Monday, November 13, 2006

All time top ten - #6 - Blood on the Tracks

Any list of the greatest Bob Dylan records invariably lists ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’ over ‘Blood on the Tracks’. They’re the legendary Dylan records, lending an enigma that will never be decrypted. Moving from folk to rock and blues, confounding fans, and creating a new brand of rock that is still emulated today. People tend to forget ‘Blood on the Tracks’. It wasn’t the record that blazed a trail, or established a mythology. But it was the record that stands as the bridge between the Wunderkind of 1966 and the modern day elder statesman of music today. Poignant, earnest, heartfelt and intimate, this is as close as Dylan ever got to bearing his soul on a record. While still full to the brim with allegory and cryptic poetry, ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is an open window into the true Bob Dylan, a man dealing with a broken marriage, and as a result is forthright in its honesty, sadness (‘Simple Twist of Fate’), anger (‘Idiot Wind’) and hope (‘You’re a Big Girl Now’) in equal measure.
After being somewhat forgotten since his motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan had made some lackluster music (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid anyone?), and 1975 saw him returning somewhat to his roots. Dispensing with the amplification that made him (in)famous, it once again became about the words; the music merely a means of concentrating and focusing an emotion. While regressing somewhat to his acoustic heritage, this is not the record of the angst-ridden 24 year-old of 1966, but a worldly adult. His vocals were deeper, wiser and fuelled the lyrics with a life of their own, the music seems to have a greater awareness of the history they invoke when ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ rollicks over a rockabilly rhythm section.
Whether it be the stunning ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ making life as a fugitive cool, or the sneering, furious ‘Idiot Wind’ (“you’re an eeeeidiot, babe”), ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is resolutely human, examining the flaws of both singer and subject. But it’s when Dylan just picks up a guitar and punches out ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ which, at 2.55, is the shortest song on the record by a minute and a half, the listener is reminded how devastatingly effective a song can be without unnecessary instrumentation, particularly when written by a genius such as Mr. Zimmerman.
Dylan made a greater mark with other, earlier records, but it’s hard to argue that he made a better record.

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