T for Tom

Day 30 – Under the Red Sky – 1990

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on July 22, 2016

 

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The progression leading to Oh Mercy and followed by Under the Red Sky is something like five steps forward, one step back. We’re still way ahead of the entire previous decade, but it feels like our hopes have been left disappointed.

Released in 1990, Under the Red Sky again features a number of prominent guest appearances from Elton John, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, Bruce Hornsby, David Crosby, and even Randy Jackson. The music, in spite of its slick production, still results in a record, which audibly, is worth a full listen. The Vaughan brothers give “Unbelievable” and rocking blues depth that Bob Dylan hasn’t really sunk to before, skirting the distortion lows and swinging rhythms of the drums, Texas style. George Harrison drops a beautiful guitar solo in the middle of the title track, and you can hear Elton John peering over a number of tracks with a soaring organ – so much that at the beginning of “Handy Dandy” it sounds like they’re reprising “Like a Rolling Stone.”

But that summarizes what makes Under the Red Sky so damn confounding – it may be the first time that we can say Bob Dylan’s music outshone his writing. Just hear some of the titles: “Wiggle Wiggle,” “Handy Dandy,” “Cat’s In the Well.” Legend has it that the dedication of the album to “Gabby Goo Goo,” his four-year old daughter, prompted the record that turned out to be nearly all nursery rhymes. Seriously: “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a bowl of soup / Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a rolling hoop.” It’s nonsense, I’ll even call it dumb. But what I can’t figure out, is why he would make such great music and give it such shit words. I don’t know.

The man is 27 albums into his career at this point, so it could either be running out ideas or just getting bored. He’s three years into his “Never Ending Tour” at this point, playing on average a show every other day (which is still going on today, seriously, look it up), and probably just rushed out a record in between legs of the tour. In fact, that’s exactly what he said at the time.

But George Harrison? Stevie Ray Vaughan? Elton John? These musicians deserved something so much greater, to record with the Bob Dylan. They made a good album. I’ll dance, but I won’t listen.


Song: “God Knows”

What starts as a groovy rock’n’roll ballad builds up to a certifiably anthemic SRV guitar solo. Approved.

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