Off the Record
Review by Jimmy Guterman
The Boston Phoenix — August 5, 1986
★★★ Bob Dylan, KNOCKED OUT LOADED (Columbia).
No, our Bob’s not “back,” but he does seem to be on the verse of a rapproachment with his audience. Knocked Out Loaded retains the straightforward guitar band with gospel chorus of Dylan’s recent LPs, and he avoids the nasty whine and fussy production that helped sidetrack Empire Burlesque. The first half is uneven — his take on Kris Kristofferson’s melodramatic “They Killed Him” had never be a joke — but side two is the finest 20 minutes he’s sustained in a decade. “Brownsville Girl” is a loping 11-minute collaboration with Sam Shepard that suggests that long-time Dylan fan Shepard may be able to maneuver through the twists and tight corners of the master’s idiom better than Dylan himself can nowadays. To be on the safe side, though, the master talks his way through this disarming epic, which brushes aside the cynical veneer of his more recent shaggy tales; he hero is saved by an old lover who learns of his arrest for murder from a newspaper headline and then extravagantly lies to a jury to keep her ex out of jail. Next up is “Got My Mind Made Up,” which Dylan cowrote with tourmate Tom Petty and recorded with the Heartbreakers; it suggests Bo Diddley leading a raunchy rockabilly band through “Mystery Train.” Dylan eases the album to a close with “Under Your Spell,” ending with the weary intonation “Pray I don’t die of thirst/Two feet from the well” — a nice metaphor for his latest attempts to persevere.