More Blood More Tracks

Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:11 November 2018 

Sometimes it seems there are only two positions on Bob Dylan: lifetime devotee or The Yuk! Gang. But that is an illusion. With a career so long and storied, and a catalogue so vast, there is plenty of room for being an occasional Dylan fan. One of the albums that music lovers from across the Bob-spectrum often agree on is Blood On The Tracks.

 

Now I don’t worship His Bobness, but I loved that album back in the day. So much so that I notionally compiled a parallel Blood On The Tracks consisting of different versions of the songs. Sadly, the track duplication never made it to CD-R as the Dylan albums in my collection were insufficient. The new re-issue, however, features a whole swag of different versions and will probably allow completion of the project I notionally called Blood On The Branch Line (even though that sounds like a horror episode of Thomas the Tank Engine).

 

Yet the new material won’t change the essential quality of the songs themselves. Blood On The Tracks has so many superb songs and works so cohesively as an album that more than half the tracks have been favourites at one time or another.

This is a record of failing relationships, about wandering; a catalogue of loneliness and alienation, an album of poetry and heartache and love. There are songs of loss (“If you see her, say hello”) and delight (“Buckets of rain”) but Dylan the story-teller is in fine form too, as demonstrated by album opener “Tangled up in blue”.

 

She was workin’ in a topless place

And I stopped in for a beer

I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face

In the spotlight so clear

And later on as the crowd thinned out

I was just about to do the same

She was standing there in back of my chair

Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”

I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath

She studied the lines on my face

I must admit I felt a little uneasy

When she bent down to tie the lace

Of my shoe…

Tangled up in blue

 

“Simple twist of fate” has a misty film noir storyline infused with such tenderness you don’t register the devastating loneliness. Even a couple of lesser songs (the blues shuffle of “Meet me in the morning” or the patronising “You’re a big girl now”) work well enough in this company.

The emotions of these impressionistic tales are conveyed via memorable melodies and supported by subtle folk-rock arrangements. Lyrically, the pictures and portraits evoke rather than direct, though the opposite is true of the epic story “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts”, the centrepiece of side two. Here Dylan embarks upon a long and convoluted story demanding real concentration if you want to follow the plot across its nine minutes and sixteen verses. Many don’t bother, preferring the plaintive symbolism of “Shelter from the storm” or the tense anger of “Idiot wind”.

I still have my vinyl copy of Blood On The Tracks, acquired way back in the day when money was tight and an album was an investment. Now I’ve finished writing, I think I’ll sit down and give it a spin. Or maybe I’ll get hold of a copy of this new re-issue with the alternate versions and finally hear all of Blood On The Branch Line.

 

© Bruce Jenkins 2018