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Bob Dylan in the 80s: Long Before The Stars Were Pulled Down

From savior to mercy, from on his knees to on his back, legend has it the 1980s were mean to Bob dylan but the truth is it was only his work on the road that seriously suffered (and paved the way for his live resurrection), the recorded stuff may have faltered but never failed.
Saved (1980)
Like all middle children, this middle child of Bobby’s born again triology is often ignored and it does have a bit of a professional veneer about it -all Muscles Shore pros, BUT it also had a great cover of “A Satisfied Mind,” and a real good original “Solid rock”.
Shot Of Love (1981)
This is a great Dylan album even though it’s considered a lesser dylan and it just isn’t lesser. “Every Grain Of Sand” -despite it baring a William Blake sentiment from Blake’s “Augeries of Innocence’ (“To see a a world in a grain of sand and a Heaven in a wild flower hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour)- is one of Dylan’s most moving explorations and declarations of faith. “In The Summertime” is a sweet remiscence of love lost, “Dead Man, Dead Man” a holla at the devil, “Lenny Bruce” a different type of apostle and “The Groom Still Standing At The Alter” his best rock song in years. Grade: “A+”
Infidels (1983)
Dylan’s most political album in years is almost his most disquieting because whether he is was supporting Israel (and being photographed at the Wailing war) or railing on before half of American Unions, he is as obvious as he has ever been. The good news is “I And I” is a brilliant examination of self and piety ,”Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight” a fine love song and “Jokerman” a staple of his live show for years after. People still can’t figure out why he didn’t include “Foot Of Pride” (if you have never heard Lou Reed’s cover… well, I’ll get to it when I review “30th Anniversary Concert) and “Blind Willie McTell”. Grade: “B”
Real Live (1984)
With Ian Mclagen on keybs and the great guitarist former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor this aint no bunch of sessionmen like Budoken but still, and for the first time, there is no real reason for being either. Except maybe the new lyric to “Tangled Up in blue”. Grade: “B”
Empire Burlesque (1985)
In which Dylan adds a drum machine and nothing much changes except his writing is on fire. Lots of first rate love songs plus “Emotionally yours” -a bit higfor the O’Jays and if he had included the original “When the Night Comes Falling from The Sky” -a powerful rock and roll Testament to a lost love and better than that bland sentence says, with Roy Bittan barrelling down on the piano he reaches the apostate of love because he knows he has lost her and it is because she doesn’t want him, “Now I’m asking for my freedom from a world that you’ve denied and you’ll give it to me now or I’ll take it any how when the night comes falling from the sky” Grade: “B+”
Biograph (1985)
A five album (figure 2 or 3 CD) greatest hits package with 22 unreleased tracks, brilliant sequencing and “Won’t You Please Crawl Out Your Window” one of his funniest and finest seductions. Grade: “A”
Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
Sure it’s all about “Brownsville Girl” (I have a version where it’s “New Dansville Girl”) co-written with Sam Shepherd but lest we forget “BG” is the best eleven minute song ever written ( fave line:”the memory of you rolls over me like a roaring train”) and Kristofferson’s “They Killed Him” plays like high camp and “Maybe Someday” is a great song. It’s an excellent album. Grade: “A-“
Down In The Groove (1988)
Consider his worst album but “Silvio” helped me a live show in the 90s and was central to his live come back, “Rank Stranger To Me” is an overwhelmingly powerful cover of a song I’d never heard before and “90 Miles Per Hour Down A Deadend Street” is fun like his own throwaways are fun and “Shenandoah,” eh? Like, cmon “Shenandoah”!!! Grade: B+”
Dylan And The Dead (1989)
Much better than “Real Live” -at least there’s a reason for this artificat. Grade: “B”
Oh Mercy (1989)
This is all about Daniel Lanois’s highly atmospheric production and I just don’t think Dylan’s material needed this heavy handed vibe -it should be left alone to a great degree. Maybe Rick Rubin could’ve kept his distance properly. Anyway, the songs are brilliant, especially “Man In The Black Coat” which includes one of his best aphorisms “People don’t live or die, people just float”. Grade: “B+”
And into the 90s where he remembers how to put on a show, suffers from writers block and wiggles and wigles and wiggles….

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