New York — Bob Dylan is back with a new album, the possibility of a television special and a rumored tour. At press time, the TV special and tour were only rumors – the latter vehemently denied by the persons closest to Dylan – but the album is a reality and should be in music stores by October 26th, according to a Columbia Records spokesman.
For some reason, New York music news seems to break first in London. Andrew Bailey, head of Rolling Stone‘s London office, received an advance copy of the new Dylan album – called New Day – and describes it as “solid Dylan music, electric once again.”
The album is dominated by piano and organ, and may signal the return of keyboards as prime instruments in rock and roll. There is solid rock, rural funk and some venturing into jazz on New Day.
Sidemen on the album are David Bromberg, electric guitar and dobro; Ron Cornelius, electric guitar; Charlie Daniels and Harvey Brooks, electric bass; Buzzy Seitin (of the Butterfield Blues Band), electric guitar; Al Kooper, electric guitar, piano, organ, and French horn, and Russ Kunkel and Billie Mundi (the latter a former Mother) on drums. In addition, Maeretha Stewart, Albertine Robinson and Hilda Harris provide back-up singing.
The album jacket notes that the record was cut in Nashville, but there is evidence that some recording was done in New York. A brief description of the individual tracks by Bailey follows:
“If Not For You” – it begins with a country guitar and Al Kooper on organ and the drummer pounding away, pushing everyone. Dylan is singing in his John Wesley Harding voice, edged with haunting “Visions of Johanna” sounds, rasping when he pushes on the choruses. A simple love song, with Dylan playing harmonica at the breaks. “I’d be lost if not for you . . . and you know it’s true . . .” the first impression is that Dylan’s trying again.
“Day of the Locusts” – one of the most interesting cuts on the album. The story is about Dylan accepting his honorary degree from Princeton University one hot day last June.
The title is the same as that of a novel by Nathaniel West (in which Los Angeles is consumed by flame.) Weird whirring sound opens it. “Oh the benches were stained with tears and perspiration.” Deadly hesitating Band type drumming, with Al Kooper’s icy, final organ similar to “Queen Jane” days. “Outside the gates, the trucks were loadin’./The weather was hot, nearly 90 degrees./The man standin’ next to me, his head was explodin’. / I was prayin’ the pieces wouldn’t fall on me.” The only song with a political tinge, from references to judges in chamber where the “darkness was everywhere” and it “smelled like a tomb.” An aching refrain – “the locusts sang off in the distance/The locusts sang, such a sweet melody/The locusts sang, off in the distance/The locusts sang, they were singin’ for me.” It lets you know Dylan is back in town.
“Time Passes Slowly” – country style piano, like Richard Manuel’s of the Band. Dylan’s voice is the “Copper Kettle,” pop, country and green idiom. “Time passes slowly – when you’re lost in a dream.” Strange breaks in the middle, the focus is thrown away while Dylan sings, “ain’t no reason to go . . .” He lists some places, concluding with “. . .anywhere.”
“Went To See the Gypsy” – Dylan’s warm, lush voice from Self Portrait, but under control and precise. About a gypsy in the big hotel and a pretty dancing girl. A rock and roll organ in the background you can dance to. An electric jam comes on strong.
“Winterlude” – “Blue Moon, I saw you standing alone.” Dylan using his Bing Crosby-on-belladonna voice. Chorus is “Winterlude – this dude thinks you’re fine.” It’s a Viennese waltz, with an electric mandolin plinking away. “Winterlude, winterlude, my little apple/Winterlude, the corn in the fields,/Winterlude, let’s go down to the chapel/And cook up a meal.” Wholesome Hans Brinker flashes throughout.
“If Dogs Run Free” – A walking jazz piano doodling around opens it up, then settles into making Errol Garner circles in the background. Dylan’s black voice, country simple as in “Hezekiah Jones.” “If dogs run free, why aren’t we.” Scoo-bee-doo-a, in comes Maeretha Stewart, scat-singing like Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. This whole thing is happening in a night club somewhere. The piano is flowing water in the background, sounding like Nicky Hopkins at his best. “To each his own, it’s all unknown,” “In harmony with the cosmic sea/true love needs no company” – ends with Maeretha Stewart wailing and Dylan growling darkly, “yeah, baby.” Side Two:
“New Morning” – the title track. Studio rapping leads in: “Ok, here we go. Ok?” “Can’t you hear that rooster crowing/Rabbit runnin’ down cross the road/Underneath the bridge, where the water flows through/So happy just to see you smile, on this new mornin’ . . . with you.” Kooper’s streaming organ precipitates a chunk – chunk – chunka – chunka, double beat chorus. Al Kooper, of a thousand faces, playing some French horn. Drums kicking in, organ jamming on them. Country sunshine, love, and rock and roll.
“Sign on the Window” – Dylan’s crooner voice. About lost love, “her and her boyfriend gone to California” and Dylan says, “Looks like nothin’ but rain,” “hope it don’t sleet,” he sings, a hasp pulled across the top of his voice as he reaches for (and gets to) the high notes.
“One More Weekend” – “Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” inside up and backwards down, but done better. Blues piano and raunchy old Bob yelling “c’mon down to my ship, honey, right on deck . . . we’ll go to some place unknown, leave all the children home.” Jerry Lee Lewis runs on the piano. Buzzy Seitin gets off on guitar.
“The Man In Me” – La la la la. Dylan starts out. Wafting. Feels like “lovely Linda with the lovely flowers in her hair.” A fusion of rock and sugar. “Storm clouds are raging all around, takes a woman like you to find the man in me.” Piano and whistling organ. “The man in me will hide sometimes to keep from bein’ seen/But that’s just cause he don’t want ta turn into some kinda machine.”
“Three Angels” – Dylan talking country, his voice over a heavy church-like organ. A natural for Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson. Reminds you of “Deck of Cards” by Wink Martindale. Three angels on a lamp post blowing on horns as the world passes by beneath, not pausing to look up. Dylan’s imagery so simple but brilliant, you might ignore it the first few times around.
“Father of Light” – Dylan’s written a prayer. A tumbling piano, while Dylan sings “Father of day, father of night, father of black, father of white . . . father of wheat, father of rain, father of cold, father of heat . . .” Whom “we most solemly pray.”
All of the songs are short, three minutes or thereabouts. All of the titles are lines from the songs. He’s really into something here, staking out new territory, giving himself the right to fool around and play games with your head because most of the time the music he’s making is so damn brilliant. On piano. Dylan sounds like a musician singing songs about his life, about things he knows. He’s secure and at home, solidly into some new turf that’s all his. He’s beaten everybody who put him down for Self Portrait. And he says in “Sign on the Window” – “Build me a cabin in Utah, marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout/have a bunch of kids who called . . . me . . . Pa. That must be what it’s all about.”
That must be what it’s all about.
Rumors of an upcoming tour were circulating in New York, with talk of one supporting band having already been contacted, at press time, but Dylan’s friends and business associates repeatedly denied having any plans. The same people were less vehement in denying the possibility of a TV special. For what it’s worth, the word is that Dylan may get 60 to 90 minutes of prime time for whatever he comes up with, on CBS.
This story is from the November 12th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.