Take a harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.
One sure way to throw Bob Dylan fans into a tizz—well, into more of a tizz than the kind we usually experience around such matters—is to propose a late-night discussion about the still-unresolved question of his 19th studio album. Other than a surprise hit single, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which netted the singer his first Grammy and a bit of chart action, Slow Train Coming has long had a divisive effect on the diehards, not to mention the numerous biographers who have attempted to unriddle Dylan’s music over the decades. Quite possibly it remains a mystery even to the singer-songwriter-performer with the bosky beard who wrote and recorded its nine tracks two-score and four years ago.
Dylan’s 1979 winterlude doesn’t sound at all like the electrifying, elliptical, and elusive material he created a decade earlier. There is none of what Dylan once described as that “thin … metallic and bright gold” sound “like wild mercury” on his amphetamine-fuelled records from the mid-1960s. Nor is it anything like the gentle pastoral music he produced during his late-’60s/early-’70s period of Woodstock seclusion or the raw…