On Bob Dylan's Singing Voice

I've been putting together a playlist that draws from The Anthology of American Folk Music, and it reminded me of a point I've never committed to writing before: Bob Dylan is the Miller Lite* of American folk singing.

The important thing to know about the Anthology is that the songs are all great, the arrangements frequently interesting, the instrumentation sometimes excellent, and the singing almost uniformly terrible. But it's not terrible in only one way, but in every possible way: pitchy, off-key, shrill, incomprehensible, arhythmic, unable to sustain a note for long enough, and all other imaginable failings. Even early Bob Dylan, before he has entire control of his voice, is vastly superior: musical, on-key, and capable of sustaining a wide variety of affectations. Most people who hear him aren't comparing him to the (inferior) things he replaced, but the (superior) talents brought in from other musical traditions.

*Beer snobs and purists tend to forget that the reason Miller, Anheuser-Busch et al dominated the American market for so long is that they replaced regional brews that were far worse, or at the very least inconsistent. A Miller Lite is no one's best beer, but it will also be always, and only, itself. The same also for McDonald's replacing local diners at rest stops along highways: it will never be your best meal, but you will also never get food poisoning (as people who travelled back then can tell you was always a risk).

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