Friday, September 12, 2014

oh mercy

Bob Dylan rang them bells and found a new voice with the broken blues of this affected absolution.  Although his previous two albums ('Knocked Out Loaded' and 'Down in the Groove') had been critical and commercial disappointments, the surprise success of  'The Traveling Wilburys, Vol 1' had given the music legend a new appeal.  He began work on his next album 'Oh Mercy' with producer Daniel Lanois upon the suggestion of Bono from U2.  

Lanois looks back:    "When the invitation, or should I say the suggestion, came to work with Bob Dylan, I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to him. I put a lot of thought into what the record-making process should be like. First and foremost, I wanted to see to it that I could build a classic for Bob and to serve a national treasure well. I thought that the album should be one that he could expand on and then move forward to the next one. That's the responsibility I felt.  I'm not a career builder, I'm a record maker. I didn't have visions of accolades or Grammy Awards or any of those things. I simply view myself as somebody who wants to do good work. With Bob, I wanted to make sure that his voice was captured powerfully, rendered with sincerity, and be viewed as great as it ever was. I knew that I wanted the center to be big. That was the challenge in the back of my mind.  He's a hard worker. There's not a lot of dilly-dallying in the world of Bob Dylan. He gets down to it. All he needs is a copying machine, a chair, a guitar and a piano. He understands that if it doesn't come from him, then it's not going to come from the people around him. I knew that I was only there to enhance what he did. I acted as a bodyguard to his music.  The thing you have to ask yourself is, 'What does a guy like Bob Dylan need?' Here's a man who has everything, who's done everything. Well, he needs a friend and a curator, a guy who will say, 'Bob, this one is better than that one. This one is really great – let's do it.' A friend is what he really wants from somebody who works with him. I was so happy to be that friend to him on two counts...With the first album, 'Oh Mercy' , I went to Bob's house, and he played me some songs on the piano. He didn't play them all the way through. He played maybe four or five lines and he'd say, 'What do you think? We got a song?'"

The sessions for 'Oh Mercy' took place at a Victorian Mansion on Soniat Street in New Orleans, where Lanois had created a recording studio.  Dylan would reflect in 'Chronicles':  "There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better. There’s a thousand different angles at any moment. At any time you could run into a ritual honoring some vaguely known queen. Bluebloods, titled persons like crazy drunks, lean weakly against the walls and drag themselve through the gutter. Even they seem to have insights you might want to listen to. No action seems inappropriate here. The city is one very long poem. Gardens full of pansies, pink petunias, opiates. Flower-bedecked shrines, white myrtles, bougainvillea and purple oleander stimulate your senses, make you feel cool and clear inside."

'Oh Mercy' features Bob Dylan on vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica, 12-string guitar, and organ;   with Malcolm Burn on tambourine, keyboards, mercy keys, and bass guitar;  Rockin' Dopsie on accordion;  Willie Green on drums;  Tony Hall and Larry Jolivet on bass guitar;  John Hart on saxophone;  Daryl Johnson and Cyril Neville on percussion;  Daniel Lanois on production, mixing, dobro, lap steel, guitar, and omnichord;  Alton Rubin, Jr. on scrub board;  and Mason Ruffner, Brian Stoltz, and Paul Synegal on guitar.  Engineer Mark Howard remembers:  "When we started on 'Oh Mercy' because Dylan and Lanois hadn’t met before, and didn’t have a working relationship. It was slightly uncomfortable for the first two weeks. Dylan was being a bit snotty, and Dan has this ability to be over-excited about things. That’s how Dan likes to work sometimes: he hypes people on their performances, and that makes them excited too, and then usually it brings out even better performances. Well, that didn’t work with Dylan. So it took a little smoothing out. If you’ve read what Dylan says in Chronicles about it, that’s pretty close to what happened.   For the first two weeks, Bob was just strumming, not making chords, just kind of sloppily playing, and Dan was politely putting up with it: 'Yes, yes, that’s okay.' Dan would try to get things out him. He’d say, 'Oh, we did this mix earlier this afternoon - ' And Dylan would cut in, 'I don’t even wanna hear it. I only wanna hear stuff done at night.' He had this night rule. I later noticed, on Time Out Of Mind, that kind of night rule became a theme on that record, too. You’d roll in about four or five o’clock, and then do the whole evening thing. And we’d get a lot done during those periods."

'Oh Mercy' was embraced by fans and critics alike and charted around the world, going to number thirty in the US, twenty-six in Australia, and six in the UK.

"Political World"

'Oh Mercy' 
full album:

Side one
"Political World" – 3:43
"Where Teardrops Fall" – 2:30
"Everything Is Broken" – 3:12
"Ring Them Bells" – 3:00
"Man in the Long Black Coat" – 4:30
Side two
"Most of the Time" – 5:02
"What Good Am I?" – 4:45
"Disease of Conceit" – 3:41
"What Was It You Wanted" – 5:02
"Shooting Star" – 3:12

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