In 2007 Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Down In The Groove as the worst Bob Dylan album. The real bad news is they were right or at least close to it. I almost combined a review of this album with my last, Knocked Out Loaded. The albums are similar and in a way each does not deserve their own full review.
Down In The Grove finds Dylan at a low point in his career. There is no “Brownsville Girl” to provide a ray of hope. The songs come from a number of different sessions and are haphazardly thrown together to form this release. Every album he would release would come with impossibly high expectations which made this release all the more disappointing. Issued in May of 1988 it would continue the trend of high criticism and poor sales.
It all begins with three cover songs. “Let’s Stick Together,” “When Did You Leave Heaven?” and “Sally Sue Brown” are performed without passion as Dylan makes no effort to make them unique. Even the original songs “Death Is Not The End” and “Had A Dream About You, Baby” can’t save this release. His rendition of the old traditional song “Shenandoah” is almost painful.
The only possible redeeming tracks are the two written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. “Silvio” rocks a bit and the lyrics are fairly good. “Ugliest Girl In The World” at least finds him with a sense of humor.
Dylan was constantly touring at this point in his career and at about the time of this release he would stop using a huge entourage of musicians and singers and go back to a simple style of only a guitar, bass, and drums in support. The public would embrace this back-to-basics approach. It’s too bad it did not carry over into his recording career at this time.
Down In The Groove was lackadaisical and ultimately sterile and justly ranks near the bottom of his extensive catalogue. Many of his fans would keep the faith, however, and it would soon be rewarded.