Midwesterner Bob Shiel loves the music and lyrics of Midwesterner Bob Dylan. His new book, '61 Highways Revisited — The Albums of Bob Dylan’ required copious amounts of research and equal passion. To accompany the book he also created a double CD, for which all proceeds go to charity. He categorised “the other Bob’s” songs this way: “Absolutely acoustic arrangements" on Disc 1 and “Entirely electric energy” on Disc 2, with the help of talented American flute player, Bill Buchholtz. Two are covers, but the rest are Bob Dylan chestnuts. The arrangements, on which Bob sings and plays guitar, are truly evocative and illustrative of his hero’s brilliant career. In fact, Bob’s fantasy is that the reader reads as the CD hums in the background. I tried it! I implore the reader to do the same!

But back to the book. There is no fast turnaround, skip out of town feel here. Shiel includes soundtracks, greatest hits and basement tapes. When not completely in love with a song or the arrangement, he doesn’t leave the reader hanging by a thread. He lays it all out there.

His lively sense of humour pulses through every chapter. Prior to writing the book, Shiel enjoyed a long career as an English as a Second Language teacher. You can almost imagine him at the head of the class, mentoring his students, imparting his knowledge with wisdom and humanity. Because that’s what he does here. As much as he treasures Bob Dylan’s legacy, he keeps a cool and respectful distance.

If you like stuffy, scholarly works, don’t read this. Shield’s personable tone is what shapes the book and makes it such a refreshingly pleasant read. But don’t mistake his casual tone and fun anecdotes for filler. He stands by what he writes; that is totally clear.

I learned so much about Dylan’s motivations, vulnerabilities and business dealings, too— apart from the vivid dissection of these 61 works, we also discover how the songwriter navigated his way out of unfair alliances and, ultimately, fiercely protected his works, keeping his career afloat in the process.

And what of the artistic decisions a successful artist is sure to face? Shiel subtly introduces us to Bob Dylan collaborators. And perhaps as a way of bucking the system or as a way to employ full artistic authority, he also self-produced albums.

Shiel’s writing is sharp. Hear it sing in a review of ‘Gonna Change My Way of Thinking’ — the song “utilizes a catchy cow bell to sustain the bad-ass backbeat of a sizzling rock groove in a song that required a re-dub of Bob’s vocal.”

At a more sombre moment he writes of what happened after the recording of ‘Down in the Groove’: “Bob’s stage presence appeared distracted and unconcerned with delivering an artistic product with any degree of quality.”

In the chapter 'Knocked Out Loaded' the author ponders, “How long can Bob go without relying on dipping into his back catalogue?” It is that keen kind of insight that keeps us on the page, and also helps humanise Bob Dylan’s fascinating trajectory.

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