Breaking Down The Distance

Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy came out thirty years ago last week. It received immediate positive buzz–I can recall reading Rolling Stone‘s rave review–and was an instant hit amongst those in my office, too. I’d been slowly acquiring a taste for what I consider the best of Dylan’s post-60s work (Blood on the Tracks and Infidels, primarily) via my officemate Will. I’d rank Oh Mercy in between those two, somewhat ahead of Infidels, and five of its ten tracks still strike me as remarkable today. Daniel Lanois, the producer, was in the middle of his late 80s/early 90s roll, and I like what he did on this record.

Here are those five, in order of current personal preference. I’ll largely dispense with comment, but will say: since Dylan doesn’t seem too interested in having folks upload unofficial videos for the originals of his songs on YouTube, three of the five are nice cover versions.

#5. “Political World”
The album opener, and the only song on Oh Mercy to have a studio version official video.

 

#4. “Shooting Star”
Moving on to the album’s closing track, a sad and wistful piece. Our cover is by Jason Bennett, who I think can be found at this website.  Overall Bennett does it justice.

 

#3. “Everything Is Broken”
About eighteen months after Oh Mercy came out I met up with my HS friend Tony after he flew into Chicago for a weekend. A cold, raw spring weekend. This one came on the radio while we were driving around one afternoon–we belted out line after line. Can’t listen to it now without hearing Tony sing, “Feels like you’re chokin’!” It’s another primo choice for karaoke someday.

Anyway, here’s a version that Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell cooked up earlier this year. I’ll have to hear it a few more times to decide what I think.

 

#2. “Most of the Time”
Now we’re to the real cream of the album. Somehow a homemade video of the studio version for “Most of the Time” has survived on YouTube for more than seven years.

 

#1. “Ring Them Bells”
I’m going to have to seek out more from Sarah Jarosz. A lot more. That is all.

 

3 thoughts on “Breaking Down The Distance”

  1. I saw Sarah Jarosz in Nashville several years ago. She was only 20 or 21 at the time and played in a small club just south of downtown. She played several instruments, but predominantly a mandocello (a sort of baritone mandolin) [just watched the video, it’s the same instrument; I vaguely recall her playing this song]. I don’t know what she’s doing nowadays, but at the time was playing an amalgam of traditional old-time music with texas swing influence. It was nowhere close to pop music, but it was clear she had been tapped as a major emerging talent, and was likely to be steered in that direction by music industry handlers. No matter, I think you’d have liked her quite a bit.

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  2. I saw Sarah Jarosz in Nashville several years ago. She was only 20 or 21 at the time and played in a small club just south of downtown. She played several instruments, but predominantly a mandocello (a sort of baritone mandolin) [just watched the video, it’s the same instrument; I vaguely recall her playing this song]. I don’t know what she’s doing nowadays, but at the time was playing an amalgam of traditional old-time music with texas swing influence. It was nowhere close to pop music, but it was clear she had been tapped as a major emerging talent, and was likely to be steered in that direction by music industry handlers. No matter, I think you’d have liked her quite a bit.

    Have you kept up with your Bob in the intervening years? He recruited Lanois to produce a mid-90’s offering, “Time Out Of Mind” which is worth a listen (or two). Bob hit his stride with a string of records well worth seeking out, with “Love And Theft” (2001), “Modern Times” (2006), “Together Through Life” (2009), and “Tempest” (2012). He also did a somewhat bizarre christmas record somewhere along the way. It’s cool if you dig Bob’s septogenarian bullfrog croaking about Santa Claus. Personally I prefer his angry younger man dealing justice to the wicked a la “Idiot Wind” (among others). His more recent offerings may also seem strange at first; but herr Zimmerman has so thoroughly eschewed his appointment as “voice of the generation” that he now pointedly has stopped writing in favor of performing classics from the great American songbook. I know, wtf, right? None the less, I find his reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” lovely, charming, and oddly compelling. Bob has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants to do.

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    1. Thanks for the review of Sarah Jarosz! I’ll definitely seek out some of her stuff.

      I did get Time Out of Mind years ago and have listened to it a few times. I haven’t checked out the others, though I have indeed heard his take on “Must Be Santa”–that’s a marvel of a sort.

      Martha, Ben, and I saw him in concert in Louisville, on Ben’s 16th birthday almost three years ago, just after he got the Nobel. Zero interaction with the audience, but it was a great show.

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