Saturday, 8 April 2017

"Desire" by BOB DYLAN (September 2003 and March 2004 Sony CD Reissues - Greg Calbi Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...One More Cup Of Coffee..."

Following the artistic triumph and musically magisterial "Blood On The Tracks" LP from early February 1975 was always going to be a tough one (never had love and pain been so articulate). Yet January's "Desire" began the new Bob Dylan year in more comeback-kid style – even rounding out 1976 with the obligatory live set "Hard Rain" - an album that admittedly few remember or care about now.

To the reissue - running to over 56 minutes on original vinyl - the much-loved "Desire" has always been a pretty Columbia/CBS Records LP to look at but a crushed compromise on the Audio front. Until the advent of CD... The first 1980s variant was good (better than the LP for sure) but this re-constructed Stereo CD Remaster from 2003 carried out by the mighty GREG CALBI – a name synonymous with transfer greatness for me – is an altogether different beast. The transformation here is amazing. Let's get details out of the way first before we delve into the songs...

UK re-released March 2004 – "Desire" by BOB DYLAN on Sony/Columbia 512345 2 (Barcode 5099751234524) is a straightforward CD Remaster of his 1976 9-Track LP

It was initially reissued September 2003 as a CD/SACD Hybrid Dual Format release in a gatefold card digipak/repro artwork (Columbia 512345 6 – Barcode 5099751234562) - but that was quickly deleted and replaced in 2004 with a standard jewel case issue using the same 2003 Remaster (itself repressed in 2009 and 2016). "Desire" plays out as follows (56:15 minutes):

1. Hurricane [Side 1]
2. Isis
3. Mozambique
4. One More Cup Of Coffee
5. Oh, Sister
6. Joey [Side 2]
7. Romance In Durango
8. Black Diamond Bay
9. Sara
Tracks 1 to 9 are the album "Desire" - released January 1976 in the USA on Columbia PC 33893 and January 1976 in the UK on CBS Records S 86003. Produced by DON DeVITO - it peaked at No. 1 in the USA and No. 3 in the UK.

The 8-page inlay reproduces the "Songs Of Redemption" notes from Allen Ginsberg – a stream of consciousness writing that has always been unreadable piffle to me. The disc uses the red Columbia label and there's an inlay with a profile photo of Bob live on some distant stage underneath the see-through CD tray. Overall it's merely good rather than being great or properly celebratory as it should be. But all of that goes out the window once you clap ears on the 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 lifted the 'mysterious and dark' musical cups of coffee out of the murkiness – those huge drums on "Joey" - a job well done it has to be said.

For "Desire" – Dylan once again reconstructed his musical sound. Every track features the even-present electric violin of Scarlett Rivera giving most tunes a weary dusty castanets-at-dawn almost Mexican vibe. Add to that are the endless words – brilliant rhymes done in conjunction with Broadway Theatre director Jacques Levy – Dylan unusually relinquishing control over the writing (Levy is co-credited as songwriter on all except "One More Cup Of Coffee" and "Sara" which are credited to Dylan alone). Country giant Emmylou Harris also lends her vocals to brilliant cuts like "One More Cup Of Coffee",  "Oh, Sister" and "Black Diamond Bay" - while Ronee Blakley adds to the wall of lady voices that became something of a signature style for BD (Steven Soles is the duet vocalist on "Hurricane"). The rhythm section is Rambling Jack Elliott's Bass player Ron Stoner (gorgeous work on "Isis" and "Sara") - while England's Howard Werth from Folk-Prog rock band Audience provides the huge drums heard to such effect on "Joey" and the soft-shoe shuffle on "Black Diamond Bay".

Setting aside the overly cryptic and frankly pretentious Allen Ginsberg liner notes - long and wordy tunes prevailed for "Desire" – like BD could not stop penning rhyming couplets. The full album cut for "Hurricane" ran to eight and half minutes – "Isis" clocks in a few seconds under seven minutes - while the prison/civilian mobster life story "Joey" over on Side 2 is king of the streets at eleven minutes. "Black Diamond Bay" punches past seven and half and even the confessional love song "Sara" at five and half minutes feels twice as long emotionally. There's an epic feel to many of the songs reflected in the huge story themes...

Culled from the Autobiography "The Sixteenth Round" about Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter who was famously jailed for murder in 1967 and locked up in a tiny steel cage in New Jersey – "Hurricane" was the Bob Dylan of protest songs – Dylan angry at social injustice and not just bemoaning his own love life. I can remember hearing lyrics like "...the man the authorities came to blame for something he never done..." or "...if you're might as well not show up on the streets unless you want to die in the heat..." and thinking – never mind calling the cops – call the lawyers. "Isis" is a weary marital song in all but name. A backbone piano jab plinks away throughout like a tired soldier walking home from battle – complimented occasionally with passionate Harmonica interludes as he sings about the world's biggest necklace and bodies in Pyramids and Isis in the meadow – the woman he loves that will somehow – inexplicably – do him in.

That Acoustic and Bass opening for "Mozambique" is gorgeous – Emmylou's voice ad-libbing in the background as Rivera strokes the electric violin. One of the best and almost unknown Dylan cover versions is by A&M artists NUTZ who did a take of the funereal "One More Cup Of Coffee" on their 3rd album "Hard Nutz" in 1977. I've always thought it one of his undiscovered jewels – and again Emmylou adding so much with her duet vocals. Side 1 ends on the sad "Oh, Sister" – Dylan hoping that she won't treat him like a stranger – that trademark Harmonica of his wailing in pain.

Side 2's "Joey" is a monster and one would think that at over eleven minutes it's a song that overstays its welcome. But Dylan pours on the factoids in the story of Joey Gallo – the American Government's one-time Public Enemy Number 1. Gunned down like a rabid dog at a Clam House in Little Italy in 1972 – typically rebel Bob sides with the street punk even as he relays the Mobster's less-than-angelic gambling habits and retribution tactics for his rivals. Lyrically it's a tour-de-force – bullets fly – war breaks out – the streets fill with blood and empty out – and through it all are the men in blue unfairly gunning for the 'king of the street' according to Dylan. The shadow of Ry Cooder and Tijuana lingers over "Romance In Durango" - mariachi trumpets and violin notes getting drunk in the throat-parched cantina of life. Panama hats in gambling rooms watch the last ship sail away in "Romance In Durango" – while the truly touching "Sara" is about as relationship personal as Bob Dylan gets (his wife).

Re-listening to the album on this wicked CD only reconfirms his legend. OK I still don’t think "Desire" is Part 2 of "Blood On The Tracks" (what could be) nor is "Street Legal" the poor third son of its two predecessors. I always see the three albums as some kind of golden Dylan period. And for sure with a little presentation and sequencing imagination - this CD reissue could have been better if it included the Quadrophonic mixes done in 1975 (altered versions and instruments) or even the "Catfish" outtake with Eric Clapton on Slide Dobro that turned up on 1991's stunning first volume of "The Bootleg Series – Rare And Unreleased 1961-1991". "Abandoned Love" and "Rita Mae" are other songs done as the sessions too – in fact a Legacy Deluxe Edition 2CD set anyone? But there is genius in them dar grooves/digital bits.

"...Nobody can throw the ball like Catfish can...a million dollar man... " – Bob Dylan sang on the "Desire" outtake "Catfish".

And when it comes to the enigma that is Mister Zimmerman – ain’t that the musical truth...


Anonymous said...

Howie Wyeth was the drummer on the Desire album / cd.

mark feinberg said...

Indeed. I knew Howie in the 60s at Syracuse University. He was certainly not British!

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