Bob Dylan Countdown #157: “Lonesome Day Blues”

One of the things that sets Dylan apart from other songwriters is his willingness to veer off in many different directions within the course of a single song. Whereas most songs have a single tone, be it boastful, melancholy, happy, angry, dejected, introspective, whatever, Bob’s songs can touch on all of those checkpoints and never feel disjointed.

Case in point:  “Lonesome  Day Blues,” a fierce behemoth of a track that graces, or should I say bruises “Love And Theft.” The music here is some of the toughest ever recorded by a Dylan band. There is no levity whatsoever, just a deep, grinding blues that sinks deep into its menacing groove at the outset and dares any listeners to wallow down there with it.

It serves as an excellent backdrop for Dylan to bounce between his many moods. When he wants to speak as a conqueror forgiving his enemies, the music fits. When he moans over the loss of his family, the music fits. Basically, it’s as sturdy a backdrop as a singer lobbing stream-of-consciousness bombs could desire.

Bob also has a knack for raising the stakes suddenly in a song like this, giving it an edge that renders it impossible to dismiss as a rote blues exercise. In the case of “Lonesome Day Blues,” it comes during a verse when he is barreling down the road and blasting the car radio. Out of nowhere comes the observation, “I wish my mother was still alive.”

You don’t need to know that Bob’s mother Bessie had indeed passed away less than a year before the song was recorded to realize that this was no throwaway line. Yet he doesn’t dwell here; in the nest verse, he’s back to putting down his ex’s new lover in snarling fashion.

Dylan dares to portray the human mind in all of its scattered glory on “Lonesome Day Blues.” Is it a cohesive narrative? Not a chance. Does it feel truer than a song with a one-track mind? No doubt.


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