Bob Dylan
John Wesley Harding


4.5
superb

Review

by cowboy angel blues USER (1 Reviews)
March 3rd, 2006 | 21 replies


Release Date: 1967 | Tracklist


Bob Dylan's eighth album, John Wesley Harding, still comes as a bit of a surprise nearly 40 years after its release. Its oddity begins with its cover: a black and white photograph in which Bob barely stands out, placed on a beige background. If you look a little closer, you see that Dylan is actually smiling; shocking, as the last few Dylan albums had featured a prominent sneer. And then you listen to the music, and things become stranger still. After Blonde and Blonde, his most varied (some would say chaotic) album, comes this simple, subdued country-folk record. The electric organ is gone; the acoustic guitar and harmonica is once again at the forefront. And even Dylan's voice has changed, smoothed out a bit, and become fuller. It all seems to have come from nowhere. The Basement Tapes, which were recorded a few months before John Wesley Harding, provide something of a missing link... but they weren't released until eight years later. If it's nowhere near as eclectic as Blonde on Blonde or The Basement Tapes, it is one of the most consistent of Dylan's albums. That said, it's an extremely enjoyable listen, and I'll conclude the review with a song-by-song analysis:

1. John Wesley Harding - I'm no music theorist, but as far as instrumentation and textures go, this song is pretty exemplary of the entire album: gentle acoustic guitar, a very nice bass line, basic drums, and some of Dylan's best harmonica playing. Lyrically it is also like much of the rest of the album, in that its subject is a sort of folk tale. A Robin Hood type of character, in this case. - 4.5/5

2. As I Went Out One Morning - A fine vocal and a fine lyric. If much of Dylan's earlier work had been cryptic in its poetry, this song and most of the album really sounds like it's telling a coherent story, at least in the individual lyrics. The song as a whole, however, doesn't make much sense. This one's about a damsel somewhere around Thomas Paine's property. - 4.5/5

3. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine - This is perhaps the earliest evidence of Dylan's growing interest in and conversion to Christianity. It deals vaguely with guilt and redemption, and its last lines are quite moving. The melody is somewhat repetitive, but strangely memorable. - 5/5

4. All Along the Watchtower - One of Dylan's best known songs - even if it is best known as a Jimi Hendrix song. This original version is more quiet and calm (not surprisingly), and it ends more abruptly. Whereas Jimi Hendrix uses the line 'The wind began to howl' to launch into a couple of minutes of super-awesome, Bob just goes into a short harmonica solo, and the song ends. The brevity of the songs on this album is a virtue, however, I think. - 5/5

5. The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest - This is something of a moral fable; in fact it's the only Bob Dylan song (that I'm aware of) to contain a moral at the end. The story doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but nonetheless the lyrics are quite clever and entertaining, hilarious at some points. - 4.5/5

6. Drifter's Escape - This is a pretty upbeat song and features another great vocal. The first of four songs in a row dealing with members of the poorer class. In this case it's more of a romantic tale than social protest. - 4/5

7. Dear Landlord - A prayer, or one of Dylan's first songs showing a social conscience for quite a long time. This song could be taken as either. It features a nice piano melody and a moving vocal performance. - 5/5

8. I Am a Lonesome Hobo - The best thing about this song, to me, is that it paints a very clear and complete portrait of the 'lonesome hobo,' from the hobo's perspective. I guess now that I think of it, this song has an even clearer moral than 'Ballad,' though it isn't referred to specifically as a moral. - 4/5

9. I Pity the Poor Immigrant - I think this is the slowest song on the album. What can I say except that the vocal is great, once again. The harmonica, too. - 3.5/5

10. The Wicked Messenger - Easily the most abrasive melody on the album, moving sharply up and back down again. Great guitar, great harmonica, great vocal. Stands out just for the music, but the lyrics are quite interesting as well. - 5/5

