Review Summary: After a decade of truly amazing albums, Dylan releases a mediocre effort while trying to incorporate some new sounds that were probably best left alone until later in his career.
By the time the year 1970 came around, Bob Dylan was a man on fire. Despite his serious motorcycle crash in 1966, it is no exaggeration to say that the 1960s were for Dylan, a year of maximum highs and minimal lows. It was clear to the American public that albums such as “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, and “Blond On Blonde”, were spectacular works of art that commented on the current human condition, with Dylan’s always poetic lyrics, desolate acoustic guitar, and raw electric sound. His involvement with music couldn’t have come at a better time for the Folk and counter-culture movement that was sweeping across America all throughout the 1960s. Dylan slowly but surely became a cult hero, and then a national icon. Considering all this, it seemed that nothing could stop Dylan’s streak of classic albums, but even the greats hit a wall at some point.
It is evident, while listening to “New Morning” that Dylan was not trying to conceive anything terribly original with his recent sessions. That isn’t necessarily a negative to Dylan’s credit, but he sounds more than substantially worn out on this album. Well, perhaps not worn out, the Dylan is certainly taking a different approach compared to his original sound. For one, there is a more confidently added Blues flavor to this release, not heard from Dylan before. Tracks like “If Dogs Run Free”, and “One More Weekend” add a definite piano led Blues sound, with a hint of Jazz in various places. “One More Weekend” however, doesn’t particularly impress me much, as it’s essentially a standard twelve bar Blues, but without Dylan’s typically genius lyrics to support it. “Dogs Run Free” is almost the exact opposite, and in my opinion one of the highlights of this CD. It features a wonderfully exhibited laid back sound, complete with Jazz-Blues piano licks, and occasional female scat singing in the background. This is how Dylan was able to go into uncharted territory for his style, and return with perfect results.
The more conventional Dylan sounding songs on the album are tracks such as “New Morning”, “The Man In Me”, and “Three Angels”. Of course, with these songs, acoustic guitar is the primary instrument, but unlike a fair amount of earlier Dylan numbers, the songs are played at a very slow tempo, adding to the relaxed atmosphere of the album. “New Morning” is also a highlight of this record, with arguably the best lyrics on the album. While I wouldn’t rank the song amongst Dylan’s best ever, it certainly holds its own while compared to his classics, which many of the songs on this release fail to do.
Dylan also takes time to experiment with many piano/keyboard led tracks, a rarity in past albums. “Day of The Locusts” is a piano and organ led track which features some well written lyrics. Dylan’s voice rings with more confidence and clarity than just about any other song on this, and is probably the second best song on the album. “Sign On The Window” fairs well, with the piano again being the focus. Nothing special, but it doesn’t really detract to the album. “Went To See The Gypsy” is another song that doesn’t really add or detract much. Many of these tracks in the middle and end of the album with the exception of “If Dogs Run Free”, and “New Morning”, are what hinder this album from being another great Dylan album. None of the tracks are really sub par, there’s just usually no reason to listen to them more than once. These are the types of songs that as some people say, would makes good background music at a family reunion or something along those lines.
And that last statement pretty much sums up the album as a whole. While made some successful efforts to create something original on this album, none of it sounds too tied together or complete. Adding onto that, the lyrics are bland (especially for Dylan’s usual efforts in that field), and Dylan’s voice can be inconsistent at times. Truth be told, there just isn’t that much to say about this release, except that outside several tracks, the music, while not bad, is uninspired considering what Dylan was capable of. Still though, considering Dylan’s past crop of amazing albums, this release is like Dylan taking only two steps back, after taking a thousand steps forward.