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After the Flood

Shot of Love Bob Dylan Columbia Records

By Antony J. Blinken

WITH THE ADVENT of "Slow Train Coming" nearly three years ago, Bob Dylan was relegated to the "Religious Recordings" section of many record shops. The subsequent apparition of "Saved" only served to confirm that the writer of "Like a Rolling Stone"-a six-minute single that said everything that needed to be said about the social revolution of the '60s-had become an overzealous Christian. Perhaps this explains why few took notice when Dylan's latest effort, "Shot of Love", materialized in August. And that's a shame, because the former Mr. Zimmerman has given us a valuable, if somewhat uneven, new piece for an ever-expanding puzzle.

The first two songs on side one are both solid and pleasing, though not earth shaking. The title track, an up-tempo soul number, is reminiscent of "Street Legal", Dylan's last widely popular work. It blends a bassy rhythm with gospel-like backing vocals very effectively. "Heart of Mine", which follows, is a pretty, piano-based tune with a calypso beat that lends it a tropical flavor. A subtle relationship seems to exist between the two songs. Both deal with love: the first viewing it as a necessary drug and the second warning of excess.

"Property of Jesus" is the most overtly religious track on the album. It is also fascinating and passionate, and like most good Dylan, multi-level. At first we seem to be hearing an ode to the unashamed believers who preach their love for Jesus, and an attack on atheists:

He's the property of Jesus

Resent him to the bone

You've got something better

You've got a heart of stone

He's the property of Jesus

Resent him to the bone

You've got something better

You've got a heart of stone

Sung powerfully over the repetitive picking of a trebly guitar, "Property of Jesus" might easily be dismissed as more divine drivel. Yet the autobiographical content of the piece is striking and poignant. It cannot leave one neutral:

Say that he's a lower

Cause he got no common sense

Because he don't increase his wealth

At someone else's expense

Because he's not afraid of trying

Say he got no style

Because he don't tell jokes or fairy tales

Say he fails to make you smile

Those lyrics tell the result of a trip from the crest of popularity to relative anonymity. In the '60s, Dylan's protest songs either caught or created a wave. The public agreed the man could do little wrong. Even when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. enraging many "purists", Dylan captured a horde of new fans. But religion does not pay. The erstwhile "conscience of a generation", has become an outcast bent on avoiding (or so it seems) the path to popular redemption. Long-time admirers abandoned Dylan, feeling betrayed, while many critics stopped reviewing his offerings, believing the exercise pointless. It is an unjust dismissal, for all Dylan has done is to go on singing what he feels. While we do not have to agree with his every word, we should at least respect his right to be his own man.

"Lenny Bruce" is classic Dylan. It is a sparse, almost bare track celebrating the late comedian. Voice and piano start out alone, joined later by a light bass and drums. Dylan's assurance is almost preachy, making "Lenny Bruce" an I-knew-but-you-didn't sermon:

Lenny Bruce is dead

But his ghost lives on and on

He was an outlaw That's for sure

More of an outlaw

Than you ever were

Lenny Bruce is dead

But his spirit's living on and on

Side one closes out with the hand-clapping "Watered-Down Love". This is pure rhythm and blues in the Motown vein: one can almost hear the original Jackson Five covering it. All the ingredients are present, from a catchy bass line to a twangy rhythm guitar and hilarious lyrics ("You don't want a love that's pure, you want a drowned love, you want a watered-down love").

Of the remaining four songs, two are insignificant. "Deadman, Deadman" is a rather dull reggea, while "Trouble" is a loud blues that leaves the listener indifferent.

"In the Summertime", though, is great. A slow country love song, it features the Dylan of yesterday equipped with accoustic guitar and harmonica. This is the type of track liable to wear out the repeat mechanism on you turntable.

THE RECORD concludes with one of Dylan's finest efforts in recent memory. "Every Grain of Sand" puts fate on a pedestal, and, while not worshipping it, at the very least affirms its primacy in the governance of our lives. Some will take this as an excuse for the singer's recent course. Yet how can we not respect the passion and conviction with which this haunting ballad is delivered:

In the time of my confession

In the hour of my deepest need

When the pool of tears beneath my feet

Flood every newborne seed

There's a dying voice within me

Reaching out somewhere

Toiling in the danger

And in the morals of despair

Don't have the inclination To look back on any mistakes

...In the fury of the moment

I can see the maste's hand

In every leaf that trembles

In every grain of sand

And so ends "Shot of Love", leaving us with many more questions. Dylan will always be ripe for attack. We can question his simplicity (for example, is the logical conclusion of "Property of Jesus" an approval of religious fanaticism?). We can criticize his beliefs. But we cannot say he lacks guts. Bob Dylan is no man's lackey. He will always do and sing what he believes. The times they are a changin', but not Dylan. He still has integrity.

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