Today, I spun two Dylan albums from 1992 and 1993. These two albums feature Dylan alone with an acoustic guitar, simply recorded. Good as I Been to You (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) and World Gone Wrong (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). Originally said to be “contractual obligation” albums, Dylan recorded these in his garage studio at his home in Malibu, singing old folk songs, covers, and blues songs.
These albums are a blip in Dylan’s production, but they are also quite important, in retrospect. Around this time, Dylan was performing this type of music on tour, in acoustic sets, and he has always respected traditional music. (As he would later show in his Theme Time Radio Hour show, where he played a wide range of old tunes.)
Looking back, there is a link between these two albums and his recent Shadows in the Night (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), an album of songs that Frank Sinatra sang. (In fact, this album was so popular, that a sequel is reportedly due to be released later this year.)
Listening to Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, you can hear how much Dylan respects the classics of folk and blues music. He gets it right; he doesn’t try and turn these songs into “Dylan songs,” but he just plays and sings them. There’s no embellishment, no fancy studio trickery. If anything, they sound a lot like Dylan’s first album, simply titled Bob Dylan (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), which was mostly covers and folk songs.
And while Good as I Been to You could be seen as a contractual obligation album, it seems that when Dylan recorded World Gone Wrong, he was in a different mindset. The recording is simple; perhaps even simpler than the first album, but the songs sound more like they come from Dylan’s heart. While there are some mistakes in his guitar playing, making it almost sound like a live recording, his singing seems more inspired. And Blood in My Eyes is one of the best Dylan songs in a long time. World Gone Wrong won a Grammy award for Best Traditional Folk Album.
A few years after the release of Good as I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, Bob Dylan had an especially fertile period, with such albums as Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, Modern Times, Together Through Life, and Tempest, where Dylan found new inspiration, writing some of his best songs in decades. Perhaps these two solo acoustic albums were just contractual obligations, but they may also have redirected him toward a rejuvenation of his music through an immersion in older songs. In any case, these two albums are a delightful set of songs that show Dylan fully unplugged.