Theme Time Radio Hour”, Bob Dylan’s Four Dazzling Acts.

There are famous­ly no sec­ond acts in Amer­i­can lives. But as he has on so many oth­er occa­sions, Bob Dylan has proved him­self the glo­ri­ous excep­tion to Fitzger­ald’s famous maxim.

Dylan’s first act cul­mi­nat­ed in an extra­or­di­nary 14 months between March 1965 and May ’66 when he released no less than three epoch-defin­ing albums; Bring­ing It All Back HomeHigh­way 61 Revis­it­ed and the still sem­i­nal dou­ble album, Blonde On Blonde. Then how­ev­er, just as sud­den­ly as he’d emerged, he dis­ap­peared into the under­growth, opt­ing for domes­tic bliss and the anonymi­ty afford­ed by his base­ment in Woodstock.

To every­one’s sur­prise and amaze­ment though, he burst back into rel­e­vance in the mid 70s with Blood On The Tracks in ’74, Desire in ’75 and the Rolling Thun­der Revue tour. But with­in a year or two his brief renais­sance had passed, and by the late 70s he’d resumed his role as a rel­ic of an era that had long since passed. The nev­er-end­ing tour he seemed deter­mined to per­sist with looked like lit­tle more than an excuse for him to avoid hav­ing to ever look him­self in the mirror.

But to every­one’s fur­ther amaze­ment, a decade lat­er he sprang back into life again, first with No Mer­cy in ’89, and then with Time Out Of Mind in ’97, both of which were pro­duced by Daniel Lanois. These three acts would com­fort­ably have seen his name for­ev­er carved in stone on high.

Remark­ably though, these last few years have been arguably his most pro­duc­tive peri­od to date. Three fine albums in Love And Theft (’01), Mod­ern Times (’06) and Togeth­er Through Life (’09), par­tic­u­lar­ly the first. A nov­el­ty Christ­mas album, which was far bet­ter than it had any right to be. That extra­or­di­nary auto­bi­og­ra­phy Chron­i­cles: Vol­ume One (’04), which had noth­ing to say about his per­son­al life, but which was excep­tion­al­ly can­did and bril­liant­ly illu­mi­nat­ing on his music (par­tic­u­lar­ly on the epiphany that result­ed in the release of  Oh Mer­cy.). Plus Scorsese’s bril­liant doc­u­men­tary, Bring­ing It All Back Home. And amongst all of which, some­what improb­a­bly, he embarked upon a new career path as a 21st. cen­tu­ry DJ.

The idea behind Theme Time Radio Hour is sim­ple enough. For one hour every week, Dylan takes a theme, say “Mar­riage”, or “Cig­a­rettes”, and spins discs asso­ci­at­ed with the cho­sen theme. He plays lit­tle or noth­ing from the mid 70s onwards, stick­ing for the most part to the 50s, 60s, and ear­ly 70s, though there are also a healthy hand­ful from the 40s and even 30s. There are three series so far, com­pris­ing some 100 hours. And each and every sin­gle track, on every sin­gle one of them, is an absolute gem. Not only that, but his sly but enthu­si­as­tic intros are every bit as enjoy­able as the for­got­ten finds he’s con­tin­u­al­ly unearthing and cor­rect­ly celebrating.

It is, by a con­sid­er­able dis­tance, the finest hour of lis­ten­ing to be found any­where in the ether. Fur­ther­more, it’s made for the “Shuf­fle” mode. As it’s almost as enjoy­able hav­ing what­ev­er it is that you’re lis­ten­ing to incon­gru­ous­ly inter­rupt­ed by one of Dylan’s droll intros before return­ing to your own playlist, as it is hear­ing the actu­al track that his intro was refer­ring to.

TTRH is an edu­ca­tion and a con­stant source of joy. And once again, that man from Min­neso­ta has pro­duced yet anoth­er rab­bit from that appar­ent­ly bot­tom­less hat of his.