Perhaps the other duo of unmentionables, besides religion and politics, is women and country. Or maybe Dylan, like his dad did so expertly before him, shows how these things are the most mentionable, the unmistakable currency with which we deal, like it or not. It is both women & country root us to the stuff of our lives: conflict, loyalty, relationship, hardship, violence, love and lust.
While it has been unfortunately advocated that all is fair in love and war, Dylan ventures into the complicated homeland where love can be warfare, and war the result of disordered affection.
This record bridges Dylan’s barebones, Rick Rubin-produced Seeing Things with T-Bone Burnett’s intense production from the Krauss/Plant Raising Sand record. Alongside Neko Case (New Pornographers), Kelly Hogan, and a throbbing, consistent upright bass, Dylan finds conveys the lonely forsakenness of exile in tracks like Everybody’s Hurting and Holy Roller’s for Love. The opener sounds the most optimistic note, a combination campfire sing-along and unconvinced praise chorus.
Dylan weaves a masterful soundtrack for troubled times, giving voice to the difficulties while sounding a call to band together:
We hold our ground.
We don’t kneel
If we go down,
We go down on our own shields.Sure, we may be inside of a “bottomless well,” these might be dire straits and we may in fact go down, but it’ll be together and it’ll be fighting. But, this fighting is not the scrappy, desperate fighting of the blaze-of-glory patriot, but the convinced loyalty of a lover. All this dejection in relationship and citizenship forges a new identity. After all “faith is believing what you see ain’t so,” and a crazy world good at making extremists. Dylan crafts hymns for this new persona, these holy rollers.
These are the ones who understand women and country best. Because they are willing to sacrifice, unwilling to be party to the deception and destruction. Underneath the mellow, chugging sounds, lies a zealous, subversive record of true protest songs.