Like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, this is another Bob Dylan album that sat on my shelf for years that I had not fully listened to until this year. Moving on from the colour of the Freewheelin’ album cover, The Times They Are A-Changin’ released in 1964 features just Dylan in a workman’s shirt bathed in green sepia. It’s back to business…
There are a number of gritty stories told, the first being “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” that paints a grim picture of a father killing his staving family. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” is a sad recounting of an African American barmaid who was killed at the hands of William Zatzinger in a drunken rage. Billy went to jail but then lived until he was 69 years old. Carroll’s 9 children grew up without a mom. “With God On Our Side” goes through several conflicts with each warring nation thinking that they are in the right and that God is with them.
In the vein of the more things change, the more they stay the same. “North Country Blues” tells of struggling families in the American iron ore business losing their jobs as the work moves to cheaper South America. “Only a Pawn In Their Game” is a powerful track about the murder of Edgar Evers and how poor Caucasians are used as a pawn for white politicians to whip up anger at minorities. Such was Dylan’s reach at that time that he sang this at the March on Washington before Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The title track is the one of the classic folk songs from the 60s and another Dylan track that seems like it was written a long time before that. “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land/And don’t criticize what you can’t understand”. A simple acoustic strummed song with important words and big ideas.
More so there than on the first two albums, it is a bit easier to see why the kids would later chasten Dylan for going electric. The power of Dylan with just his acoustic guitar singing dark stories happening in their own country while others their age danced around the clock. It is often a bleak outlook and by the end it’s a bit grim but it is as essential listening today as it was back then.