New Morning

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1970

http://www.bobdylan.com

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/23/2012

We have spent the past two weeks looking at the year 1970, and the more famous events and albums that came to pass during that time. While you had artists like James Taylor begin to ascend, it’s not a jump to say that 1970 is often remembered as the end of an era. The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel essentially called it quits, releasing their final albums to acclaim but all the while marking the end of the optimism of the ‘60s (musically speaking).

It is a tad amusing then that Bob Dylan releases an album called New Morning, reintroducing America to the man who had come to be a symbol of the counter culture movement. There were some who ended their run in 1970, but Dylan – as he always did – managed to shift direction and keep moving.

To call the late ’60s a time of distress for Dylan would probably be an understatement. A motorcycle accident radically affected the man, and his output was questionable at best. It’s refreshing to hear a Dylan that seems to have remembered what at least set him apart from his contemporaries, albeit not completely mastering his formidable talents.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There is certainly a scattershot element to New Morning, which is also a characteristic of the record released four months prior, Self Portrait. Widely regarded as one of Dylan’s worst albums, Self Portrait was poorly received and had many thinking that Dylan was completely finished being a relevant artist. Of course, the thing that has always made Dylan interesting, to say the least, is his complete willingness to do whatever he wanted.

Really, how else does one explain away the seemingly random selection of “If Dogs Run Free” on New Morning. It’s a mix of jazz/lounge music that doesn’t fit in with any of the rest of the album. There are also still traces of the country music phase Dylan experienced in the late ‘60s (“WInterlude”). It’s clear that the auteur was struggling to regain his balance, so to speak. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the album opener “If Not For You” is a rolling, genuine pop song that deserved to be the lead (and only) single.

New Morning moves along at a brisk pace; there aren’t any Dylan “epics” that populated his albums during his high point of the ‘60s. That said, there are a handful of songs that do capture that energy, and remind the listener of when Dylan’s band was, well, The Band. “The Locusts Sang,” and “The Man In Me” are strong narratives that don’t fail to display that legendary Dylan wit. After spending some time with New Morning, it is the closing track “Father Of Night” that has stayed with me the longest. Apparently, the track is inspired by a Jewish prayer, and while the language is different from that of the actual prayer, it maintains that spiritual quality. Dylan has had varying success when his aspirations have turned skyward, but this is one of those instances where it works.

The seismic changes of 1970 don’t apply to New Morning. In the Dylan oeuvre it definitely ranks above most of his ‘80s output, but it does not reach the same heights as his masterworks. New Morning is not remembered as a passing of an era, nor should it be. It brought Dylan back a measure of credibility he had lost and set the stage for a more consistent road back to form.

Rating: B-

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