Bob Dylan began as a Woody Guthrie acolyte, imitating the dust-bowl balladeer as faithfully as a baby boomer from Hibbing, Minnesota, could. It wasn't long before he found his own voice, spearheading the early-1960s folk revival as well as the singer-songwriter movement, and introducing poetry into pop music. Through countless changes in sound, image, and even religion, he retained his unique artistic vision even when his popularity occasionally waned. By the 21st century, he was enjoying an upsurge of critical and popular interest based on a series of powerful late-career albums that crystallized his aesthetics and unique world view.
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Two discs of music don''t exactly provide for a thorough overview of four decades of recording, particularly if the subject of the retrospective is one of the most important and prolific performers of his time. So The Essential Bob Dylan definitely skates over the leagues-deep oeuvre of Dylan, summarizing his monumental first half-dozen years in disc one and skirting over the following 34 years in disc two. Delving into Columbia''s three Dylan greatest-hits packages (though curiously purging "I Want You," a genuine hit single in its day), Essential offers only a few surprises, opting for The Basement Tapes version of "Quinn the Eskimo" over the Self Portrait remake that made it onto Greatest Hits Volume II and tossing in "Things Have Changed" from the Wonder Boys soundtrack for completists. But this 30-track overview is designed with newcomers, not Dylanologists, in mind. --Steven Stolder
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