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"Hard Rain" was Bob Dylan's second officially released live recording. It is taken from two 1976 concerts with the Rolling Thunder Revue. There are nine songs on the record, four of them are taken from the 5-16-76 show in Fort Worth, Texas, and the remainder are from the 5-23-76 show in Fort Collins, Colorado. The record seems to be cut-and-pasted back and forth between the two shows.

"Hard Rain" is one of Dylan's overlooked masterpieces. It was recorded at the tail end of his 1970s career renaissance, when his singing voice was at its sharpest and most expressive. Many of the selections come from "Blood on the Tracks" (1975), and the rest are radical re-arrangements of some of his more obscure 1960s work. Dylan is backed by a large band that includes former David Bowie lead guitarist Mick Ronson. The sound is best described as ramshackle. Dylan has a tendency to simply begin songs without warning, leaving the rest of the band to fall in behind him. The record is an emotionally draining experience, due to the song selection and the extreme rancor and bitterness that comes through in every note sung by Dylan, who was in the process of being divorced from his wife Sara at the time. Even a song such as "Lay Lady Lay", originally recorded as an innocuous little love song, is given a strange, lurching arrangement, and a scenery chewing vocal. In short, this record is the sound of Dylan at the height of his improvisational powers.

The tracklist:
1. Maggie's Farm
2. One Too Many Mornings
3. Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
4. Oh Sister
5. Lay Lady Lay
6. Shelter From The Storm
7. You're a Big Girl Now
8. I Threw It All Away
9. Idiot Wind

The band:
Bob Dylan--Vocals and Guitar
Mick Ronson--Lead Guitar on some songs
Scarlet Rivera--Violin
T-Bone Burnett--Guitar and Piano
Steven Soles--Guitar and Backing Vocals
David Mansfield--Guitar
Rob Stoner--Bass and Backing Vocals
Howie Wyeth--Drums and Piano
Gary Burke--Drums

The Rolling Thunder Revue also featured performances, both solo and in duets with Dylan, by Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, and Bobby Neuwirth, though none of them appear on the official recording. Bootlegs from this tour, which began in November of 1975 and ran until May of 1976, are not difficult to come by, and contain more complete versions of the concerts, with the expected loss in sound quality. One exceptional show was the 12-8-75 benefit for Hurricane Carter, at Madison Square Garden, which featured appearances by Baez, Neuwirth, Joni Mitchell, and Robbie Robertson of The Band. The 1975 shows tend to be more light-hearted than the '76 shows, though the drunkenly ferocious 1975 version of "Just Like a Woman" must be heard to be believed.

Hard Rain is probably the noisiest of all Bob Dylan's albums, recorded live in concert during his 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, at the peak of his electric rock and roll period. The Bootleg Series Volume 5, 'Bob Dylan Live 1975', is taken from the same tour, and I've heard it's much better - but alas, I haven't had the chance to find out for myself yet.

Best played at maximum volume, this album includes material off of albums from The Times They Are A-Changin' through to Desire, re-interpreted as heavy rock with yelled-out vocals and seriously amplified and often distorted electric guitar. As an album, the sound can sometimes get a little samey; but it must have been an incredible concert, and some songs work much better with the rockier slant they are given here than they did on the original album recordings - Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again stands out, and when I'm in a loud enough mood the Hard Rain version of Shelter from the Storm is my favourite ever recording of a Dylan song.

That playlist in full:

  1. Maggie's Farm
    I got a head full of ideas that are driving me insane - it's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor...
    A Dylan classic, originally from 1965's Bringing it all Back Home, Maggie's Farm is fantastic with a faster tempo, a heavy electric guitar line and shouting.
  2. One too many Mornings
    It's a restless hungry feeling that don't mean no one no good...
    Taken from his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin', this is not really remarkable for anything much besides the sheer magnitude of the makeover it gets here, Dylan's early acoustic folk-rock style making way for much yelling.
  3. Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again
    The team creature looked so baffled when I asked him why he dressed with twenty pounds of headlines stapled to his chest...
    From the relatively laid-back 1966 album Blonde on Blonde, this is great with the adrenaline shot it gets here. ROCK!
  4. Oh, Sister
    Am I not a brother to you, and deserving of affection?
    This one is taken from Desire, but despite having the album and listening to it plenty of times I didn't recognise it here - neither version has made much of an impression on me.
  5. Lay, Lady, Lay
    Whatever colors you have in your mind, I'll show them to you and you'll see them shine...
    This was never one of my big favourites, although I'm not one of the many who thinks it's a bad song, either. You can hear the audience calling out for it at the start of the previous track, but I don't think this clamourous version works as well as the rather seductive recording which appeared on Nashville Skyline.
  6. Shelter from the Storm
    Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood...
    This appeared as a sad, folksy tune with a simple guitar line on Dylan's anguished break-up album Blood on the Tracks. Here, it is transformed into pure rock and roll, full of sound and fury: Electric Dylan at his very finest.
  7. You're a Big Girl now
    Now I'm back in the rain, and you are on dry land - you made it there somehow...
    Dylan here expresses the severe difficulty he was having coming to terms with his separation from Sara Lowndes, in a song full of longing and frustration. I think the slower, thoughtful version on Blood on the Tracks works a bit better than the bustling treatment given here.
  8. I threw it all away
    I must have been mad, never knew what I had, until I threw it all away...
    Another song brimming with sadness and regret, this time coming from Nashville Skyline - I seem to be almost completely indifferent to this.
  9. Idiot Wind
    Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth - you're an idiot, babe; it's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.
    One of the world's all-time great pissed off songs, I feel like this should be perfectly suited to this album's intense, noisy style; but somehow, to my ears - and I know that not everybody agrees with me about this - it doesn't quite live up to the Blood on the Tracks original.

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