September 08, 1986 12:00 PM

Bob Dylan

It’s difficult for kids born in the last 20 years to understand, but this guy wailing on their parents’ old KLH set once mattered the way Bruce Springsteen—once trumpeted as “the new Bob Dylan”—matters now. His every record release was a pronouncement of hip from on high. There are still some faithful codgers out there eager to follow Dylan around the next bend. Alas, fans will be disappointed if they figure this album blazes trails the way Bringing It All Back Home, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, Blood on the Tracks or Slow Train Coming once did. The only ground being broken here has to do with the quick burial that most of Knocked Reserves. Including only two songs written entirely by the master himself, the album does feature a strong rendition of the country-gospel standard Precious Memories. Kris Kristofferson’s They Killed Him, a frightening hymn, reminds fans that Christ has replaced the likes of Joey Gallo as Dylan’s favorite outlaw hero. Brownsville Girl was written with playwright-actor Sam Shepard; it’s a talking blues that twists perspective, layers meanings and pokes existential fun just the way Dylan used to do. Outside those tracks there is some shuffling rockabilly, some gospel-flavored sounds and the performances of Dylan’s soulful backup singers, but there’s little to sing about and much to bemoan. For instance: The record sounds as if it were engineered by a kid playing with the volume knobs. There’s not a potential hit single among the album’s songs and hence, little hope for Dylan’s commercial redemption or, more to the point, wider exposure. Dylan has never been known as pop’s Captain Hook, but it would be nice to hear him on the radio again. Then the kids might learn why they’re always being told he’s rock’s greatest writer. (Columbia)

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