Bob Dylan, Desire

Bob Dylan Desire

How do you follow up arguably the greatest album ever made?  If you’re Bob Dylan, spokesman of walk-to-my-own-drum ethos, you grab a fiddle and a songwriting partner.  This 9-song set was (so the story goes) laid down in such haste in 1976, backup vocalist Emmylou Harris barely knew her part.  Surprisingly, that only adds to the charm of the record, which feels casual to the point of gleeful, off-guard surprise – a spur-of-the-moment trip to the South with a host that observes like a documentarian smoking too much bluegrass.  “Hurricane,” the galvanic (and infamous) song that opens the record is amongst the most undismissable protest songs ever recorded (even if it strains at its “ass in a stir/ triple mur-der” rhyme scheme), “Mozambique” is amongst the most delightful recordings of Dylan’s career, and in the left-field tragic songs “Oh Sister” and “Joey,” it observes quiet, lonely fates with tenderness and compassion, largely due to the combination of bluegrass instrumentality and the angelic reinforcement of Harris, who’s like a goodwill ambassador to Dylan’s passion.  It closes with “Sara,” the unforgettable harmonica ode to the woman on the other end of Blood on the Tracks’s disillusion.  That song is like your documentarian allowing, for a wonderful, brief moment, his camera to turn around.

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