Bob Dylan,
Shot of Love
(Sony, 1981)

The common complaint about 1981's Shot of Love -- truly one of Dylan's most affecting and sincere records -- is that it rocks but fails to hold a flame to his '60s glory. After 40 years of music and 43 albums, one would hope that such comparisons grow tired, and each effort is assessed according to its individual merits, to its own voice, rather than viewed as a shadow under the overbearing umbrella of the 1960s.

As on 1978's Street Legal, Shot of Love includes some of the most compelling but forgotten songs of Dylan's career. Whereas Street Legal brought forth gritty rockers such as "New Pony," "Senor" and "We Better Talk This Over," Shot of Love delivers the stunning, booming rockers, "Trouble," "Property of Jesus" and "The Groom's Still Waiting At the Altar." That rock critics continuously point novice Dylan fans in the same worn-out direction is criminal, because there are songs here that are habitually ignored and deserve much better. What becomes necessary after a four-decade career of scattered brilliance is a wide-ranging, hard-hitting and concise compilation, one that may never see the light of day as long as Dylan and Columbia Records have anything to say about it, as is evident in the paltry, allegedly "Essential" double-disc set recently put out by Columbia.

Emmylou Harris's Grammy-winning Wrecking Ball includes a cover of Shot of Love's "Every Grain Of Sand" for one reason: it is one of the most gorgeous, well-written ballads of Dylan's career, up there with "Not Dark Yet," "Blind Willie McTell," "Idiot Wind" and "Visions of Johanna," among others. "Lenny Bruce" is a blander but ultimately compelling and powerful elegy. Perhaps out-of-the-blue experiments like the reggae-fused "Dead Man, Dead Man" challenged critics and fans to transform their confusion into patience, but it remains one of the few successful "experiments" of Dylan's career. Compare Live at Budokan or Empire Burlesque for examples of failed attempts at updating or refreshing Dylan's sound.

"Watered-Down Love" is a radio-ready single in its own right, the guitar licks are wonderful, Dylan sounds as ambitious and inspired as ever, and the band mimics that intensity in its playing. A remastering job on Shot of Love may help bring its neglected genius to those who ignored it the first time around. It would, at the least, make for an album of explosive sound, as songs like "Trouble," "Groom's Waiting at the Altar" and the title track already pack a memorable punch. If Dylan or Columbia felt as though they still had something to prove, perhaps they would get around to these projects, or come up with some ideas of their own. However, Bob Dylan has nothing left to prove. And that may be where the reality of the situation ends for he and his label, leaving those who were perceptive enough to discover this album's power all the more grateful. In the end, perhaps that will continue to stand as reward enough, and perhaps it should.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 15 February 2003

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