11. Down Along the Cove - This is a simple, upbeat love song. Each verse is made up of a first line that is repeated, and a third line that releases that tension. There's a simple piano part, and really that's all there is to it. - 4.5/5

12. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight - Another love song finishes off John Wesley Harding. With the slide guitar and Dylan's country vocal, this sounds like anything off of Nashville Skyline, which followed this record a year later. It's a lovely ending to a lovely little album. - 5/5

Overall, I would give this album a 4.9 if I could - holding off on the 5 only because it isn't 'classic' in the strictest sense of the word. However, it is one of Bob Dylan's most perfect albums, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has got everything up to Blonde on Blonde pretty well in hand.


user ratings (315)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
tom79
March 4th 2006


3376 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Pretty good for a first review.
I haven't listened to this record, but i have heard all along the watch tower, but i prefer the hendrix version

Digging: Wil Wagner - Laika

PumaPride77
March 4th 2006


25 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great album, when i picked it up i couldn't understand why it was hardly talked about.

CantBuyAThrill
July 14th 2006


6 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I didn't like this one nearly as much as the stuff the preceded it- which kind of seems to be what most people feel. However, "All Along the Watchtower" (which I personally believe to be slightly superior to Hendrix's version) and a couple other songs, (namely "John Wesley Harding"- if only for the sake of comparing it to Woody Guthrie's "Pretty Boy Floyd") make it worth a couple of listens. Not a good starting point for anyone wanting to get into Dylan, though. Check out "Freewheelin'" or the three "electric" albums that came before this for a nice introduction.

Rocksta71
July 21st 2006


1023 Comments


Yeah, loved "balled of frankie lee and judas priest"
My copy was unfourtunately stolen by some low down c*nt.

MusicReviewer44
April 14th 2009


30 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Well Frankie Lee, and Judas Priest, they were the best of friends...

porch
August 29th 2010


8459 Comments


this album rules



robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 29th 2010


15050 Comments


john wesley hard-on

porch
August 29th 2010


8459 Comments


not bad

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 29th 2010


15050 Comments


wuts the best bob dylan albums i only have freewheelin

porch
August 29th 2010


8459 Comments


Bringing It All Back Home, Blood On The Tracks and Highway 61

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 29th 2010


15050 Comments


aight thanx porchy

Tits McGee
October 5th 2010


1876 Comments


so fucking good. i wish more people thought of this as one of his very best

BigHans
October 5th 2010


26454 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Its just a slight notch below IMO

Tits McGee
October 5th 2010


1876 Comments


Honestly I think I would say this is his 2nd best, 1st being Blood on the Tracks.

Idk I'm weird

BigHans
October 5th 2010


26454 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

tops for me are

Blood
Highway 61
Freewheelin
Bringin It All Back Home
Blonde on Blonde
Dis one

13km
March 11th 2013


46 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Robertsona, I'd say go with "The Times..." next, then "Bringing it all Back Home."

13km
March 11th 2013


46 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Also, I had no idea this was such a good record...I'm a big fan of his other 60's LPs but never bothered to check this one out until a couple days ago. It's really good.
Does anyone else think that his vocal style here is sort of a midway point between his wheezy vocals on Blond on Blond and his country-esque crooning on "Nashville...?"

wacknizzle
October 14th 2013


13474 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This Dylan album is way overlooked, so fucking good and probably his most chilled out and relaxing album

Digging: This Gift Is A Curse - I, Gvilt Bearer

ButteryBiscuitBass
January 3rd 2014


10048 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Would the lyrics from All Along The Watchtower be as iconic if it wasn't for the hendrix cover? One of Dylan's best for sure imo.

manosg
March 13th 2014


6253 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Valid question. The first version I heard was Hendrix's so for a lot of years I preferred that. However, the last few years I prefer the original version as I feel the song is closer to what Dylan stands for (naturally, it's his song).

Digging: Acrimony - Tumuli Shroomaroom



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