Hard Rain

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1976


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Bob Dylan and live albums just do not go well together, from my (at the time of this writing) limited experience. Knowing full well that music must change and grow for it to remain relevant to people, one can understand why you’d expect someone like Dylan to faithfully reproduce his studio efforts when he hit the stage.

This wasn't the case with Before The Flood, Dylan's initial live album recorded on his joint tour with The Band. And it certainly isn't the case with Hard Rain, which captures the Rolling Thunder revue as it wound down to its natural conclusion.

It's not that Dylan is in poor vocal shape; in fact, he's rarely sounded better. But anyone expecting to hear even close facsimiles of some favorite songs like “Maggie's Farm” or “Lay Lady Lay” would be best to turn around on their heels and make a beeline for the exits pronto.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The new arrangements given to these old chestnuts, as well as newer tracks like “Idiot Wind” and “Oh Sister,” might have been designed to highlight the performance of Dylan's backing musicians, but they also do a grave injustice to the originals. I mean, really… why couldn't we have had at least an attempt of a sultry croon on “Lay Lady Lay” instead of what sounds like a panicking, impassioned plea in the form of this arrangement? Did we really need to hear “Maggie's Farm” performed like the band's group accelerator pedal was jammed to the floor, and they couldn't slow down even if they wanted to?

In Dylan's defense, this style of arrangement does work for one song – namely, “Shelter From The Storm.” I don't know why this one embraces a different arrangement and the other songs sound like they're struggling to escape them like an oversized, itchy sweater. But this one seems to embrace the new arrangement, and it sounds much more natural to the ears.

Hard Rain is, in a sense, the live album that no one wanted – in fact, one wonders why it was even released to begin with. It had only been two years since Before The Flood had come out – though that one had been when Dylan had briefly left Columbia for a two-album dalliance with Asylum Records. Maybe Columbia wanted their own live disc to counteract that album. (Many years later, Columbia would assume the release rights for those two discs.) If this proved to be a symbolic thumbing of the nose at Dylan's former label, it didn't work very well.

Hard Rain is not an essential disc to own, though Dylan completists will certainly want to pick it up. The rest of us can simply open up our umbrellas and avoid much of the musical deluge that this one offers.

Rating: C-

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