If one can say that Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait was a break in character for an enormously talented artist then yes, you would say the same (and more) for 1973’s compilation, Dylan: Self Portrait’s scruffy back catalog. Where Bob Dylan thrived at, it was diminished in a shuddersome thirty-three minutes. Yet the year came to an end and 1974 rolled on by eager for evolvement – depending on Dylan’s new year resolutions. If there was one, longtime backing band, The Band, came to mind.
It’d been 1972 the last time Dylan and The Band performed together. At long last, it was decided for a proper reunion in the studio. Recorded over three days, Planet Waves would be The Band’s first of two album collaborations, the second being the more acclaimed and familiar, The Basement Tapes. This first time round may be less memorable, but thanks to Dylan’s poetical inventory it’s all the while agreeable for a repositioning return.
‘On a Night Like This’, a lively shuffle, opens the album on high note. We hear a rowdy accordion then the next a bluesy guitar – never an instrument more fixated than Dylan’s voice, “Put your body next to mine/and keep me company/there is plenty a-room for all/so please don’t elbow me.” It’s easy to say it isn’t perfectly recorded – the whole album isn’t. But it’s second-rate shape doesn’t affect the best of Planet Waves. It still has exceptional essence.
Dylan next approaches his first somber of the album with ‘Going Going Gone’, an unhurried yet ultimately gratifying serenade. Swaying under and around Dylan’s melancholy lyrics, a luscious guitar from Robbie Robertson professedly improvises, seizing the two as a remarkably rare duo. You can add ‘Going Going Gone’ to one of Dylan’s best and be happy about it.
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
Like a cold beer in scorching sunlight, Dylan’s lyrics in ‘Forever Young’ behold a certain refreshment to the day. “May god bless and keep you always/may your wishes come true/may you always do for others and let others do for you,” Dylan sings with grace. Every lyric and every delicate whine from Dylan is a warm and suave attribute to Planet Waves. Momentous and memorable – check. Subsequently later is a swifter and more expeditious version of Forever Young despite losing the courage the first had.
‘Dirge’ and ‘Wedding Song’ are instrument limited, yet loud and powering. Whether Robbie goes a little too extravagant on the guitar, and the piano stabbing movement annoy, ‘Dirge’ is enough to say it keeps the album flowing. ‘Wedding Song’ on the contrary is a fitting ballad to close the album. “You breathed on me and made my life a richer one to live/When I was deep in poverty you taught me how to give,” Dylan proclaims with a heartening wail.
If the not perfected quality of the album discerns your taste buds, it isn’t a big deal. There is no big deal about Planet Waves, it’s clear sailing for the heck of it – the whole shebang. Ultimately the album is a satisfying collaboration between Dylan and The Band, and for whatever reason, it should be everyone’s honor to listen and hear.