Bob Dylan returned to the Columbia Label after releasing one studio and one live album for Asylum. While there had been a great deal of animosity between him and Columbia, the lure of controlling his vast catalog of recordings, and especially the unreleased tracks proved to great to pass up. Given the quantity and quality of numerous live albums and especially the Bootleg Series, Dylan got the better of the deal.
Blood On The Tracks was Dylan’s first release under his new contract. It would prove to be one of the best albums of his career, or that of anyone else for that matter. Rolling Stone Magazine would rank it as the 16th greatest album of all time. The public would embrace it as it went multi-platinum and became his second number one release. It would become the standard against which all of Dylan’s future releases would be measured.
I remember buying this album and playing it over and over again. From the opening notes of the first song it was apparent that it was special. Dylan had embraced his folk and acoustic heritage but there was still a rock ‘n’ roll aura about it.
Blood On The Tracks is a personal journey of a life in turmoil and a relationship disintegrating. It is a look into the heart and mind of a man through the use of imagery, poetry and music. The ten songs that comprise the album contain no chaff and may be the overall strongest group that Dylan produced during his career.
‘Tangled Up In Blue” leads off the album and immediately sets the exceptional tone and standard of this release. The lyrics and the characters are open to interpretation. This is Dylan at his lyrical best as the listener is asked to draw his or her own conclusions. Later in his career Dylan would change the song from the first person to the third. “Simple Twist Of Fate” is a minimalist song of farewell. These two songs are worth the price of the album and they are just the beginning.
“You’re A Big Girl Now” is a song of farewell reminiscent in a way of “Just Like A Woman.” On the seven minute “Idiot Wind,” the organ swells and Dylan's trademark harmonica are set against Dylan's abstract lyrics that move and meander in a lot of directions. This is one of those songs that Dylan would tinker with over the course of his career. Just check out the live version on Hard Rain.
Songs five and six are haunting love songs. “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome (When You Go)” is about love’s parting, yet the memories remain. “Meet Me In The Morning” concerns reconciliation that for Dylan would not happen.
“Lily, Rosemary and The Jack Of Hearts” is an almost nine minute novel set to music. Bank robbers, women and diamond mines all add to the imagery and mystery of the story. Joan Baez performed this song on her live album, From Every Stage, and her crystal clear interpretation helped me make some sense of it all.
“If You See Her, Say Hello” is a desolate lament of lost love. “Shelter From The Storm” is filled with imagery and ultimately beauty. It is one of those songs that dances just beyond your comprehension. “Buckets Of Rain” is Dylan talking to a lover. There is an odd tuning to the guitar, but the music is upbeat which serves to enhance the impact of the lyrics which are anything but.
Blood On The Tracks finds Dylan at his reflective and creative best. It is deservedly recognized as a masterpiece and as such is essential listening.