December 21, 2014

Bob Dylan - Desire (1976)


Many consider Dylan a great song-writer but a mediocre singer, an easy mistake to make if you only listen to his albums from the 90's I guess. While his voice is not incredibly melodious, he manages to match it perfectly with instrumentation. On this album, Dylan has become an arranger, not just a songwriter; on many of the tracks there are upwards of five instruments. This has quickly become one of my favorite Dylan albums, only rivalled by Highway 61 and The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. It was released during his folky phase, which is evident through his liberal use of fiddle on every song on the album, and the more twangy sound to his voice.

This is by far the most passionate album of Dylan's that I've heard, and the opening track exemplifies this. Instead of the somewhat removed, albeit revolutionary, drawl of Times are a Changin', Dylan becomes emotionally invested in a particular case, singing his hear out for the injustice of Hurricane Carter's wrongful imprisonment. In case you aren't aware, Hurricane Carter was a world-famous boxer who was outrageously charged with murder without a scrap of physical evidence and with a multitude of evidence against it. It took 19 years for Carter to be freed, but Dylan brought great awareness to the racism still inherent in the justice system.

Another great song off the album is One More Cup of Coffee, where Dylan sings with Emmylou Harris. The violin and vocals use the natural minor seventh, creating a Middle Eastern Romani feel, as Dylan speaks of a gypsy love affair. I like to think that this is what Coldplay wish they could achieve- the perfect melding of different musical styles without coming off as a group just doing so to be hipster.

Joey is my third favorite off the album, a song about a gangster who Dylan claims is not the scum the law makes him out to be. Despite the naive justifications of Joey Gallo's crimes, the song is beautiful and raises some interesting points, such as the comradery of the African Americans who were also disenfranchised by the system. This is an important point, as it explores the similarity of class-based oppression with racial oppression (often going hand-in-hand). Overall, this is an excellent album, a must for any Dylan fan.

Sample

Desire