New Morning

Bob Dylan

Columbia, 1970

http://www.bobdylan.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/14/2017

When Bob Dylan's oft-reviled double-album Self-Portrait hit store shelves in 1970, the record-buying public (and Dylan's fan base) was heard to utter a collective groan. Four brief months later, Dylan followed it up with New Morning, a supposed return-to-form.

The problem is, what form was he returning to? The folk revival was undergoing massive changes, and Dylan had switched gears into a country croon two albums prior. But he was now abandoning even this sound, and it almost seems as if he was asking himself, “Well, now what?!?”

New Morning is a musical snapshot of that loss of direction. If listeners were thrown for a loop by my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Self Portrait, they might be surprised just how disjointed this particular album is – in some ways, it's worse than its predecessor.

It starts off pretty enough with “If Not For You,” a song which (like many of Dylan's compositions) would find greater fame when performed by other artists. Still, this version is nice and light, though one immediately hears that the crooning vocals Dylan used on Nashville Skyline are gone, and are being replaced by the nasally tone that people had come to know. It's almost as if this track is a transition between the laid-back country feeling and Dylan's dive straight into the abyss.

The bulk of New Morning is a hodgepodge of songs that, while good, don't quite know which musical direction they want to go; there’s the good (“Winterlude,” “New Morning”), the average (“One More Weekend,” “Sign On The Window”) and the just plain awful (“Day Of The Locusts”).

And then, there's “If Dogs Run Free,” one of two spoken-word numbers Dylan performs. Had it simply been left as a spoken-word piece like “Three Angels” was, it would have been passable. However, add in the scat-from-hell vocals of Maeretha Stewart in the background, sounding like a cat whose tail is caught in the blender, and you may find yourself saying what I did when I first listened to this: “What the fuck was that?!?”

It's understandable that Dylan was still adrift, trying to rediscover himself after his hiatus (be it forced or self-imposed) following his motorcycle accident in 1966. He ditched the protest folk-singing style and moved to a more controlled, countryfied sound for a while; now he was ditching that and trying to find where he belonged musically. Some say he wouldn't find that until he released Blood On The Tracks in 1975; others think Planet Waves might have been that turning point. Whatever the case, New Morning is so tentative that one wishes Dylan had turned the alarm off on his career, rolled over and stayed in bed a little while longer.

Rating: C-

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