Released just over 55 years ago, Bob Dylan more or less keeps his extraordinary string of albums going with the country tinged John Wesley Harding. The album cuts back on Dylan’s epic songs and instead sees most tracks clocking in at the 3-minute mark. The title track has a great bit of drumming from Kenneth A. Buttrey. Along with Charlie McCoy on bass, the album has a minimal feel than the last few records Dylan had released with just “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” stretching out over 11 verses. The haunting, “As I went Out One Morning” where the protagonist gets taken by the arm by a woman in chains is more typical of the songs Dylan released here.
The most famous song on the album is the original version of “All Along the Watch Tower”, later made more popular by Jimi Hendrix’s stunning version. The driving acoustic guitar and impassioned vocal are as powerful as the lyric, “there are many here among us/Who feel that life is but a joke”. “Down Along the Cove” sees Dylan move to piano on a jaunty track before the pedal steel guitar of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” closes out the set.
This set of Dylan songs does not quite reach the heights of his mid 60s period albums. The cracked vocals on “Drifter’s Escape” and the bluesy “Dear Landlord” are fine songs that feel like a more laid back Dylan. In all, this makes John Wesley Harding a little less awe inspiring than what listeners had become used to but one in which Dylan stays ahead of most in the musical pack of that time.