John Wesley Harding
REVIEW BY: David Bowling
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/12/2008
Bob Dylan’s motorcycle careened out of control on
John Wesley Harding is now viewed as the beginning of Dylan’s move away from his earlier sound. The songs were compact and, for the most part, more to the point that something like, say, “Ballad Of A Thin Man.” Biblical imagery made several appearances in the lyrics. The result was one of the more surprising and revelatory albums of Bob Dylan’s career.
Side one of John Wesley Harding contains a lot of scriptural imagery. “I Dreamed I
Oddly, one of Dylan’s signature songs contained on this album is one his few songs not to be associated with him. Jimi Hendrix took out Dylan’s biblical references, re-routed the chord structure, cracked up his psychedelic guitar and turned “All Along The Watchtower” into one of his own songs -- yet in its own way, Dylan’s original is just as compelling.
Side two features a number of songs featuring the downtrodden and marginalized of society. “Drifters Escape,” “Dear Landlord,” “I Am A Lonesome Traveler” and “I Pity The Poor Immigrant” all talk about struggle, trial and tribulation of the individual. Dylan’s protest against society tended to express itself in the stories of these types of individuals. Even the title and leadoff song of the album features just such a person; John Wesley Harding himself may have been an unsympathetic 19th century killer, but he fit the mold of a person that Dylan would lament.
Despite the struggles and imagery of the first 10 songs, John Wesley Harding closes on a positive and sensitive note. Both “Down Along The Cove” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” are love songs. For Dylan, in 1967, love and ultimately hope were not dead.John Wesley Harding presents a deeper, ageless and eternal Bob Dylan and finds this album, 40 years after its release, one of the crowning achievements of his career.