Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bob Dylan At Budokan

Released April 23, 1979
Say what you will about Dylan's live shows during the 70s: they were unique and never repetitive. Before the Flood went for straight rock and roll and The Rolling Thunder Revue grasped to recapture the magic and possibilities of rock and roll.

Live at Budokan is a collection of songs Dylan played on his tour of Japan in February and March 1978. These concerts were famously known as Dylan's "lounge act" phase.  Donning white jumpsuits and eye liner, it seemed his road show took inspiration from Neil Diamond and Dylan's recently departed hero, Elvis.  Bill Murray could've been the opening act!

Dylan spent a good portion of 1978 touring, on what many cynically dubbed the "alimony tour."  The grueling schedule took its toll on Dylan's voice and the shows varied in quality.  With a full band and backup singers, the Dylan of 1978 favored grandiosity over spontaneity. 

Budokan is strictly for Dylan completists.  Once the novelty wears off these songs leave little impression.  "Maggie's Farm" seems static and harmless.  "All I Really Want to Do" sounds like a late 70s sitcom theme. "Oh Sister" is ersatz reggae.  In fact most of the album are ersatz versions of Dylan's own songs.

Maybe I am missing the point and there is a brilliance I'm missing.  Maybe.

Rock critic Robert Christgau pointed that beneath all the schmaltz and convoluted arrangements on the Budokan LP - the songs are still powerful.  That is true.

But there are nice moments: "Forever Young" and "It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)". The latter song sounds like a megachurch hymn (I doubt megachurches would ever play that one though).

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Street Legal: 16 Years Gone By

Released June 15, 1978
The cover of Street Legal featuring a disheveled Dylan marks a far cry from uber confidence he displayed on Highway 61 Revisited or the domestic tranquility on New Morning. Street Legal ponders loss and picking up the pieces. 

There's enough spiritual tension on Street Legal to fill a Bergman film. So it's difficult not to read the album as a prologue to Dylan's conversion to Christianity.  

"Changing of the Guards," immediately places the listener into a forsaken world of theologies at war, one of Dylan's more ambitious compositions.  The beefed up production and back up vocals adds a nice dimension. This live version is way more upbeat than the album track, almost as if Dylan took inspiration from the E Street Band.

"Baby, Please Stop Crying" is a soul song and a good one at that.  Dylan plays the consoling friend to a woman he's secretly in love with.  A far cry from the bluesy swagger persona he typically inhabits. Here we get dull desperation.

"Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" remains a highlight: a sobering portrait of purgatory and nice companion to a Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory or Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.  Take your pick.

"True Love Tends to Forget" is resigned and cynical on love. Not a bad tune, but also a bummer.

The production values were heavily criticized on the initial vinyl release, but a splendid remastering has captured the rich sound of Street Legal.

After a heady decade Street Legal sounds like one big coming down, an epic hangover starting to wear off.  You can hear that slow train a comin'.