Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid/Planet Waves/Street-Legal
They may not be acclaimed Dylan landmarks, but these three reissues of albums released between 1973 and 1978 reveal some often-overlooked gems.
Bob’s gradual reconnection with his muse via first soundtrack album, Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid has an understated charm. The Spanish guitar-flecked acoustic instrumental Main Title Theme (Billy) sets out Dylan’s stall before the tumbleweed atmospherics of the sleepy Cantina Theme. Turkey Chase revisits the nimble fingerpicking of Nashville Skyline Rag from four years earlier, but the star attraction here is graceful anthem Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.
By 1974’s Planet Waves, Bob is back firing on all cylinders with The Band behind him for added heft. Galloping opener On A Night Like This makes the most of the assembled musical talent and Robbie Robertson’s spidery lead lines add texture to Going, Going, Gone; there’s a funkiness to Tough Mama of the kind only The Band could pull off. Another anthem takes the spoils – the slow version of Forever Young is a 70s Dylan high point, while its sped-up variant also included here proves how much an arrangement can radically alter the success of a song.
Often neglected, Street-Legal has improved with age. The sweeping Changing Of The Guards features call-and-response female harmony backing vocals and the grinding blues of New Pony swaggers along with barely concealed double-entendres. Dylan sounds passionate on barely concealed Robert Johnson rewrites Baby Stop Crying and Is Your Love In Vain? but they’re trumped by album centrepiece Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power), a smoky epic of dream-like, opaque imagery.