Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
It is my personal belief that Bob's singing has little to do with the actual sound of his voice. Instead, I would like to suggest the real problem with Bob's voice is his attitude and/or passion.
Now, in regards to the actual sound of his voice (which, technically, is the topic of this discussion) - it's an acquired taste. Always has been - different, bizarre, sometimes inaccessible. The sound of his voice is not the issue. This is where I might derail the conversation...
The real issue is his attitude towards singing. Some folks around here ought to consider the fact that Bob just might not care all that much about carrying a tune or performing like he once did. People who claim 2003-2005 to be the last good years of the NET do so not because of the sound of his voice; people make the claim because these were certainly the last couple of years where Bob seemed - both visually and audibly - interested, involved, and inspired by what he was doing. I can on and on about this and I have before, but the point is that Bob no longer really tries to "hold" notes or sing with any kind of rhythm.
Don't believe me? Check out "Lonesome Day Blues" from the November 13, 2004 show at Rochester, New York. This is not the essential performance of the tune, but it does feature an excited, interested Bob Dylan who seems to actually be enjoying himself. While you're at it, check out "Dignity" from the same show. Make no mistake, folks, his voice is shot here. It has been for a very, very long time. However, in these select performance, you can't claim he's not enjoying himself. And that - the obvious fact that he's animated and "into it" - makes the performance. It elevates is.
There are many singers that "lost" their prime voices in their careers. All from hard living and/or getting older. They couldn't hit the notes and had to change the tunings of certain songs to be able to sing with the band. Big Joe Turner. Billie Holiday. Johnny Cash. Frank Sinatra. Elvis Presley. You can throw Bob Dylan in there with 'em. Go right ahead. However the big difference is that Big Joe, Lady Day, the Man in Black, the Chairman of The Board, and the King still performed until their deaths with passion and interest. If they didn't, the criticisms of them not being able to sing started. Elvis Presley's voice took a nose-dive from weight gain and hard living, but check out his performance of "Unchained Melody" near the end of his career. He puts his all into it. Unfiltered and raw and, ultimately, beautiful.
The problem with Bob has always been passion and interest. Why do people cite Blood On The Tracks as one of his best albums? Because it actually sounds like he gives a shit. Compare "If You See Her, Say Hello" to "Desolation Row." "If You See Her..." showcases a personal performance that breaks my heart every time; "Desolation Row" is a jokester song with smart ass characters. Why do some people around here claim Christmas In The Heart to be one of his most solid albums in recent years? Because Dylan actually sounds like he's having a good time singing them old tunes he grew up with. It's unfiltered; just the man doing what he wants and enjoying himself regardless of detractors or critics.
My point is this: I've seen Bob ten (maybe eleven?) times and seven since 2005 and I find myself at every concert waiting and hoping for that one moment or the couple verses where Bob is "into it." You know that moment. When he gets into a rhythm and starts moving and takes control of the song. Everybody here who is into ModBod knows exactly what I'm talking about. (If you don't - again, check out the aforementioned "Lonesome Day Blues" performance. There is a point, around the 5th or 6th verse, where Bob finds a rhythm and commits.) Well, since 2005, I have spent entire concerts waiting for that moment and it never arrives or lasts very long like it used to. In 2003, 2004, and 2005 these "into it" moments happened a lot. One might say his performances were consistent and thrilling and it's all because Bob sounds like he's on top of things. He's not behind the music and being pulled along by it - he's fighting with it, wrestling with it, engaging it. Folks knock Freddy Koella, but you can't deny that he was the last (and maybe the best) NET guitarist that obviously lit a fire under Bob.
I had high hopes when Charlie Joined back up a few years ago and it seemed when he first did that it definitely reanimated Bob to a certain degree. But the magic is fleeting, everybody. His passion just isn't there like it used to be and I don't understand why he's touring when it's pretty evident that he is now consistently "going through the motions." There will be those of you that will disagree and claim that Bob still loves what he does. Might be true. He might enjoy being on the road and across the seas and seeing the sights. But the songs don't seem to move him (if they ever did) anymore. If you're really interested in arguing with me then bring proof. Claim specific performances from recent years that can match those found in 2003, 2004, and 2005. Oh, and one performance from one concert won't work since Bob (in 2003-2005) consistently gave great performances throughout entire shows. Look up any of the Spring 2004 shows and see what I mean. St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto - every one of the shows performed in these cities are worth keeping in your music collection.
A great post, but I have to take issue with it.
1- It appears that his capacity to do what he used to do (like hold notes for long periods) is vastly diminished. That doesn't mean he can't do it at all, but I think it's diminished enough that it's a real stretch to argue he "doesn't care" because he doesn't do it.
2- Dylan appears to genuinely like
the bark, to like what he can do with it rythmically, to like even the texture itself. He can be totally "into" a performance that is full of the barks, roars and grunts that drive some long-time fans from the room.
I had terrible expereinces at Dylan shows in 2006 and 2007, I even wondered if I'd ever bother going again, but in 2009 he blew me away and did so again in 2010. A lot of it has to do with the individual show you catch. I'll use one of those for your challenge: Chicago 10/31/09. I won't say it's better than the best of those years you mention but there's certainly plenty of commitment from Mr. ModBob.