February 8, 2008

Album in my head: Bob Dylan, John Wesley Harding

Supplanting Beach House as my “must listen every day” music is Bob Dylan's album John Wesley Harding. I came across this album when I heard the song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” on XM radio, driving across the country with my dad. This song really struck me when I first heard it, because it sounds just like a Fall song – it’s just one simple measure played over and over from beginning to end. This is a song I’ll never skip. If only it were longer!

Bob Dylan - The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest [John Wesley Harding LP, 1967]

This album came after Dylan’s most electric ones (Highway 61, Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde), but it has a comparatively stripped down sound. On most of the songs he’s backed only by a drummer and a bassist. It works really well for me, as this setup places his voice high in the mix. He gets away with a lot of Yoda-like phrasing in the lyrics, and even though this medieval speak is a little affected at times (“I spied the fairest damsel/that ever did walk in chains”) I still find it compelling.

The album ends with “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” a slow jam if Bob Dylan ever knew how to kick one out. “Do not fear/bring that bottle over here,” he sings in his best lecherous voice. Not quite Gainsbourg, but close enough.

Bob Dylan - John Wesley Harding LP, 1967

Track listing:

1. John Wesley Harding

2. As I Went Out One Morning

3. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine

4. All Along the Watchtower

5. The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest

6. Drifter's Escape

7. Dear Landlord

8. I Am a Lonesome Hobo

9. I Pity the Poor Immigrant

10. The Wicked Messenger

11. Down Along the Cove

12. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight


Fantômas said...

Bajate toda la discografía de Dylan acá.

Auspicia fantasmavelez.blogspot.com

Peter Robinett said...

Interesting that you first experienced the album with your dad on a road trip. I heard it in similar circumstances, with my dad and I chilling at my uncle's cabin in Montana. Lying in a hammock in the August sun, listing to Bob Dylan LPs and looking out on a mountain meadow is pretty darn idyllic!

And I have to throw out my personal favorites:
2. As I Went Out One Morning
- I just love the tempo in this song. The drumming seems to have such great propulsion. And no, the medieval speak doesn't bother me at all. =) And this song probably has some of the least annoying use of harmonica you can find.
3. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
- There's something particularly ethereal and mournful about this song that I find so appealing. At the same time, the waltz tempo (am I correct?) makes me want to dance around the room.
6. Drifter's Escape
- More great propulsive drumming.
7. Dear Landlord
- Great song with a great piano. A dramatic, mournful song about being unable to pay the rent is both silly and totally reasonable.
9. I Pity the Poor Immigrant
- Great lyrics. A telling story of immigrant striving and insignificance. The tune seems like it's the saddest drinking song you've ever heard.
12. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
- A great, boozy slow jam, like you said.

mcvmcv said...

hey peter. yeah, i agree, listening to dylan lps in a hammock (in august) sounds pretty great!

i'm with you about the tempo of 'as i went out one morning' and 'st augustine,' there's something about those two songs that really draw me in. 'dear landlord' might be my favorite song on the album, i should have given it a shoutout, as i've had the end of the song "now each of us has his special gift/and you know this to be true/and if you don't underestimate me/i won't underestimate you.'

i like karaokeing to dylan, since his voice is not pretty to start with so i can imitate it well. i'd love to karaoke to 'dear landlord'!