Sunday, 15 January 2017

"Street-Legal" by BOB DYLAN (September 2003 and March 2004 Sony CD Reissue - Greg Calbi Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...True Love Tends To Forget..."

You never can pin Bob Dylan down. Take the artwork for 1978’s "Street- Legal" (itself apparently a phrase for a modified hoodlum’s car or a dodgy hot rod). He stands there all elusive-like outside the entrance to the makeshift Rundown Studios (as he called it) – looking to his left down a street from the safety of some steps and a layback. Dylan looks cool – alluding to something – seeing the bigger picture we mere fan-schmucks cannot see. He is after all the spokesperson for a generation – and a renewed one too since 1975 and the magisterial "Blood On The Tracks" LP that took the whole world by storm.

But then you turn over the cover to read the credits on the rear sleeve – and you’re presented with something truly garish and staggeringly unflattering – Dylan in what appears to be a white clown's outfit with mascara running down his face looking like he’s auditioning as an extra for the Alice Cooper Travelling Horror Show. It's a really crappy and unbecoming photo that no other artist would have let pass. But this is Bob Dylan - cool one moment - a putz and a let-down the next - a legend within a mystery within an enigma (and that's just the left leg)...

And in some ways that 'who gives a crap' attitude permeates everything about this much anticipated and yet (at the time) much derided LP. As one insider put it - "Street-Legal" was recorded in a week, mixed the week after and released regardless the week after that. The inference was of course that the new record was a rushed half-assed effort. And in some ways – recording-wise anyway – it is. His band entourage were supposed to be using Rundown Studios (in Santa Monica, California) as a rehearsal space for the Japanese Tour – so the material was recorded in a haphazard ad-hoc way (missed cues, vocals panning in and out etc) with the perceived idea that they’d return to the songs and the sessions and record them properly somewhere else. But Dylan liked what he had – describing it as "the closest to where I am" – and released the unwieldy poorly-recorded beast anyway (all 50 cramped-on-vinyl minutes of it).

The backlash also came from waiting. After the career highs of "Blood On The Tracks" in 1975 and "Desire" in 1976 and the filler live album "Hard Rain" in late 1976 – by June 1978 anticipation for more studio goodies was at fever pitch. As I recall the public liked/disliked "Street Legal" in equal measure - but critics were less kind – especially the famous Greil Marcus review which once again dragged out the 'crap' word whilst throwing in 'fake' and 'sexist' too for good measure (lyrics in "New Pony" stood accused). Dylan reacted angrily saying that even if the Production values weren't exactly Steely Dan – the music was good and his lyrics had meaning and were not just convenient quotes taken from the rhyming-couplets dictionary sat alongside his Woody Guthrie songbook and recent divorce papers in whatever place the Rambler called home.

Which brings us to this re-constructed Stereo CD Remaster from 2003 – carried out by the mighty GREG CALBI – a name synonymous with transfer greatness for me. Given what they had to work with and knowing how bad my initial 1980s CBS CD sounded – the transformation here is amazing and I for one feel should lead to a reappraisal of this slice of lyrical haphazard Bobness. Here is the changing of the guards...

UK re-released March 2004 – "Street-Legal" by BOB DYLAN on Sony /Columbia 512355 2 (Barcode 5099751235521) is a straightforward CD Remaster of his 1978 9-Track LP. 

It was initially reissued September 2003 as a CD/SACD Hybrid Dual Format release in a gatefold card digipak (Columbia 512335 6 – Barcode 5099751235569) but that quickly deleted and replaced with a standard jewel case issue. The 2003 Remaster has been used on this Reissue (repressed in 2009 and 2016). It plays out as follows (50:26 minutes):

1. Changing Of The Guards
2. New Pony
3. No Time To Think
4. Baby Stop Crying
5. Is Your Love In Vain?
6. Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)
7. True Love Tends To Forget
8. We Better Talk This Over
9. Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Street-Legal" - released July 1978 in the USA on Columbia JC 35453 and June 1978 in the UK on CBS Records CBS 86067. Produced by DON DeVITO - it peaked at No. 11 in the USA and No. 2 in the UK.

You'd have to say that the gatefold slip of paper that laughably calls itself an insert is a huge disappointment - especially on a reissued Remaster. As the original had no lyrics, this was a perfect opportunity to finally provide them - words being a tad important when it comes to Bob Dylan. But at least we get that stunning GREG CALBI Remaster - a man whose had his mitts on McCartney's "Band On The Run", Paul Simon's "Graceland", Supertramp's "Crime Of The Century" and "Breakfast In America" and even John Mayer's Remastered catalogue. Calbi has turned a pig's ear into something prettier than a sow's rump...a job well done it has to be said.

