New Morning arrived a mere four months after the disappointing Self Portrait yet the two albums were like night and day. Gone were the cover songs, live tracks, and traditional folk songs and back was an album of original compositions.
New Morning is sparse in places, simple, and earthy. It would begin the process of Dylan’s transition back toward a rock sound. While the albums were not released consecutively, I consider New Morning as part of a trilogy of releases that would lead to Planet Waves and culminate in the brilliant Blood On The Tracks. As such, New Morning may not reach the heights of Blonde On Blonde or Highway 61 Revisited but does hold up well and can be considered a minor Dylan classic.
The Dylan of the 1960s was not the same in the 70s. He was now a family man and continued his rejection of the protest movement and counter culture. His music had moved in new directions and was finding new audiences. New Morning would continue Dylan’s commercial success as it would reach the top ten in America and become his fourth consecutive number one album in England.
The first three songs are just about as good as any three that Dylan would produce in the 1970s. “If Not For You” would initially come to prominence by virtue of George Harrison’s cover. Olivia Newton John would have a huge hit with this song. Dylan presents a laid back, simple version that puts the emphasis squarely on the vocals. It would be the only single that Dylan would release from New Morning. “Day Of The Locusts” would emerge from Dylan receiving an honorary Doctorate from Princeton University.
He may have left his counter culture days behind him but this experience was just a little too main stream for Dylan and he twists it around through this song. “Time Passes Slowly” is a wonderful and ignored song in the vast Dylan catalogue. A soulful vocal pushes this gentle tune along.
“New Morning” and “Sign On The Window” find Dylan writing and singing about his personal life. The first is a witty take on Dylan’s life in the country. The second is an ode to domestic bliss and approaching middle age. Dylan returns to the piano to drive the melody along.
There are a couple of misses on New Morning. “One Man Weekend” and “The Man In Me” both seem like hurried affairs and suffer from structural inadequacies. I can’t quite make up my mind on “Went To See The Gypsy.” The song stemmed from a meeting between Dylan and Elvis Presley which just the thought of puts the brain on overload.
The album concludes with “Three Angels” and “Father Of Night.” Both songs are poetic and melodic and mark a return of Dylan’s spiritual concerns. They are gentle songs and ultimately pastoral in nature.
New Morning would put Dylan back on track and while there would be some stumbles during the coming years, he would be well on his way to the productive second part of his career.