Saturday, June 11, 2011

301 John Wesley Harding- Another Dylan reinvention.

Album: John Wesley Harding.
Artist: Bob Dylan
Genre: Folk
Year: 1967


  1. John Wesley Harding
  2. As I Went Out One Morning
  3. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
  4. All Along the Watchtower
  5. The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
  6. Drifter's Escape
  7. Dear Landlord
  8. I Am a Lonesome Hobo
  9. I Pity the Poor Immigrant
  10. The Wicked Messenger
  11. Down Along the Cove
  12. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

It’s probably worth starting this review with a quick recap of what I call “Bob Wents”. When Bob started he was a basic folkie but then he went esoteric (A Hard Rains gonna fall) before he went petulant (My back pages) and then went electric (Bringing it all back home), went psychedelic (Blonde on Blonde) went underground (the motorcycle accident and subsequent hiding from the limelight), went country (Nashville Skyline) and then went a bit crap (Self Portrait). He managed all these wents before the 1960’s went sour and became the 1970’s, which meant he managed the sort of career evolution in seven years that most bands can’t do in a matter of decades.

John Wesley Harding is a strange album that fits into the panorama of reinventions after the motorcycle accident and before the full-on move to country music that Nashville Skyline represented.  It’s a strangely transitional album that sees him returning to simple arrangements and lyrics while predicting the fascination with Christianity that was yet to come. It’s two best known moments are the impenetrable and darkly apocalyptic All along the Watchtower and the simple and heartfelt I’ll be Your Baby tonight. It’s also the album in which he tempers the more challenging aspects of his voice but ramps up the more aggressive nature of his harmonica playing. Those who had been put off by Bob’s nasal tones in the past might welcome the simpler inflection he gives his vocals but baulk at the fact that he seems to have transferred his whiney timbre to the harmonica which tends to screech all over John Wesley Harding whenever Bob isn’t singing.

In the past I’ve always written off Harding as the start of his first major slump. After the high’s of Blonde on Blonde, Dylan plummeted to some of the worst albums he would ever inflict on us. I’ve overlooked JWH whenever I’ve felt the urge to listen to some Dylan (which is pretty much a daily occurrence) but being forced to really pay it some attention now I’m prepared to say I’m guilty of neglecting something worth my time. John Wesley Harding is a really strong set of songs by the greatest songwriter of the last 50 years. It’s worth approaching as an album in its own right. Don’t try and put it into any definite context or chronological timeline. Treat it as an album of songs that Dylan wrote for you to enjoy, and then enjoy the hell out of them. I know I did.

Highlight: Down along the cove.
Lowlight: The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest does wear out it’s welcome after a while.

Influenced by: The bible, a motrobike accident and a desire to reinvent.
Influenced: All those people who had followed Dylan into electric psychedelia.

Favourite Amazon Customer review Quote: “dylan's all spooky here -- otherwordly, shadowy, and ultra-mysterious. he taps you on the shoulder and then disappears. at least you think it was him.... “

-Nice imagery. Nice review.

So where does this fit on the great Dylan continuum for you? Is it up there with Blonde on Blonde or down there with Self Portrait? Let me know below.


  1. Definitely up there with Blonde on Blonde. A minimilist masterpiece.

  2. One of his very best.

  3. Like you, I listen to Bob most days, and also like you, I almost never listen to JWH, and I really don't know why. I like the album fine, a lot, in fact, it's just that there is always another one calling to me more urgently! Thanks to you, I'll now be giving it the attention it deserves.
    Liked your " Bob Wents" by the way!

  4. Up there in his top 5 albums certainly for me.. Also, what is often overlooked is the context/cultural and musical trends of these times..The Beatles were leading everyone along a merry path to 'enlightenment' via drugs,Eastern mysticism etc..and here's Dylan pointing everyone back to the Bible.Dylan always was two steps ahead of the rest..still is .Phil Rigby, England

  5. One of Dylan's top 5 albums for me. What is often overlooked is the context/cultural and musical trends of the days. The Beatles, for example, were leading people to drugs and Eastern Mysticism,and Dylan was leading people to the Bible..Dylan was always putting us in touch with the teacher, for those with ears...Phil Rigby, England

  6. "John Wesley Harding" is one of favorite Bob Dylan studio albums: definitely in the top ten, probably in the top six (along with "Bringing it all Back Home", "Highway 61 Revisited", "Blonde on Blonde","Blood on the Tracks: and "Love and Theft"). One could argue that it is the tighest album Dylan ever produced because it was recorded in a very short time and definitely tells a story (rejection of a bitter past through redemption found in love), a story that runs through individual songs as well as through the ordering of the songs.

  7. You should all read the Scaduto biography - Bob Dylan 1973 - for a great insight into the album. He shows that Bob is telling his fans in song that he is going to change but not to worry, carry on and know you´re not alone. The last two songs are the new no message Dylan that he tells/warns us about. Then Nashville Skyline, but he tells us in JWH!
    The most amazing thing for me, though, is that when he was writing JWH, he was also writing wonderfully stupid songs in the basement like Yeah heavy and a bottle of bread. Almost like having 2 Dylans at the same time.

  8. All along the watchtower one of his greatest songs is on this album. Enough said.