Tag Archives: Rolling Thunder Revue

The Top 10 Post “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan Albums: 2. “Desire”

Desire is perhaps Bob Dylan’s most “worldly” album.  Part of Desire’s charm and wild character comes from the help of Jacques Levy who co-wrote eight of the nine songs on Desire with Dylan. It’s a messy, ramshackle affair filled with Middle-Eastern and Gypsy influences (Scarlet  Riveria’s violin is over the record), lyrics sung in Spanish (“Romance in Durango”)and song titles (“Mozambique”) suggesting that Dylan would rather be anywhere than home.  These sounds and lyrics were no doubt inspired by The Rolling Thunder Revue Tour was Dylan imagined as a sort of traveling circus – complete with numerous guests.  Emylou Harris shows up for background vocals on many of the songs – an idea that Dylan would take to the extreme on albums such as Street Legal and Empire Burlesque.

It’s also an album full of epics. “Isis” finds its narrator trying to both treasure and the mysterious Isis.  The fictional story seems transcends the normal rules of geography and time, as the narrator travels through Egypt and Mexico (and burying his traveling companion in the process) before realizing that he was a fool.  The song loosely suggests that perhaps Dylan would one day again come back to his wife.  “Joey”  presents tale of Gangster Joey Gallo in a somewhat sympathetic manner – an outlaw with a code and morals.  (Although critics have pointed out that Gallo was quite violent.)  Then of course, there is “Hurricane” – the album’s most famous track recalling the trial of boxer Rubin Carter.

Ultimately Desire comes off as a 1970s version of Blonde on Blonde as Dylan tries so many different ideas and pushing them in wild and unexpected directions.  Scarlet Riveria’s violin drives the first two songs (“Hurriance” and “Isis”) creating a tension and propelling these vastly different stories along.  “One More Cup of Coffee” with its haunting duet between Harris and Dylan, sounds like it could have been an old Eastern European folk song that Dylan dug up from the album.  “Romance in Durango” sounds like Dylan cut the song in a studio in Durango.

Desire closes with “Sara” – an ode to his wife, where he remembers his young children playing in order to get here back.   It’s a haunting song (especially since Sara Dylan was in the studio when Dylan sang it) but it’s almost too much.  Dylan’s best songs are usually shrouded in mystery and have numerous meanings – and with “Sara” is so naked and personal, it’s almost a shock to hear Dylan be so honest for once.

Desire ranks among Dylan’s best because he’s challenging himself and his audiences expectations of him once again and creating some beautiful songs in the process.

 

 

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The Top 10 Post “Blood on the Tracks” Bob Dylan Albums: 7. “Street Legal”

After the masterpieces of Blood on the Tracks and Desire, it seems inevitable that Dylan’s follow-up would dip slightly in quality.  Blood on the Tracks was a naked emotional affair, and Desire was a wild, gypsy sounding outing – the perfect studio counterpart for the Rolling Thunder Revue.  And Street Legal?  Parts of it sound like a cross between E-Street Band (there’s saxophones) and a Vegas theme-show (the first appearance of the backing singers).

Lyric-wise the album finds Dylan swimming in similar waters as the past two albums – the break-up of his marriage, and his divorce.  He’s looking for new women in his life – even if it’s just for one wild ride as suggested in “New Pony”.  “New Pony” is among the grittiest songs Dylan has recorded. Its fierce riff and pounding drums perfectly suit the menacing equestrian/sexual theme of the song.  Dylan has written many songs about sex, but “New Pony” is probably his most explicit – it almost makes the listener feel dirty.

If there was ever a song that begged for the acoustic Dylan it would be “No Time to Think”.   “No Time to Think” is 1970s Dylan in full protest mood with views on mortality.  (In a way, it’s a sort of pre-cursor to the Christian albums, which would shortly follow Street Legal).  It’s a dense song – lyrics such as ” You glance through the mirror and there’s eyes staring clear At the back of your head as you drink And there’s no time to think” would have hit harder if it weren’t for the big-band production.

Street Legal finds Dylan at a cross roads.  Throughout the album, he’s taken the yearning for lost love as far it can go.  It’s not surprising that in the year (1978) when punk rock was at its apex, Dylan would go the opposite route and put out an album full of grandiose arrangements and a full-band.  Ultimately, Street Legal can be a rewarding album on its own merits, but unlike Dylan’s best albums, the gems aren’t on the surface.

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