This is better. This album feels like we’ve come out of a long, dark night post-Blonde on Blonde. Bob’s grating, nasal voice is back. The songs (most of them) feel like genuine efforts at fresh and original folk rock. “If Not for You,” the lead track, is a wry, snappy variation on idealized love. The second track, “Day of the Locusts,” comes quick and heavy with the upright piano, an instrument that takes a more central role in this album than even the guitars. “Winterlude” is odd in waltz time and tempo while “If Dogs Run Free,” with its bebop vocals laid overtop a spasmodic piano, attempts a beat-jazz affect. To my ear, for a man whose influence ripples into virtually every western musical genre, these stylistic imitations fall flat.
But the title track is as good and expressive a proclamation of resilience and perseverance as you’ll find. I listened to it first yesterday morning at 7 am, the sky gray and brightening. I was on my way to the bus stop and caught myself mouthing the chorus: “On this new morning / New morning / New morning with you.” Dylan’s laid back here, carefree like a man whistling down the street in a seersucker suit. We caught him in a good mood, happy in love.
There are some outstanding songs here, not the least of which is “The Man in Me,” later included in The Big Lebowski. For that movie, it was a perfect fit, its vocals ranging and pleading like the characters sleuthing all over L.A.; its organ, piano, and guitar (the ensemble cast) erupting into a funky interplay while the female vocalists wail steadily behind; the “la la la”s and the refrain portraying deep emotions concluding in a quirky twist:
Oh what a wonderful feeling
Just to know that you are here
Sets my heart a-reeling
From my toes up to my ears
Do I get this album? To me, it’s Dylan the family man, matured and making a comeback. Do I need to have heard the previous albums to get it? Yes, because otherwise I wouldn’t appreciate the extent of this bounce-back album. Do I like it? Without a doubt, it’s a new morning.