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.