Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding on numbered edition Hybrid SACD
1967 album a harbinger of country rock
Ranked No. 301 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list
Leave it to Bob Dylan to follow three of the most pioneering electric-based albums in history by again deviating from the norm and straying from expectation.
John Wesley Harding strips away all of the wilder tendencies of Dylan's rock albums — even the then-unreleased Basement Tapes he made the previous year — but it isn't a return to his folk roots. If anything, the album is his first serious foray into country, but only a handful of songs, such as "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," are straight country songs. Instead, John Wesley Harding is informed by the rustic sound of country, as well as many rural myths, with seemingly simple songs such as "All Along the Watchtower," "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," and "The Wicked Messenger" revealing several layers of meaning with repeated plays.
The lyrics are somewhat enigmatic, the music is simple, direct, and melodic, providing a touchstone for the country-rock revolution that swept through rock in the late '60s.
This restored SACD version presents the 1967 album with the finite details and impressionistic tones. Immediately notable for the slimmed-down instrumentation, brisk flow, and simple approach, the record continues to endure via a rustic, era-defying naturalism tied to the organic sounds and warm production swathing Dylan's acoustic guitar, mellow voice, breezy harmonica, and minor accompaniments. All of these traits translate with incredible realism and lifelike air on this reissue, which also brings out the low end of Charlie McCoy's bass with a previously unheard supple character.
Arriving during a period of intense experimentalism and psychedelia, John Wesley Harding functions as a sigh of relief, a piano- and pedal steel-flavored set steeped in requisite simplicity in an environment that was increasingly marked by chaos and madness.
There's also the utter brilliance of every one of the songs here, each seemingly occupying a timeless space that suggests they could've been made in 1967, 1937, or 2007. With "All Along the Watchtower," Dylan landed upon a tune that would soon become one of the most-covered and revered tracks in history.
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