Monday, July 27, 2009

'Blind Willie McTell' likely the best Bob Dylan song that remains unknown to many

Even a casual Bob Dylan fan knows that he often leaves excellent songs off his albums. This was proven when the box set Biograph was released in the mid-1980s. Many songs left on the cutting-room floor finally got some well-deserved attention. These included the remarkable "Up to Me" (left off Blood on the Tracks) and "Caribbean Wind" (left off Shot of Love).

However, the greatest of these lost classics is "Blind Willie McTell." Originally recorded during the sessions for the Infidels album, it is amazing that it did not make the album's final version. Luckily, it was released in the early 90s on The Bootleg Series: Volumes 1-3.

Howard Sounes, author of Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, had this to say about the song:

""Blind Willie McTell" was simply one of the greatest songs he (Dylan) had ever written. Born sometime around 1901, '"Blind" Willie McTell was a blues singer and twelve-string guitarist who lived most of his life in Atlanta, Georgia, making recordings that had the easy sound of an artist utterly assured of his music. Although not a name to mainstream audiences, the blues player was legendary among musicians. In lamenting the passing of McTell, who died in semiobscurity in 1959, Bob conjured up a vivid dreamscape of the South: magnolia flowers in bloom, plantations, and ghostly slave ships. The narrator stepped back from the tableau in the last verse -- a Brechtian shift in perspective, as in the last verse of "Black Diamond Bay" -- and stared out of a hotel window, contemplating the fact that nobody could sing the blues as well as "Blind" Willie McTell. The modesty of these lyrics -- though "Blind Willie McTell" illustrated clearly that Bob himself was a mighty blues singer -- added to the power of the song, completing a great tribute to the heritage of African-American music."

Pretty strong stuff. Get this song if you don't already have it.

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