Not yet 34, Bob Dylan was recording his fifteenth album, returning to Columbia records after a brief stint at Asylum. Already noted as one of the most important musical artists of the 20th Century, he had put out a mixture of masterpieces, solid offering, and curious missteps. At least six of his previous offerings are staples on best of lists, and his influence as a musician, folk icon, pioneer, and songwriter was nearly unmatched.
While he denies that his 1974 efforts are autobiographical, there is a mixture of tenderness, anger, heartbreak, and reflection that seems — in retrospect — easy to tie to the uneasy condition of his marriage at the time. He also stepped aside from his work with the Band, focusing on a more acoustic sound that put the lyrics back in the foreground. With some of his most open, heartfelt lyrics, solid vocal form, and a brilliantly cohesive musical palette, somehow he managed to create another classic.
||Blood On the Tracks
|| Jan. 20, 1975
[U.S. Hot 100]
- Tangled Up In Blue [#31]
- Simple Twist of Fate
- You’re A Big Girl Now
- Idiot Wind
- You’re Gonna Make Me
Lonesome When You Go
- Meet Me In the Morning
- Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
- If You See Her, Say Hello
- Shelter From the Storm
- Buckets of Rain
In many respects, these ten tracks provide a solid sampler in Dylan songwriting. (All that’s really missing is a bit of protest folk, although that gets implied here and there.) Never derivative or repetitive, however, it’s also his freshest work in a few years and set a bar so high that his best work over the next four decades is consistently marked as “his best since Blood On the Tracks.”
Dylan opens with a one-two story song punch. Tangled Up In Blue is a complicated but charming tale of reunion, lost love, and not being able to go home again. It’s one of the finest songs in a long, storied career, and Dylan’s vocals are perfect for the down-home tale. Simple Twist of Fate is less direct, perhaps, but no less powerful. The singer reminds us that things can go wrong for the slightest reason, and that we must — somehow — make the best of it.
The next pair is more jarring. You’re A Big Girl Now is a quiet, pained reflection on two lovers who have grown apart. Idiot Wind, on the other hand, is a classic bit of Dylan vitriol. He skewers the subject of the song repeatedly, wondering just how she manages the simplest of tasks. The sequencing shows off a nice emotional diversity and allows for a shift in energy that works well on this subtly powerful album. Side one wraps up with the tender You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. It’s a remarkably straightforward song for Dylan, fitting in with his country-folk phase and wrapping up the broken heart trio perfectly.
Meet Me In the Morning kicks off side two with a bit of travelling blues. It’s a potent song of determination, even while the final objective may prove elusive. Dylan’s delivery is flawlessly stern. Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts is an epic tale in grand Dylan fashion. The full plot of the tale remains murky, but the perfectly crafted characters and setting make for a joyful romp.
The next three songs form another trilogy, a sad reflection on broken relationship. If You See Her, Say Hello is a bittersweet reminiscence and a fond farewell. It’s delivered with quiet resignation. Shelter From the Storm remembers a time of solidarity with hints of the breakup to come. Buckets of Rain takes that storm and dumps it on the singer in full force. It’s another classic and wraps up the album in high style.
Generally regarded as one of his three or four finest albums, Blood On the Tracks shows off an artist at the height of his powers as he considers all the musical forms at his disposal. Quiet but powerful, deceptively simple, charming and biting, it mixes all his skills and contradictions into a magnificent stew. Dylan might have had moments where he shaped the face of music more directly, but he never crafted a set as cohesive and wonderful as this.