In his last album before a three-year hiatus of near-inactivity, Dylan steps back into the more serious territory of John Wesley Harding
That's not to say he acts as if Nashville Skyline
and Self Portrait
never happened: the diverse, lightweight roots/rock sound with a more notable country flavour of those two records is present most of the time here. But it adds that simple musical style to the rambling piano chord sequences and introspective lyricism of John Wesley Harding
in a way where this album could be a continuation of any one of those three albums, without feeling like there's a missing link inbetween.
So New Morning
could've come out in 1968, in late 1969, or when it actually did, and still feel like a natural progression in Dylan's catalogue. Where it adds to them is that (a) the thoughtfulness of the lyrics is no longer focused on complex allegories, but rather on relatable topics of love, family, home life, religion, and even death, and (b) there are a number of other genres thrown into the mix, like Gospel, country waltz, Jazz, and even Jewish prayer music(!).
In general, those themes are interconnected by a feeling of searching for them, as if Dylan had lost his way and was seeking answers on how to balance those that he desired and how to avoid succumbing to fears of those he did not. That kind of 'lost' vibe is perfectly complemented by the ever-present piano, which more often than not sounds like Dylan strung together some random chords with no logic, yet are made coherent thanks to the melodies.
Of course, the way I describe it might make the album seem very stripped down, which is hardly the case. There's plenty of guitar playing - both electric and acoustic - there's some great drumming at times, there's even plenty of organ, and I swear on a couple of tracks there are brief moments of orchestration (although in the credits the closest to that is Al Kooper contributing French horn). One thing that's somewhat surprising is the near-absence of Dylan's harmonica, which only appears once.
by Reviewer: Mr X Music Reviews
(blogging at When the Music's Over