Bob Dylan, Desire
Columbia, 1976: Bob Dylan (singer, songwriter, guitar, harmonica) with a cast of varying musicians, most of whom played on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour
The album is dominated by the two long songs: "Hurricane" at 8+ minutes and "Joey" at 10+ minutes, and talk about social consciousness and social critique, Dylan opens the album with his protest song about the treatment of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter (1937-2014). Arrested and convicted of a triple murder that occurred in 1966 at the Lafayette Grill in Patterson, New Jersey, Carter's case came to the attention of Dylan who found the case to be a case of racial prejudice/profiling, and he took up Carter's cause with this song, which roughly outlines the murders and subsequent police efforts to fabricate a case against Carter. Even though Dylan's song brought attention to Carter's case, it was not until 1985 that Carter was finally freed from jail. "How can the life of such a man, be in the palm of some fool's hand...but it won't be over till they clear his name." That finally came nine years later. I had the opportunity to meet Carter at a book signing several years later; he was quite a remarkable man for what he had lived through.
Unfortunately, what seems remarkable is that almost fifty years later we are still dealing with police-minority explosions, cases of police profiling, white juries convicting young black men.
"Joey" was another controversial song as the subject for the song was none other than Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo, a New York gangster at one time affiliated with the Profaci crime family. Dylan tells Joey's "story" in a somewhat sympathetic light of a reformed gangster (It is not really clear if that was the case.). Gallo was gunned down in a restaurant while celebrating with his family. The song is story-telling (whether it is true, accurate, false or embellished) at its best.
The other cuts on the album are no drop-off in quality. "Romance in Durango" opens with a nice line, "hot chili peppers in the blistering sun, dust on my face," and who wouldn't want to visit Mozambique after listening to Dylan's song of the same name. "Black Diamond Bay" continues the great song-writing on the album "up on the white veranda she wears a neck tie and a panama hat, her passport shows a face from another time and place, she looks nothing like that."
I think that it is maybe Dylan's best album ever, great lyrics, great harmonica, great backing musicians.