Saturday, January 29, 2005

Oh Mercy - Bob Dylan, 1989

Oh Mercy was recorded by Bob Dylan during a time of midlife career and personal issues of the sort that you must have experienced yourself to understand. It was released in 1989 to critical raves.

I only recently listened to it for the first time ever. One critic described Oh Mercy as an expression of a lonely man of faith (a reference to the book, The Lonely Man of Faith, by Joseph B. Soloveitchik). That may or may not be the case. But rather than being about a man going it heroically alone in life, I find it has more of the feel of a jaded man who accepts that we live in an imperfect world.

I didn’t find all the music itself all that exciting or interesting though, just commonplace. The introductions to most of the songs all sound the same. The lyrics, of course, are several cuts above the music. In contrast to his early recordings, Bob relies on prosaic images, sometimes to the point of cliché, and this is evidenced on many songs from Oh Mercy. Even with the mundane images, however, he’s still the best lyricist around, and sometimes he still shows flashes of his old lyrical genius, as he shows here, on the song, Shooting Star.

I love Ring Them Bells. It is the standout song on the recording. Where Teardrops Fall is not bad. Man In The Long Black Coat is pretty good. This may seem fanciful, but it reminds me of the short story, "The Preacher With the Black Veil,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. As a matter of fact, several, if not most, of the songs on Oh Mercy have a very Calvinist, depraved sinner, fallen view of the world. Consider What Good Am I, Disease of Conceit, Political World and Everything is Broken. Shooting Star is an outstanding song, but the version of it on Bob Dylan Unplugged is superior. Political World and Most of the Time are monotonous. What Was It You Wanted is a repetitious drone.

I ‘d like to thank Brian Banho for loaning it to me, to listen to!

Oh Mercy Song list:

1. Political World
2. Where Teardrops Fall
3. Everything is Broken
4. Ring Them Bells
5. Man in the Long Black Coat
6. Most of The Time
7. What Good Am I?
8. Disease of Conceit
9. What Was It You Wanted?
10. Shooting Star


Blogger Singing Bear said...

I'm intrigued to know whu/how you suddenly got into Dylan? He must be really moving you to make you set up a blog in his honour.

2:49 PM  
Blogger kabloona said...

I was always a Dylan fan. It was the publication of Chronicles that triggered me to start this blog.

But the blog is for any and all music discussions.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

A bit late here but. Oh Mercy is a really great album, although I'm not a big fan of Political World and I think Dignity is way overated.

I've always thought of Shooting Star as a kind of companion piece to If You See Her, Say Hello. Bob does those emotional pieces so well which alot of people don't recognise, just concentrating on the abtruse wordplay or whatever.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shooting Star is a freaking great song. Thoughtful, beautiful,whistful, thinking back kind of song. Heartbroken guy looking back on it so many years later. Love that tune, have been humming it for years.

Now, I gotta disagree with you on your other comments.

Political world is a work of art. The opening notes- just a few guitar notes start off with a hint of what's to come. Then the whole band comes in and it turns into a hardcore rocking song.
This is Bob's other identity, the protest/world as it is/realist perspective where he rips shit up. Shows us whats really going on like Idiot Wind and Masters of War have done, revealing truth in it's curelty. Taking no prisoners.

Lyrically it's brilliant, look at the way he puts the verses together. Wisdom is going to jail, Mercy walks the plank.

Wedding bells ringing, angels sing and fires comin offa the ground. The mix of the fantasy of an innocient, naive look at life, yet fire is blazing up, consuming but people are afraid to look at whats going on. I just love the way bob mixes words to create poetry. Brilliant.

Monotonous, yes, but genius in what he's exposing, the perfect rock track to kick the album off, just like Shooting Star is the perfect reprise for the end.

Meanwhile, Most of the Time is another EXcellent track. Again, the construction is so damn good! The first verse, is so strong. I can handle whatever I stumble upon, don't even remember shes gone- then the devestating reversal, most of the time. Its so beautiful the way he lists all the ways he's coped and gotten over it and everythings fine, but then he sneaks in most of the time, showing how deep the pain really is. It's never easy with bob, no pleasure is pure, no pain is ignored, it's all lived thoroughly, without remorse.
Most of the Time is a fantastic love song. It captures reality, the depth of feeling that so few musicians can really catch. This is REAL shit, harder than the most hardcore rapper could bring out.

What Was it You Wanted is DOPE!! Drone yes, but at the same time, lyrically again it's off the charts! Such a sense of mystery, such a feeling of confusion and stumbling through life, like the song Senior from the 70's. Theres a notstalgia here, a sense of something lost that we all get once in a while that is so hard to articulate. Somehow bob has gotten it into a song. He's wondering and so is the listener yet slowly the story starts to unfold, why did she give him that kiss, why is he so paranoid that someone may have been looking? What the fuck is going on here? Yet it's relentless in it's searching for truth, even when it doesn't appear. That's bob to a T, he never lets up on his quest for truth and authentic emotion, on life, even when it makes no sense he still drives onward. Rather than make up a fantasy that DOES make sense, he insists on seeing life for what it really is, not for comfortable platitudes just to make it through the pain. That's why we need him, to help keep ourselves from taking the easy way out. Because we need to face reality, no matter how painful. most of the time.....


7:03 PM  
Blogger kabloona said...

I'd like to thank Jess for the about comment!

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally aggree with jess. I think this is one of the best Dylan albums ever. I was a college DJ when this album came out and I was amazed, Dylan is back. I put this record right up there with "Blood on the Tracks", in fact I have always felt that it is sort of "Blood on the Tracks" II with "Most of the Time" a look back to his feeling 10 years down the road. I come from the progressive rock tradition and what kabloona calls drone I call subtlety. It is in the philip glass tradition where the beauty is in the subtle changes over time, the music taking on a hypnotic quality. It is the feel of the song not flashy pyrotechnics that carry the message, and is not all song/poetry about feelings. I think "Most of the Time" is one of the most emotional songs of lost love ever recorded. The understatement and simplicity convays the intense depth of the feeling and greatness of the loss and "Everything is Broken" is pure art, real art is substance over flash. I have noticed that the songs on this record are the most covered by other artist of all Dylans post 70's records.

3:10 AM  
Blogger zigmounette said...


I'm a Bob's great fan too!

I'm going to see him live November the 3th in Zenith (Paris) and November the 18th in NEC (Birmingham)!!!

I'll take some photos, and I'll send you one ;)

Bye from France

5:58 PM  
Blogger lost2ny said...

I apologize for the intrusion - You have mentioned "Brian Banho" several times in your blog. I found a wallet on the Metro North this afternoon containing ID for a Brian Banho and this is the only reference that I've been able to find with that name. If he is the person, please have him contact me, lost2ny at, and identify the concert tickets in the wallet - if not, please disregard and delete this comment. Thank you.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Brian said...


I am Brian. I have sent you email from along with my cellphone #. Please call. I was lucky a computer-savvy person found it.

9:57 AM  
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2:00 AM  

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