Bob Dylan

Columbia Records, 1976

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Coming off of what some people consider to be the best album of his career in Blood On The Tracks, many people probably wanted to ask Bob Dylan the obvious question: now what?

To be sure, Dylan had proven himself to be a musical enigma. After establishing himself as the cause celebre of the folk scene, and following the 1966 motorcycle accident which took him off the road and out of the recording studio, Dylan's musical genre choices became much more eccentric, which both won him some fans and earned him a great deal of disdain for some of his selections.

With Desire, Dylan's early 1976 studio release, he built upon the strengths that were the foundations of his previous album, and he utilizes what feels like his first true backing band since his partnership with The Band. This isn't to say that Dylan didn't have backing musicians up until now, for he obviously did; rather, he utilized the musicians who had accompanied him on his Rolling Thunder tour and brought them into the studio with him.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

By doing this, and by co-writing all but one song with Jacques Levy, it reeled Dylan in to become a more controlled musician in many aspects – and, in some ways, this disc is even better than its predecessor.

The opening track, “Hurricane,” is also its highlight. Telling the story of boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter and how he was framed for a murder he did not commit, Dylan uses his power of telling stories in the music to his greatest advantage – as well as his edgiest. Some people who had followed Dylan up to that point might be surprised at some of the language used in the song.

That same storytelling power is evident, albeit more controversial due to the subject matter, in the song “Joey.” One of many songs featuring Emmylou Harris on backing vocals, the listener can argue about whether Dylan is glorifying a thug in the song or trying to find something heroic in a person who played loose with the law. But one cannot deny that Dylan's studio band is able to bring out the absolute best in his performances.

This isn't to say there aren't the occasional mis-steps on Desire. Despite numerous listenings to this album, I have never been able to get into the song “Isis,” although musically it's a very solid number. In this instance, Dylan's storytelling just falls a little flat. Similarly, “Romance In Durango” just isn't as catchy as one would have hoped, especially for being such a musically uptempo selection.

Yet the successes on Desire outnumber and outweigh the few musical missteps. “Mozambique” and “One More Cup Of Coffee” are surprisingly powerful songs, while the album's closer, “Sara,” can be seen as a final reminiscence of a marriage on its deathbed, and is a powerful way to close the album.

For my money, Desire is just as good, if not a tad better, than Blood On The Tracks, and is another disc that belongs in any self-respecting Dylan fan's collection.

Rating: B

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