Friday, July 31, 2009

Bob Dylan 26: Shot Of Love

While he’d started playing both older and new secular songs live, when Bob put out a new album in 1981, it was automatically labeled as a Christian album. This wasn’t a fair assessment, because although Shot Of Love covers some of the more recent territory on the surface, the album doesn’t sound anything like Slow Train Coming or Saved. For that, purists should have been grateful. At the time, they weren’t.
However, based on some of the new material that he’d tried out onstage, along with a few tracks that have been officially reprieved from that vaults, the album could have been so much better. A few of those songs (“Angelina” and “Caribbean Wind”, to name two) would have vaulted this album to classic status; as it is we can only wonder and argue over the sequence that could have been.
So what about it? The opening title track sounds too much like another song (okay, we’re talking about “Gotta Serve Somebody”) to stand out, but at least there’s a good live sound to start us off. “Heart Of Mine” had some nice lyrics at first, but the arrangement doesn’t work. Maybe it was the three drummers? “Property Of Jesus” is much better than its title would suggest, with a nice piano part and Jim Keltner driving it. “Lenny Bruce” seems like an odd choice for a eulogy at this late date, but it’s no worse a tribute than “Joey”. “Watered-Down Love” would be nice if it didn’t sound so much like “Property Of Jesus”.
Side two doesn’t always gel. “Dead Man, Dead Man” thumps along with a slight reggae beat; “In The Summertime” adds some wistful romance; “Trouble” benefits from a trashy backing and introduces his soon-to-be-consistent whine. But the closer, “Every Grain Of Sand”, is one of his best ever, a gaze at the wonder of creation that transcends any creed or denomination.
Sometime after the Biograph set came out, consumers noticed that Shot Of Love now included an additional song at the start of side two: the excellent B-side “Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar”, which certainly enhanced the listening experience. (It was added to the cassette and eventual CD as well.) The overall sound of the album is enough to make it worth several revisits. The band combined some of his tour companions, plus a few ringers like Benmont Tench and Danny Kortchmar, so the playing’s more than competent. But he needed to hit the ball a lot further if he was going to stay relevant in the ‘80s.

Bob Dylan Shot Of Love (1981)—
Current CD: same as 1981, plus 1 extra track

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps the release of 'Together through life' casts some light on what Dylan was trying to achieve on 'Shot of love' – both of them attractive if relatively minor parts of the Dylan canon, deeply rooted in the blues of the '40s and '50s. 'Shot of love' seems to be strung between the open wound of the title track and the resolution achieved in 'Every grain of sand', and if the intervening songs don't quite live up to the standards of the opening and closing tracks there are some very worthwhile pieces on the way, including a lot of duet work with Clydie King (can that ever be a bad thing?). Yes, 'Angelina' and 'Caribbean wind' are better songs than some of the songs that were included on the album, but they wouldn't have suited the album, anymore than 'Red river shore' would have improved 'Time out of mind'. I'm not even sure that the later inclusion of 'The groom's still waiting at the altar' is an improvement to the coherence of the album. There are a lot of better Dylan albums than 'Shot of love', but it has a lot to offer, and it is certainly one of his most underrated efforts.