Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/20/2017
By the time Bob Dylan released his soundtrack to the movie Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, some fans had had enough of his stylistic pole-vaults of the previous five years – including some suits at Columbia Records. Long-time supporter Clive Davis, one of the few remaining supporters Dylan had with the label, was fired, and fans and critics alike spewed their hatred toward the disc.
Only two things are wrong with all of their reactions. First, Dylan's move towards a country-tinged album (even if it was mostly instrumentals) shouldn't have been a huge surprise. Second, it's actually pretty damn good.
Let's tackle the first statement first: just four years prior, Dylan had released a country-infused album in Nashville Skyline , and while the follow-up disc New Morning was not purely country, it still had some of that laid-back flavor among the compositions. So, to hear Dylan tackle the genre again could almost have been expected.
If anything, the lack of vocals is a refreshing change of pace for Dylan, as it puts the focus almost directly on the songwriting and musicianship. This – at least to me – is a good move. Now, this isn't a slam against Dylan's singing; in fact, the songs he does sing on are the smoothest sounding he had done since Nashville Skyline, and that's something I'll gladly take any day of the week.
But hearing the guitar lines on tracks like “Main Title Theme (Billy),” “Bunkhouse Theme” and “Turkey Chase” all serve as evidence that Dylan was (and is) a hell of a songwriter, and these are able to carry their weight on their own fairly well. Only the addition of harmonica on “Billy 1” tends to act as a drawback; had the usage been more sparse and less cacophonous, it might have been bearable.
The only other criticism is wondering why we needed two other takes on the “Billy” theme – specifically, “Billy 4” and “Billy 7,” both of which feel like they were works in progress added on to the album to flesh it out. (Seeing the album was amazingly short, that's not out of the realm of possibility.)
That leaves the best-known track off Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid – namely, “Knockin' On Heaven's Door.” Simply put, this is Dylan at his best. A smooth vocal delivery, solid musicianship and keeping the message brief (though this one almost begged to be a little longer), there's a reason why so many artists have latched onto this and tried to make it their own. But Dylan's version stands on its own, as well it should.
Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid is a surprisingly good album, if you refuse to believe all the negative hyped piled up around it. Yes, it's not an album that stands out in Dylan's discography – and maybe that's what makes this one all the more enjoyable. It's like a hidden treasure that you're loathe to share with everyone.