Following Bob Dylan's career can be a pretty fascinating thing in itself -- no matter what he delivers or doesn’t deliver on any given song or album. Following the rather listless Don Was-produced Under the Red Sky album from 1990, for instance, Dylan's future as a vital contemporary artist seemed to be ebbing away toward the cutout bins. Ah, but the following year The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3 appeared, opening the door to tons of archival Dylan tracks and at the same time reaffirming his importance as a pop artist and icon. So what does Dylan do? He records a bunch of old folk and blues songs solo in his garage, resulting in 1992’s Good as I Been to You and 1993’s The World Gone Wrong, albums that reminded everyone that he started out as a folk artist, although at these sessions Dylan sounded like he had finally aged into the very songs he was recording -- he was no longer a young man trying to sing older. But it was the 1990s and nothing about the two albums made them even remotely commercial, even though the tracks themselves gave a fascinating look into the wide range of influences that went into Dylan's unique blend of singing and songwriting. It’s clear as a bell what an American artist Dylan is, drawing from nearly every strain of American music in his deceptively simple-sounding synthesis of all of it, which is really what folk music does -- it blends the past into the present. The tracks presented in this delightful little 23-track anthology are the original 78s that Dylan drew on for his own versions at the Good as I Been to You/The World Gone Wrong sessions. This collection stands on its own as a sequence, though, with or without the Dylan reference -- here you get the Stanley Brothers' “Little Maggie,” the Mississippi Sheiks' “I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes for You,” the Carter Family's “Blackjack David,” Frank Hutchison's “Stackalee,” and Blind Willie McTell's “Delia.” This set can stand on its own. Dylan would agree.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett