Blood on the Tracks

At some point Bob Dylan claims to have lost his edge. Or more specifically, his ability to capture transfixing and haunting images waned ever so slightly —

at least in his own estimation.

In a 1991 interview he quotes “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, from his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, and reflects: “Those early songs were almost magically written: Darkness At the break of noon/Shadows even the silver spoon/ The handmade blade, the child’s balloon/ Eclipses both the sun and moon/To understand you know too soon/ There is no sense in trying.

“There’s a magic to that, and it’s not a Siegfried and Roy kind of magic, you know? It’s a different kind of a penetrating magic. And, you know, I did it. I didit at one time… I did it once, and I can do other things now. But, I can’t do that.”Blood On the Tracks was released ten years after that record, and nine years after his famous motorcycle accident. Does it live up to the high standard of his pre-road-rash records?

Yes, Indeed.

The record trades in the mystical leanings and clever wordplay of his Beaujolais-and-amphetamine-inspired earlier work to provide intimate sketches of the rise and fall of a relationship he may have been in.Dylan has otherwise suggested the album’s content is inspired by an Anton Chekov play, The Black Monk, and that the form of the album is inspired by a lyrical code stemming from his work with New York painter Norman Raeben.

The conventional wisdom, however, is that Blood on the Tracks echoes the break-up of his marriage.

As his son, Jacob, lead songster of The Wallflowers, stated: “When I’m listening to Blood On The Tracks, that’s about my parents.”On the opening track, “Tangled Up in Blue”, Dylan trades in swashbuckling adventure stories. On “You’re a Big Girl Now” and “Shelter from the Storm”, we have crisp plaintive love songs.

“Idiot Wind” displays dark humour: Someone’s got in in for me/They’re planting stories in the press, but also deals in not-so-thinly veiled threats and accusations. Like the vindictive tone of the earlier hit singles “Positively 4th Street” and “Just Like a Woman”, there are reminders that Dylan didn’t strictly bubble-over with wide-eyed hippiness, unicorns, and rainbows:You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies/One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes/Blood on your saddle.It took me years to realize that liberal use of the capo, a device that shortens the length of playable strings, allows Dylan to move songs into interesting key signatures that match the moods, and anticipate happiness, sadness, confusion, and anger.

In “Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts”, the capo evokes rollicking playfulness. Dylan has sometimes been blamed for employing an opaque lyrical style, or, in other words, writing lyrics that, at the end of the analytical day, just don’t add up. This song might be a meandering reminder of that.By the end of side two, blows have been exchanged and the prizefighter is drained. A philosophical resignation on life’s series of openings and closings sets in.

On the final track, “Buckets of Rain” he reflects, with lunch pail simplicity that: Life is sad/ Life is a bust/All you can do is do what you must/You do what you must do and you do it well.For me, each Dylan album serves a different function. For mysticism, try Bringing it all Back Home; for breakthrough rock-cum-poetry, administer Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde. For gospel devotionals you can choose from Slow Train Coming, Saved, or Shot of Love. For aging gracefully try Love and Theft (released September 11th, 2001).

For the album ranked number 16 on Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, try Blood on the Tracks.

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