Chapter 16
John Wesley Harding (1967)

THERE ARE THREE general remarks to be made about this album. One is the consistent use of the capo. Several of the songs (John Wesley Harding, All Along the Watchtower, The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, As I went out one morning, I pity the poor immigrant), are played with the capo around the fifth fret, which produces the high, ringing guitar sound that is so typical of this album (if it’s successful is another question: it also creates a very thin, open sound-scape, with the bass and the guitar far removed from eachother and from the drums – they all stand very much alone; maybe he should have gone back to the studio and added some tracks with the Band as he originally planned).

The other is the very simple chord progressions in many of the songs (The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, The Drifter’s Escape, The Wicked Messenger, not to mention All Along the Watchtower). That these songs nevertheless stand out as some of the most effective on the album is a testimony of Dylan’s superb singing on this album.

His harmonica work is also outstanding. A year of wild touring with the Band may have come close to killing him, but his harp playing certainly became more expressive – and this is the only album where it shows directly, IMHO.

One song stands out – in the negative sense: the title track. It was what kept me from buying the record for several years.