It is composed entirely of traditional folk songs and covers, and is Dylan's first entirely solo, acoustic album since Another Side of Bob Dylan in 1964. It is also his first collection not to feature any original compositions since Dylan in 1973.
On the charts, Good as I Been to You reached #51 in the US and #18 in the UK, and helped to restore Dylan's critical standing following the disappointing Under the Red Sky.
Since launching the Never Ending Tour in June 1988, traditional covers became a feature at virtually every concert, often as part of an acoustic set. After recording Under the Red Sky in 1990, Dylan would not release an original song until 1997, and during that time, he would increasingly rely on his stockpile of covers for 'fresh' material. Dylan called these covers "the music that's true for me."
According to Dylan's friend Susan Ross, Good as I Been to You began life as a contractual filler. Dylan had scheduled two weeks at Chicago's Acme Recording Studio sometime in 1992, hiring long-time associate David Bromberg as his producer. An album's worth of songs, including the contemporary Christian ballad "Rise Again," were recorded at those sessions with the accompaniment of a full band. Bromberg was left to mix the recordings while Dylan completed a brief, 11-show tour in mainland Europe. There are several songs known to have been recorded during these sessions, including "I'll Rise Again" (trad.), "Nobody's Fault but Mine" (Blind Willie Johnson), "Lady From Baltimore" (Tim Hardin), "Polly Vaughan" (trad.), "Casey Jones" (trad.), "Duncan and Brady" (trad.), "Kaatskill Serenade" (David Bromberg), "World Of Fools" (David Bromberg), "Sloppy Drunk", and "Miss the Mississippi."
Prior to the release of Volume 8 of Dylan's Bootleg Series, Tell Tale Signs, the only songs known to be circulating from these sessions are "Kaatskill Serenade", "Sloppy Drunk", "Polly Vaughan", and "Miss the Mississippi". "Duncan and Brady" was included in that set.
When he returned to Malibu in mid-July, Dylan decided to record some solo acoustic material in his garage studio. The intention was to break up the Bromberg recordings with a few solo performances in between. As those garage sessions progressed, plans were changed, and the Bromberg recordings were pulled from the album.
Neither Dylan nor Bromberg have explained why the Bromberg recordings were rejected and put away—they have never been released—and whether Dylan actually disliked them is unknown. It was made clear that Dylan was pleased with the results he was getting in his garage studio, particularly in the minimal production work given to the recordings. Producer credit was given to Debbie Gold, a friend of Dylan's who took a hands-off approach to the entire proceedings.
Without the use of notes or lyrics, Dylan recorded a wide range of traditional songs. "Froggy Went A-Courtin'," "Blackjack Davey," and the anti-recruiting "Arthur McBride" were part of the British and Irish tradition of folk songs. "Little Maggie" was a popular bluegrass standard. "Diamond Joe" was well-known thanks to fellow folk revivalist Ramblin' Jack Elliott. "Frankie and Albert" and "Sittin' on Top of the World" both had long, deep roots in folk-blues.
Dylan also covered songs that weren't authentically traditional, such as "Tomorrow Night" (best known for Lonnie Johnson's hit version in 1947 and a version by Elvis Presley released in 1965) and Stephen Foster's"Hard Times."
Though Dylan is credited with all of the arrangements, several arrangements clearly belong to other artists, including the Texas songster Mance Lipscomb. A number of publications, including Folk Roots, criticized the album for making this error. Lipscomb's posthumous oral biography, "I Say Me for a Parable," edited by Glen Alyn, notes that Dylan listened to Mance play backstage at Newport in the early 1960s and then later took the stage and sang Mance's songs as his own.
When time came to sequence the album, producer Debbie Gold was unable to convince Dylan to include "You Belong to Me". Though it wasn't authentically traditional, it was popular enough to be covered by Jo Stafford, Patti Page, and Dean Martin. The most popular version was recorded by the Duprees, one of the final Italian doo wop groups to make a wave in the early 1960s.
The response to Good as I Been to You was surprisingly positive, particularly for an album with very modest ambitions. It drew comparisons with the acoustic sets featured in Dylan's "Never Ending Tour" shows, drawing much praise for his interpretive skills. A number of critics pointed out that Dylan's voice was now physically ravaged, but the focus was often on the phrasing. "Dylan sounds now, in comparison to his younger self, like one of those ghosts," wrote David Sexton of The Sunday Telegraph, "but a powerful ghost. The effect is not so much nostalgia...as deeply inward."
The inaccurate song credits created some controversy for Dylan. Nearly half of the songs were incorrectly credited, and in one case, Dylan faced legal action when Australian folksinger Mick Slocum sued Dylan's music publisher over the arrangement credit in "Jim Jones." Slocum recorded his arrangement with his band, The Original Bushwhackers, in 1975, and Dylan's publisher was forced to concede their error.
Good as I Been to You was successful enough to warrant a sequel, and in less than a year, Dylan would return to the studio with World Gone Wrong.
All songs are traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan, except where noted.
- "Frankie & Albert" (arranged by Mississippi John Hurt) – 3:50
- "Jim Jones" (arranged by Mick Slocum) – 3:52
- "Blackjack Davey" – 5:47
- "Canadee-i-o" – 4:20
- "Sittin' on Top of the World" – 4:27
- "Little Maggie" – 2:52
- "Hard Times" (Stephen Foster, arranged by De Danann) – 4:31
- "Step It Up and Go" – 2:54
- "Tomorrow Night" (Sam Coslow and Will Grosz) – 3:42
- "Arthur McBride" (arranged by Paul Brady) – 6:20
- "You're Gonna Quit Me" – 2:46
- "Diamond Joe" – 3:14
- "Froggie Went A-Courtin'" – 6:26
- ^ the original album notes incorrectly credit all song arrangements to Bob Dylan.
- ^ the original album notes correctly identify "Hard Times" as public domain, as it was published in 1855, but the author's name has now been listed for complete accuracy.
- ^ the original album notes incorrectly identify "Tomorrow Night" as public domain. It was written in 1939 by Sam Coslow and Will Grosz.