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Music Review: Bob Dylan – Street Legal

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Street Legal was released January 15, 1978 and became Bob Dylan’s first album in America not to make the top ten since 1964. Oddly, it would become his biggest selling album in England.

Bob Dylan’s divorce became final in 1977 and he was engaged in an extended custody battle. He was also in the middle of a tour plus was overseeing the final cut of his film, Renaldo and Clara. It was against this background that the album would be recorded.

Street Legal had the unenviable task of following Blood On The Tracks and Desire, and while it does not measure up to these two classics, it is a very solid album. It would also mark the conclusion of a very creative phase of Dylan’s career as he would explore new directions with his next series of releases.

This album is slicker than most of his work. He uses a battery of musicians plus some female backing singers that are definitely an acquired taste, especially after the vocal brilliance of Emmylou Harris on his last album. The original mix of the album is muddled and really takes away from its overall enjoyment. Some of the modern day CD releases find re-mixed tracks and the results make it much more listenable. I have both the original vinyl LP plus the CD and the sound difference is astounding.

I find that the best songs have an emotional depth and create a mood. “Changing Of The Guards” finds Dylan in fine voice. Turn this song up loud as it is an excellent listening experience. “Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)” is a narrative filled with imagery that Dylan creates so well. “Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)” is another song filled with imagery that just is hypnotic.

At over eight minutes, “No Time To Think” has too much imagery to it. I really have to work hard at appreciating this song which may have been the intent. “Baby Stop Crying” finds Dylan exploring some new musical ground especially in the area of tempo changes and vocal phrasing. “New Pony” has an almost blues feel. Songs such as “True Love Tends To Forget,” “We Better Talk This Over” and “Is Your Love In Vain?” are typical Dylan songs and I am not saying this in a negative sense.  

Street Legal was Dylan’s 18th studio album and while not the masterpiece of his best work, it is still very good. If you want to explore his catalogue a little deeper than his well known albums, this is a good place to start. You won’t be disappointed.      

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About David Bowling

  • Alecko

    This album is one of my Dylan favourites.I, along with a number of friends managed to obtain seats in the front centre of Earls Court arena London when Dylan done a week of concerts.It was really different with the big sounds and backing singers and was well recieved.I still havent a clue what some of the songs are about but I still think it has stood the test of time and I play it regularly

  • kevin cramsey

    Street Legal is a good album, though erratic at times. The full band sound, use of horns and backing vocals were a change of pace for him at the time. The big thing about this album is that the recording, as noted above, was really botched. More accurately, the mix was. It was muddy and overall just sounded terrible. The remastered version is a 100 percent improvement and certainy upped the ante as far as listening pleasure. “Baby Stop Cryin,” “True Love Tends to Forget,” “Changing of the Guards,” and “Senor” are all top notch. “New Pony” and “We Better Talk This Over” are examples of throwaways, and the seemingly endless verses make “No Time to Think” a chore to get through, but Bob would test our patience even more so with the endless “Highlands” 20 years later. Street Legal is an odd entry into the catalogue, but definitely worth seeking out for the more adventuresome Dylan devotee.

  • Ed Horsley

    I love this album. It is not brilliant, but the stress and aggravation Dylan was in during the recording is plain to hear in the songs once you give it a chance. I was born in 1980 and so this predates me, and it is certainly an acquired taste, but it is one of my favorites these days. @Kevin: I don’t think “New Pony” is a throw away at all! It is more of an overall feeling song rather than the more lyrically prominent Dylan songs, but it is awesome. It almost seems like more of a Tom Waits song than a Dylan song.

  • Im not familiar with the album but I do know that Changing Of The Guards, Senor and Where Are You Tonight are among my favorite Dylan songs.