Bob Dylan’s fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home was born from an isolated writing binge that saw the musician’s poetic nature become visual with heavy influence coming from Robert Johnson. The original production plan set sail over 55 years ago and was meant to be based on a collection of overdubs but this quickly shifted to a live band as the layered recordings didn’t pave the path vivid enough for folk-rock. To create this release Bill Lee, Paul Griffin, Bruce Langhorne, and Bobby Gregg were asked to take part in the instrumental sections, with the outcome being an 11-track compilation that saw Dylan shift musically and contextually.
The artist is very much about political involvement and the calling out of societal flaws, making the lyrics burst with potency. The volume barges through in “Outlaw Blues”, as if performed in close proximity to the audience. As the sound of blues elevates the album with its fast tempo, the electric guitar and harmonica convey a sonic complexity like never before. Dylan is a different kind of outlaw who just “might tell you the truth”. With the delicate structure of the album, the songs come with a tonal and atmospheric shift leaving the listener in anticipation of the coming evolution.
It is not all about protests and society, as “She Belongs to Me” is an incredibly elegant praise of a woman accompanied by the guitar just loud enough to create a dreamy feel. With the intellectually packed lyrics, the musician surrounds the protagonist in a layer of intrigue and mystery. The album rapidly deviates back to a riot, but one unlike anything we’ve heard before – “Maggie’s Farm”. The master of musical construction stands on the solid sonic ground with electric guitar at hand, as the drawn-out vocals reiterate the message with every chorus. Not being one to beat around the bush, Bob Dylan musically shows just what a loaded brain feels like: “I got a head full of ideas, they’re driving me insane”.
Bringing It All Back Home has a more playful side to it with songs like “On the Road Again”, which sees the artist effortlessly play around with his vocal range and illustrate just how deceiving perception can be. And yet, he doesn’t stop here, as the following track “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” is one big wild ride through Horrible Histories. The uniqueness of this composition comes from the absence of a chorus, making it one uninterrupted story. As the instruments set the pace the vocals start to deliver a narrative that sticks inside the mind like a tattoo on the skin.
Taking us right back into the rivers of melancholy with “Mr. Tambourine Man”, Dylan creates the soothing texture with his voice as the melodic song stands at the front line. The track is drained in exhaustion and stunning imagery, setting the audience’s imagination free, for the “evening’s empire has returned into sand, vanished from my hands”. The destruction comes with a sense of content, feeling almost as if cold water is splashed on a boiling pan to release the sizzling sensation. The rare instrumental simplicity of “Gates of Eden” catches one by surprise as the acoustics steal the show. This is that fable, the fantasy, “there are no kings”, “no sins” and “no trials inside the Gates of Eden”. This stunning place is sung about in a beautiful song.
The audience is brought back to reality with “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, being one of the darkest folk songs on the album. Immersed in a sense of internal surrender, it almost feels like the end of the road as the line “I got nothing, Ma, to live up to” is delivered. A dramatic poem, more than anything else, shines a light on the feeling of despair and acceptance of disappointment. The intramural apocalypse maintains its’ acceleration within the confines of the album until the end comes with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. As the instruments play out, the vocals start to morph with the guitar delivering a heightened auditory experience. The album closes with a message for the listener: “you must leave now, take what you need, you think will last”.
What starts as a collection of justice serving anthems, quickly takes a personal and, at times, loving turn just to end with a sense of fear and loneliness. Bringing It All Back Home showed Bob Dylan in a new light, as he took on folk-rock while still being the musician everyone has grown to love. Filled with progression, the songs evolve on an individual level, developing the album as it plays on. This release is a perfect mixture of raw vocals and punching instruments that sends you through a wave of emotion. Each composition is like a movie where the colors are music and the characters are the lyrics.