AMY writes ...
This question is pretty much impossible to answer. There is no “quintessential Dylan album” because Dylan's music has spanned multiple genres. He's released 38 studio albums in his career and they run the gamut.
The Freewheelin Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin' are straight up folk albums. Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde are more rock-oriented. Nashville Skyline is country-based, while Blood on the Tracks is folk-rock. All of these albums are quintessential Dylan.
The “Dylan experience” is, for me, epitomized in the diversity of his music.
TIM KENNEDY ...
My favourite and I think most representative Bob Dylan album is Blonde on Blonde. It is the culmination of the amazing development of Bob’s work in the early 60s.
The lyrics are up there with the best he ever wrote, for instance Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again. These lyrics are amusing and fantastical, they bear endless replaying. “Grandpa died last week and he was buried in the rocks/Everybody tells me how badly they were shocked/But me I expected it to happen /I knew he'd lost control /When he built a fire on Main Street and shot it full of holes”. This is no longer Bob didactically pointing up injustice, instead he is combining understated humour with surrealism to give a sense of the confusion that was then rampant in America.
The music has a warm mellow feeling, with a wonderful mellifluous keyboard sound, for instance in the slow intensity of Visions Of Johanna - “Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet /We're sitting here stranded all doing our best to deny it/And Louise holds a handful of rain tempting you to defy it”.
The humour is particularly evident on Brand New Leopardskin Pillbox Hat. This kind of hat was worn by trendy ladies of the time. Bob playfully lampoons fashion followers suggesting that they are inconstant lovers as well as fickle in their dress sense. The hat matches her outfit “just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine “.
The musicians here were top Nashville session players and they did a superb job under the hand of veteran country producer Bob Johnston. Bob Dylan is a hard guy to work with in the studio because he gives few clues as to what he wants. He gives sometimes imperceptible signals to the band he is working with which can mean all kinds of things. He is also very impatient and will often go for the first take - as happened with the anarchic Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.
The music itself is what makes the album so special, its warmth and depth is a complete delight. It enfolds the listener like a warm coat on a cold day.
ERIC T writes ...
For me it would have to be Blood on the Tracks. Of course there are other albums that I really love - but Blood was in a different class. Lyrically, the songs were a bit more personal and revealing than earlier work, which had tended to rely more on metaphor and parables. Dylan found a new voice for the songs on Blood - it was a hybrid, combining some of the nasal Woody Guthriesque sounds of his early work, with some of the smooth richness he brought to bear on Self Portrait and Nashville Skyline. I think Blood on the Tracks was Dylan (finally) not trying to sound like anyone else. His delivery of the songs is natural and seems almost effortless - but there is an incredible wealth of emotional content there. He hinted at this direction on Planet Waves, and really brought it home in a different way on Desire (another fine album!) but Blood on the Tracks is where it really came into focus. This was a full grown, mature Dylan, sure of himself and his poetry, just beginning to move on from the journeyman pieces that defined him in the 60’s and into some of the more introspective work yet to come.