Street Legal is only nine songs long, and five of those songs have quickly jumped up my list of favorites after just a few listens. The remaining four are solid as well, though their strength is hidden a bit beneath the distracting production. I believe if this same batch of songs were rerecorded with the band and production style Dylan used in the 00’s, this album would number among his very best.
It’s a pretty great thing to discover new music by an artist you already know so well. Dylan’s discography is so deep that I’ve been unable to unearth quite a few hidden gems (hidden to me, anyway) through writing these blog entries. My appreciation for his extraordinary career has only deepened through this process.
My favorites from Street Legal include album opener ‘Changing of the Guards,’ probably the best known track on the album; yesterday’s song, ‘New Pony’; the upbeat ‘We Better Talk This Over’; and album closer ‘Where Are You Tonight (Journey Through Dark Heat).’ That one, with a vocal performance that veers in the chorus toward the passionate delivery of his Highway 61 Revisited days, keeps up the amazing run of Dylan’s stellar final tracks.
But my favorite song on this album is the centerpiece, ‘Señor (Tales of Yankee Power).’ There’s no denying that Dylan’s voice is often the biggest obstacle to enjoying his music, but sometimes he delivers a vocal performance that erases all of that baggage and reveals him as not just a great songwriter but a truly great vocalist. This song does that for me.
As for its meaning, well, your guess is as good as mine (and probably better). I read this song as nothing more or less than a southwestern fever dream, more about mood than meaning. And oh what a mood it creates.
Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?
Seems like I been down this way before
Is there any truth in that, señor?
Señor, señor, do you know where she is hidin’?
How long are we gonna be ridin’?
How long must I keep my eyes glued to the door?
Will there be any comfort there, señor?
There’s a wicked wind still blowin’ on that upper deck
There’s an iron cross still hanging down from around her neck
There’s a marchin’ band still playin’ in that vacant lot
Where she held me in her arms one time and said, “Forget me not”
Señor, señor, I can see that painted wagon
I can smell the tail of the dragon
Can’t stand the suspense anymore
Can you tell me who to contact here, señor?
Well, the last thing I remember before I stripped and kneeled
Was that trainload of fools bogged down in a magnetic field
A gypsy with a broken flag and a flashing ring
Said, “Son, this ain’t a dream no more, it’s the real thing”
Señor, señor, you know their hearts is as hard as leather
Well, give me a minute, let me get it together
I just gotta pick myself up off the floor
I’m ready when you are, señor
Señor, señor, let’s disconnect these cables
Overturn these tables
This place don’t make sense to me no more
Can you tell me what we’re waiting for, señor?