Singin the same ol’ song

Bob Dylan has been called many things: poet, musician, troubadour, author, even filmmaker. But lately, the man has become nothing more than a commodity.

Case in point – DYLAN, a $50 career-spanning three-disc box set that contains the “essential” songs of Bob Dylan. Looking over the track list might recall 2000’s The Essential Bob Dylan – a single CD release that contains nearly the exact same songs.

DYLAN adds nothing to Bob Dylan’s legacy and provides no insight into the singer/songwriter’s creative process. The 50 songs selected for the compilation are standard fare – “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “My Back Pages,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” etc. Despite the sheer bulk of songs, nearly all of them can be found on the far less expensive “The Essential Bob Dylan” or the three-disc “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits” collection.

DYLAN does offer a few noteworthy selections here and there. For example, “Dark Eyes,” off of the 80’s album “Empire Burlesque,” is an interesting choice, as is “Precious Angel,” a song from Dylan’s highly-underrated Gospel period.

But the few interesting picks found on DYLAN hardly redeem its $50 asking price, especially when these same songs can be found on other collections for far less money.

Bob Dylan has been having a renaissance these past few years, ever since the release of his Grammy-award-winning Love and Theft in 2001. Martin Scorsese’s excellent 2005 biography, “No Direction Home,” only furthered America’s interest with the aging icon.

The soundtrack to Scorsese’s movie did everything right, providing rare B-sides and outtakes, giving listeners a fascinating look into Bob Dylan’s music during his formative years. Early renditions of songs like “Stuck Inside of Mobile” showed how different Dylan could make a song in only a matter of days, even hours.

DYLAN, on the other hand, provides absolutely nothing original. Instead, it tries to represent each Dylan studio album – even the bad ones. As a result, lackluster songs such as “Silvio” and “Brownsville Girl” make their way onto the set.

There is a vault somewhere at Columbia Headquarters that contains rare Bob Dylan studio outtakes and live performances – they have appeared occasionally on the highly successful Bob Dylan Bootleg Series. DYLAN could have used some of this material. Where are the bonus live performances? What about alternate takes on classic songs that have never before been released? DYLAN, with its predictable song selection, simply leaves fans wanting more.

Columbia tries to spice things up by providing mini-postcards, mock vinyl sleeves, and a 40-page picture booklet in the collection. But still, Bob Dylan is mostly about the music, and with DYLAN providing nothing new in that regard, its presentation hardly redeems it.

It’s almost insulting that Columbia thinks Dylan fans will spend $50 on the same old songs that have been released on other compilations for years. And, with Dylan’s classic albums on sale for $8.99 in most stores, you could simply purchase a few of these and get an even better look into the mind of America’s greatest songwriter for just as much money as DYLAN.

Ultimately, DYLAN raises one important question: has Bob become nothing more than a tool for record execs to make money?
Apparently, Columbia thinks he has.