with SACD's profile as the ultimate digital format for audiophiles. Chestnuts are released on SACD, re-released, and then re-released again. At least with these Dylan SACDs there are only the original Columbia discs and now the MoFi redos, and the titles are not identical. MoFi's choices are more informed, weighted toward the earlier rather than later titles, but the most important -- Another Side of Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, Desire and the pair discussed here -- are duplicated.
While I am not a Dylan completist -- I have no use for Dylan or Under the Red Sky, for instance -- I am nearly there. The vast bulk of his output is inventive, vital and necessary, both for the musical trails blazed and the dense imagery of the lyrics. Bringing It All Back Home is an electrified artifact of Dylan's transition from folk to rock. Blood on the Tracks marks the beginning of a second high point in his oeuvre and some of his most personal songwriting. Both are among his greatest works and packed with music you either know or should know, although neither is his best-sounding album, a distinction that goes to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, which MoFi has also reissued.
What does MoFi half-speed mastering bring to this music? A lot. While there is nothing grievously wrong with the Columbia SACDs, there is much more right with the MoFi. The Columbia discs are noticeably louder, which has the byproduct of reducing dynamic range. This works better with Blood on the Tracks, which sounds slightly demure by nature, but the decrease in dynamic contrasts hurts the sound of both discs, giving it a more pushed-out than flowing quality. The MoFi discs are more natural tonally and better layered spatially, providing greater insight into each recording. Bass and rhythm-guitar lines are more distinct, better delineated, and easier to follow.
The best news may be that Bringing It All Back Home is already available on a pair 45rpm LPs and Blood on the Tracks is coming to vinyl. All of MoFi's Bob Dylan LPs that I've heard are even better-sounding than the matching SACDs, with increased body and naturalness. Still, if you're digital only, the MoFi SACDs are worth owning, even if you have the Columbias already, for the important, inspired music and revealing sound.
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