1976 saw an enormous departure in sound and lyric from ‘Blood on the Tracks’, Dylan’s 1975 release. No more confessional tracks appear on this album, no more scorned and seething lover numbers and his first folk-rock ‘finger-pointing’ song in years, ‘Hurricane’. Add to the above a smoking southwestern-Gypsy-fiddle and you have the album ‘Desire’ (with one of Dylan’s most iconic album covers to boot).
Like some precious albums where the first time you hear it, the bell is rung, the bell can never be unrung at that point. One of my go to albums for years; on my very first listen, I knew he had something here. Sort of like how Dylan knew he had a missing piece of the album’s sound when he discovered Scarlet Rivera, the violinist who appears throughout this release.
You see, before writing the album, Dylan visited the south of France on the Gypsy high holy day. He recounts: “Anyway, I stayed around and partied for a week, I didn’t sleep, did everything there was to do at least twice.” When it came time to leave Dylan recounts, “All I needed was just to stay up one more day, just to get back to the North of France, so I asked, please give me one more cup of coffee for the road. So they give it to me in a bag, I took it and headed off down.”
He was infected at that point by the musical sound of the Gypsies. It had gotten in his bones and ears. He wanted that sound for ‘Desire’ and went about looking. Some of that sound was discovered in the before mentioned violinist, Scarlet Rivera. As she was walking down a N.Y.C. street one night with her instrument in hand, Dylan spotted her and invited the young musician into his limo. Soon that night she was auditioning and blowing everyone’s mind with her strings. Soon that night she found out she would record on the album when Dylan announced she was to play with him while he was on stage at a local blues hot spot.
To be mentioned, the songs on this album are all co-written with Jacques Levy. Later revealed, ‘Joey’, a song appearing later down the tracks was entirely written by Levy himself. The result of the two intertwining their vision are songs epic in tale and cinematic in approach. The album culminates in a beautiful love song to his former wife, Sara. Overall, the album ‘Desire’, like that Gypsy music, digs in and buries in the brain with its audible bite.
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