A quick glance at the original LP playing time for the Side 1 opener "Changing Of The Guards" shows a 6:34 minute duration – but the 2003 remaster and remix has the ‘endless road’ song extended to 7:04 minutes - suddenly packing a live-in-the-studio Band punch it never had. Now you can actually hear David Manfield’s Mandolin and the three ladies crooning after every line – Carolyn Dennis, Joanne Harris and Helena Springs on backing vocals. And the guitar on "New Pony" is now more menacing and in your face as are the drums (its also increased from 4:28 to 4:39 minutes - how much longer indeed).

I always thought "No Time To Think" had a great hook (as you slowly sink) - the clever rhymes come fast and furious and that rolling piano is now more to the fore in the mix even if it is overly long at 8:20 minutes. Side 1 ends with the first single "Baby Stop Crying". Released July 1978 on CBS Records S CBS 6499 and unlike most BD 45s "Baby Stop Crying" actually charted - peaking at No. 13 and enjoying an 11-week run and the wild luxury in 1978 of a 12" single issue in a picture sleeve (not sure why). With the guitar chug of "New Pony" as the flipside on all formats - it was an excellent double-header.

Side 2 opens with the cheery "Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)" as Bob asks "...can you tell me where we're heading...Lincoln County Road or Armageddon..." and at 5:42 minutes it remains the same but the clarity of that strummed acoustic guitar and the sax solo is better than before. "Is Your Love In Vain?" was the second single lifted from the LP in Blighty (CBS Records S CBS 6718 in September 1978 with "We Better Talk This Over" on the B-side) and its whiny theme made an impression at the time even if it did feel like some dismissive 60ts outtake ("...alright...I'll fall in love with you..."). But my fave-rave on the album is "True Love Tends To Forget" which feels like a great Bob Dylan song complete with actual emotion and not just snide observation.

The musical arrangement of "We Better Talk This Over" signals what is to come with "Slow Train Coming" and its lyrics are so emotion-confessional they can at times become uncomfortable. Speaking of which - were the lyrics "...if you don't believe there's a Christ...and sweet Paradise...just remind to show you the stars..." in the album's final cut "Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat)" about his lost 10-year marriage or leaning into the religious trio of albums that began with "Slow Train Coming" in August 1979 - probably both. And that "Like A Rolling Stone" organ sound – wow - a good end to a really good album.

Not as heart-wrenching as "Blood On The Tracks" or as lyrically hard-hitting as "Desire" - nonetheless 1978's "Street-Legal" is a winner on re-listen – it’s an all-good Bob Dylan album when such things were something you hoped for in the later decades but rarely got. "Street Legal" deserves another go-round and this superb 2003 Remaster has finally given the LP the aural oomph it always needed.

"...Missing her so much..." - Bob Dylan sang on "Where Are You Tonight..." - I felt the same re-playing this street hoodlum of a record...


Anonymous said...

The lyric that you quote from "Where Are You Tonight" is actually as follows:

If you don’t believe there’s a price for this sweet paradise

Just remind me to show you the scars

No "Christ" here, although the album clearly foreshadows "Slow Train," as you say.

Anonymous said...

I liked this album from the day it was released. The remastering certainly adds heft and separation. Wonderful songs, for the most part, played by a band that got better and better as they played around the world for most of 1978. The photograph on the back is from Dylan's Australia or Japan dates early in the year. His wardrobe choice is clearly a tribute to the then recently deceased Elvis Presley. Although Dylan's big band of 1978 was closer to Zappa's than Presley's, the nod is unmistakable. Senor has received the most love on stage, and I've had the good fortune to hear it performed live many times over the years. While Street Legal has long been at the top of my "underrated" list, the description here of Hard Rain as "filler" must be addressed. In 1976 Dylan out-punked the punks. With better songs and superior chops, the rough and ragged Rolling Thunder II made some terrific music. This live album has aged very well indeed. Like Street Legal, it is highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

I always liked Street Legal from the day I first discovered it in the early 80's. I was new to Dylan and had no idea as to his context in music and what albums of his were considered good. I once heard someone refer to Street Legal as a nadir in Dylan's career. Since I wasn't familiar with the word I thought it must be a compliment. And I still like the album decades later. It's unlike anything else that Dylan has released. It's got a density, an almost wall of sound. Dylan is saying a lot, just in the quantity of words and in the great lyrics. The songs are catchy and arranged well. It's hard for me to understand how an avid fan of Bob's couldn't love this.

thetrevorosborne said...

Street Legals production improved greatly when it was remixed in 1999. Ive always rated it highly and with Planet Waves (1974) feel they are his most underrated albums.

thetrevorosborne said...

Street Legals production improved greatly when it was remixed in 1999. Ive always rated it highly and with Planet Waves (1974) feel they are his most underrated albums.

Anonymous said...

Good review, just a note about lyrics. The only Dylan albums that were actually released with lyrics on the inner sleeve were Empire Burlesque and Under the Red Sky. Desire also had a lyric sheet on its vinyl edition in the 1990s. If you wanted Dylan lyrics, you had to get "Writings and Drawings" when it came out in the early 70s, the updated Lyrics (originally published 1985) and then the mighty Lyrics 1962 - 2012 which came out in November last year.

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