This new album is a collection of love songs interspersed with lines and phrases which, while not exactly asides, may be considered remarks upon Dylan's personal history.
This is, I tend to believe, the most musicianly of all Dylan's albums. His own playing and singing are of a high caliber, obviously a notch above all of his other efforts. He seems more sure of himself as a singer and I get the impression, from the musicianly things he does, that he has more fun with his voice now that he can use it like an instrument. On the last chorus of "Something There Is About You," Dylan sings that title phrase in a descending seven-note arpeggio, which he executes perfectly, in tune and with exquisite intonation.
Like the Band, Dylan knows what not to play or to sing. The hardest lesson of all to learn. The Band itself has done something only truly great musicians, secure in the knowledge of their own strengths, can do. They have sublimated themselves to the fellow artist and eschewed opportunity and temptation to forcefully step out. It is to their eternal credit. They are men, not boys. They know that nobody has to be heavy.
There is little over-dubbing on the album except for the occasional addition of the Band's voices and a few places where I hear a harp or guitar track laid down in addition to the basic take. It sounds as if it were done live – with the vocals recorded with the music--and in one or two takes. It has that special spontaneity about it.
Dylan's harp playing has always fascinated me. I have frequently thought of it as akin to Garth Hudson's organ introductions and interludes in complexity and humor.
The sound of the guitars is exquisitely recorded (applause for Bob Fraboni, the engineer), and the subtle interchanges and relationships between the various instruments indicate the highest level of professional skill (with the essential addition of the musicians' own love).
Dylan says on the jacket that these are "Cast Iron Songs and Torch Ballads." "On a Night Like This" opens the program in an uptempo Texas bounce with echoes of Rosa's Cantina, perhaps. You can have this one either way. I find it a rollicking good-time song with some of the exuberance of "New Morning." It has amazing interplay between the harp and the accordion behind the vocal as well as some really exciting harp playing on the last chorus.
The second track, "Going, Going, Gone," brings the tempo down slow and Dylan's voice out front. It is a song of decision, "closing the book on the pages and the text; I don't really care, oooh, what happens next." The mood is somber, almost ghostly, akin to "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," as Robbie's guitar smears into a ringing minor howl after the third word in the title each time it is sung. The delicate and beautiful guitar work is throughout. The juxtaposition of piano chords, guitar and organ sounds, like a kind of accompaniment to a silent film, effectively implies disaster and terror.
"Tough Mama" is a brawler, a Cast Iron song if ever there were one. It has the imagery of Highway 61 and Freewheelin' and adds two more great lines which Dylan fans will be quoting: "I ain't haulin' any of my lambs to the market place any more" and "I gained some recognition but I lost my appetite!"
Throughout the album Dylan mixes love songs with bits of personal writing. Not only the romantic "Hazel" but "Something There Is About You" has this touch. In other songs, such as "Dirge" and "Going, Going, Gone," he is frankly autobiographical, in the same way he was before the accident in those songs which first blew people's minds. He even sometimes has allusions to other Dylan songs such as the line in "Dirge" about "the Doom Machine," a flashback to the "heart attack machine" in "Desolation Row," and in "Never Say Goodbye," a North Country love song where he sings, "Oh baby, baby, baby blue, you've changed your last name too."
And there is "Something There Is About You," a most powerful love song with its echoes in the introductions to "The Weight" and "Spanish Harlem Incident." Despite the love song poetry, both in the descriptive passages and in the statements to his love who walks in mystery yet moves with style and grace, there are direct personal statements: "I was in a whirlwind; now I'm in some better place," as well as the romantic recollections of his early days in northern Minnesota. The artist is talking about himself again, openly, nakedly and, I submit, poetically. He does it in "Wedding Song," which is a frank tribute to a lovely wife, when he sings:
It's never been my duty
To remake the world at large
Nor is it my intention
To sound a battle charge
'Cause I love you more than all of that
With a love that doesn't bend
And if there is eternity
I'd love you there again.
The song is a poem of devotion and promise, of acceptance and recognition; a pure love song that has a line that all lovers must envy: "I love you more than ever and I haven't yet begun."
"Forever Young," as the last track of the first side, is done slowly and with infinite care. Again the guitars are particularly tastefully done with delicate sound. It is a song of good wishes, almost a prayer for happiness. The guitar at the head of the song seems an echo continued from the previous track, its mood fits so neatly.
"Forever Young" is repeated, to open side two, this time with an uptempo rockabilly accompaniment. Dylan sings it more harshly and eliminates the choruses, substituting a series of harp and accordion interludes. Its simplicity makes it seem offhand, but it certainly is not.
"Dirge" speaks directly to the whole Dylan history. The piano (played by Dylan a la "Ballad of a Thin Man") duets with the guitar in the intro and in the preface to each of the verses. The lyric lines are really memorable: "Go sing your praise of progress and of the Doom Machine, the naked truth is still taboo whenever it can be seen." Dylan seems somehow to be reaching for an explanation here, yet the times in which this song is heard do not yet allow the vision to be clear, an impossible task even for a visionary in the murky society of the moment.
"You Angel You" is a kind of crazy love song with some of the stream of consciousness stanzas of the past. There is more than one place here where, for a flash, it would be possible to carry the line of his voice and its sound off into another Dylan song. It is an eerie feeling.
"Wedding Song" is Dylan, concert style, alone, accompanied only by his own guitar. It is a pure love song, a poem of devotion and promise, of acceptance and recognition.
It is a fine album, well and truly done. It is eloquent, imaginative and, as always, good fun. This humor pops out all over the place, especially in his juxtaposition of light lines of common speech against obviously serious lines. Dylan, like any artist, by definition takes his work seriously, but I have never thought he took himself seriously, as there is too long a history of wry, almost offhand humor.
Dylan's true biography is his various writings. This album is an important chapter in that saga. It is characteristic of the Dylan songs that they grow on you and expand in meaning the more they are heard, as does any true poem. Only "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Like a Rolling Stone" had the quality of explosive immediate impact. The others took time to grow and groove. I find the new ones in the same mode: They grow and I change the one I think is my favorite, day by day.
Dylan went into the studio and laid it all down in three days. Only twice before in record history, to my knowledge, has an instant classic been done so quickly. Louis Armstrong did it in the Twenties with his Hot Five and Hot Seven with Kid Ory, Johnny and Baby Dodds. And then at the end of the Fifties, Miles Davis did it with a quintet that included John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones.
You have to know what you are doing to bring that off. It separates the men from the boys. Dylan's deliberate simplicity – his decision not to use all the devices and electronic crutches available in the studio and, instead, to rely on the quality of the music itself – is a drastic and daring move.
Dylan Thomas, whose relationship to the poet under discussion is obvious, once said, "Poetry finds its own form; form should never be superimposed; the structure should rise out of the words and the expression of them."
To my ears this is exactly what Bob Dylan and the Band have done with this album and in the concerts. It is an achievement I am certain will stand the test of time.
This story is from the March 28th, 1974 issue of Rolling Stone.
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