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Bob Dylan shows off harmonica skills in 'Blonde on Blonde'



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Bob Dylan released “Blonde on Blonde" in 1966, combining an Americana sound with electric instrumentations. Bob Dylan and his Band will play this Sunday at the Auditorium. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

 Grade: A  

Bob Dylan and his Band will play at the IU Auditorium this Sunday. A great way to prepare for his concert is to listen to his classic album “Blonde on Blonde.” 

This 1966 double album is the synthesis of everything Dylan had done up until that point. It combines the Americana music he loved with his more recent electric instrumentations. The stand out of this album being Dylan on harmonica. 

Dylan became famous as a folk singer in the early 1960s. He famously “went electric” in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival and experimented with a more rock-oriented sound. In both phases Dylan demonstrated a talent for crafting songs lyrically mysterious and passionate in musical style. 

“Blonde on Blonde” was one of the first double album in the rock genre. Each of the 14 songs has an expansive feel befitting such a large production. Dylan frequently changes genre across songs on this double album.  

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The first song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” has a great New Orleans jazz-style sound. Many of the tracks on this album have a rhythm and blues feel. The electric instruments Dylan and his collaborators play add extra life to the music in these genres.   

There are some great musicians on this album. Future frontman for the Band Robbie Robertson delivers intricate guitar parts on “Visions of Johanna” and “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later).” Henry Strzelecki and Charlie McCoy deliver bass parts that provide solid rhythmic foundations for almost every song.

“Blonde on Blonde” shows off two of Dylan’s greatest strengths. One of them is his proficiency as a song lyricist. Dylan is great at creating specific and vivid images such as a “leopard skin pillbox hat” or a woman who has “eyes like smoke.” Some people complain his lyrics are too opaque, but they are deeply rewarding and meaningful if you pay attention to them.  

The other strength Dylan displays is his skill at playing the harmonica. His harmonica conveys the excitement of love on “I Want You.” His harmonica part on “Just Like A Woman” is more lyrical and wistful. Dylan’s versatility with this instrument gave me a new appreciation for the harmonica.  

“Blonde on Blonde” is an epic album that combines Dylan’s differing musical styles. Every musician plays at the top of their game to create beautiful music that straddles genres. If nothing else, this album proves that Dylan is one of the greatest harmonica players of all time.  

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