Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), 5/10

Bob Dylan’s formative songwriting album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is largely acclaimed for its ingenuity and historical importance, and this is all deserved. Dylan’s lyrics are beautiful and brave, observant and indulgently poetic, and even prophetic. A song like “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall” exemplifies his strengths at full effect, painting a vivid picture while taking jabs at those who deserve it. Even this song, however, arguably the best of the album, also exemplifies the weaknesses of the project. Despite its clever wordplay and successfully droning rhythm accented with clever melody, the chorus itself is weak. The pair of Dylan’s lyrics with his simple and sparse musical approach sometimes works and sometimes feels hollow. His harmonica is sometimes enchanting, sometimes grating. Even his lyrics range from absolutely brilliant to woefully simple. This disjointed, inconsistent experience makes the album itself feel like a historical relic of a primitive songwriter and poet rather than a timeless masterpiece. On top of these characteristics from Dylan’s presentation, the album is entirely frontloaded apart from moments of respite on the second half such as the opening “Don't Think Twice, It's All Right” which largely feels more at home on the front, moments during “Oxford Town”, or the humor of “I Shall Be Free”. Of course, the inclusion of artistic influences shows Dylan’s lyrical integrity that would bolster his efforts in the years to come, and its importance cannot be overstated considering even the short-term impact this spirited record had on his contemporaries despite its flaws. The first half of the record carries this mantle while the second is a hodgepodge and a misguided mess. Even Bob Dylan’s influence can be taken into question, as not all of his explorations in songwriting created a beneficial impact on the music scene, yet there are enough victories stemming from this project to call it a vital piece of art. The follow-up after a false start, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan shows major signs of maturation but Dylan was not yet the legend he needed to be.