Bob's Big Box

Bob's Big Box
As a music lover who just turned 40, I thought it was about time I explored the back catalogue of Bob Dylan, an artist I'd largely ignored previously. Right then...

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

34. World Gone Wrong (1993)

World Gone Wrong is essentially Good As I Been To You Part 2, with baffling liner notes.  Arriving on the shelves one year on from its predecessor, this shorter, 10-track collection of covers is more blues-based, and for the most part sustains a more subdued atmosphere.  It too was recorded over a short space of time in Dylan's home studio (reportedly without a single change of guitar strings!), but this time no producer other than Bob himself is credited.

Perhaps because of the outcry over the lack of song credits on GAIBTY, here Dylan provides lengthy, fairly comprehensive and (I suspect) deliberately bewildering sleeve notes, citing his sources and explaining them in his own inimitable style.  These are playfully titled "About the Songs (and what they're about)".

The album opens with the title track, a blues lament learned from the 1930s version by the Mississippi Sheiks.  Dylan's voice is a little clearer on this song than it was on the previous album, but this doesn't last long, as by the second track, Love Henry, it's back to the familiar slur. For some reason I didn't mind so much, perhaps because I'd grown used to it, or more likely because I made sure I had the lyrics to hand from the outset this time.  Whichever it was, I really enjoyed his telling of the murder of Henry at the hands of his treacherous "pretty girl", particularly the last verse about the deeply (and rightly) suspicious parrot, witness to murder and refusing to approach his mistress lest he suffer the same sticky end.

After Willie Brown's Ragged and Dirty is another Mississippi Sheiks number, the lustful Blood in My Eyes.  A video for this was shot in Crouch End, London, with Bob wandering around and signing autographs in the street.  The album's cover image was taken in a cafe during the video shoot.

Bob rounds off Side 1 with a song by Blind Willie McTell, one of his biggest heroes.  He covers Broke Down Engine which he describes in his notes as "a masterpiece" and "about variations of human longing".  It does indeed contain all the blues tropes: poverty, a woman who done left him, and a reference to the Georgia crawl.  He also writes that "it's about trains", which is less clear. The line "Can't you hear me, baby, rappin' on your door?" is illustrated with a few knocks on the body of his guitar, and the croaking delivery is suitably desperate.

Side 2 begins with more loss and betrayal in the form of murder ballad Delia, a story of gambling and unrequited love that ends with the heroine shot down "with a cruel forty-four".  Dylan's voice is tender, and he sings the heartbreaking "All the friends I ever had are gone" mournfully, communicating the loneliness perfectly.  There's more murder next with Stack A Lee, a traditional song also known as 'Stagger Lee' and 'Stack O' Lee'.  This starts with brisk strumming and cheerful harmonica (the only time this instrument gets an outing on WGW) before we learn of Billy Lyons, shot dead in a bar by his friend over a John B. Stetson hat, and going on to haunt his killer's jail cell.  Less seedy but equally tragic are the deaths in Two Soldiers, a war ballad learned from Jerry Garcia, where battlefield promises cannot be kept.  Like Bob, Garcia was a repository for obscure American folk music.  Unlike the rest of the album this song had actually been present in Dylan's live shows for a few years, and he describes it as being from "...before the Wild One, before the Children of the Sun - before the celestial grunge, before the insane world of entertainment exploded in our faces".  For some reason the songs from WGW are not currently available on Youtube (at least in the UK), so here's Two Soldiers on Spotify.

Like Canadee-I-O from GAIBTY, the Tom Paley ballad Jack-A-Roe tells of a young woman disguising herself as a man and following her true love to sea.  It's nice after all the bloodshed to have a story with a happy ending, with the couple marrying after her lover narrowly escapes death.  But the sadness returns for final track Lone Pilgrim, learned from Doc Watson.  Bob sings softly of the pilgrim's death from "contagion" on this most sombre of songs.

Although World Gone Wrong suffers from Dylan's same lack of diction as on GAIBTY, and the mood is darker and more sorrowful, I enjoyed it a little more.  Perhaps the more dominant blues theme suited his rough style; the unvarnished, lo-fi approach is certainly preferable to the ham-fisted attempts at modern production that plagued most of his output in the decade before.  Also, his voice sounds less strangulated, which was a surprise - perhaps he'd warmed up a little. Things might have been improved with the inclusion of a couple of more upbeat songs; there's no Froggy Went A-Courtin' here to lighten the load, which makes for hard going at times.  For this reason I feel that like some of the other less outstanding albums in his catalogue, the songs on World Gone Wrong would work best as part of a mixed playlist.

*****BobBox price check***** - £115.99 (free postage)
Discogs - from £84.00
Spin CDs - £119.99 (free postage)
Bob Dylan Official Store - £175.99
All prices correct on 20/10/2015


(I'm sorry that this isn't a more interesting blog post; at this stage in the BobBox I'm definitely flagging a bit, plus after its very similar predecessor I'm finding little to say about World Gone Wrong that I haven't already said about Good As I Been To You.  Hopefully these two albums served their purpose as a recharging exercise for Dylan's songwriting.  I guess I'll find out).


  1. You poor wee thing, nobody should have to do what you are doing!

    1. Heh! It's not so bad, just found it difficult to say much about this one.

  2. I actually love this record - for me it's the best of his records mining the past, and it anticpates the world weary blues of Time Out of Mind.'Delia' breaks my heart - I think it's a masterful blues performance.

    1. Great description. I'm looking forward to TOOM in particular. In the meantime, am rather digging Unplugged.