Customer Reviews: Oh Mercy
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on December 28, 2004
Somehow I had always overlooked this cd until I read Dylan's Chronicles book. In it he describes the sessions in New Orleans that resulted in this recording and I was intrigued since I could tell that Dylan was clearly pleased with this work. Well, the cd does not disappoint. Dylan's songs are solid with a couple of real standouts including Man in the Long Black Coat , Most Of The Time and What Good Am I. The sound mix is really something with the really moody echo/phaser effect on the guitars and when Dylan blows his harmonica,though sparingly, it cuts like a knife. This may not be on the same plane as some of his masterpieces lyrically but man the sound just knocks me out.
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on October 18, 2005
Being the Mom of a Deaf kid, when I heard "Ring Them Bells" from Bob Dylan, I could not believe that there was anyone of his stature in music who cared...about the rejected in society (including many of "the normals") who don't even know that they are being used and rejected as well. But there was so much more to inspire this woman: "Political World" and "Everything Is Broken" could have been written and released right now. It is so incredibly timely: Is that not what we all appreciate today about Dylan's deserved resurgence in music and film? I have often asked over the past few years (especially): WHERE ARE THEY? The artists, musicians, poets, writers who were willing to risk it all (their money or their life) to tell the truth. This is one of Bob Dylan's most eloquent, poignant, passionate and profound releases ever. And if one doesn't get it - try this: Go to a school for the blind or the deaf; or watch poor elderly people stand on line in a pharmacy and try to decide whether they can pay for food or medicine. I hope and pray that more musicians will stand up and do more than glamorous benefit concerts and release music (without the back-up of others) about what is an enormous catastrophe of our American "culture" which has forgotten entirley - the difference betweeen...right and wrong. In the meantime, I'll just keep ringing those bells.
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on April 26, 2000
As they proved to the world in 1997 with the Grammy Award Winning smash, "Time Out of Mind," when Bob Dylan and Daniel Lanois step into the studio together, the result is a satiating taste of genius. The album explodes from the first note with two thumping classics, "Political World" and 'Everything is Broken," which recall the hyper blues of 1965's legendary "Bringin' it all back home." Ghostly flickers of brilliance follow, on songs such as 'Man In The Long Black Coat," "What Was It You Wanted," "Ring Them Bells" and "Most of the Time." The songs calmly build out of the lonely wail of an acoustic guitar or the shrill of Dylan's harmonica, into fully realized, deeply layered soundscapes, creating an atmosphere that is now expected of the brilliant Daniel Lanois (Producer of U2's The Joshua Tree and Dylan's Time Out of Mind among others). Lanois' meticulous production allows the listener to hear each nuance of sound just at the right moments. Despite this album's excellence, it proved only to be the anecdote for the superior Time out of Mind. let's hope these two return to make it a trilogy!
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on October 10, 2007
When OH MERCY came out in 1989, it was largely hailed as the second coming (or third, or fourth, but whose counting?) of Bob Dylan. But does it really stand up to the heaps of praise so many people were anxious to bestow upon the record? Well, first let's examine why the critics were so pleased by the record. A little bit of history is required to understand this album's critical reception

By 1989, when OH MERCY was released, a lot of people had given up on Dylan. Ever since 1983 with Infidels, a decent enough record but one marred by deleting the best tracks recorded at the sessions, Dylan floundered in a wasteland of rather bizarre, very dated production techniques and some just atrocious records. The overall critical consensus (one that I disagree with), finds the 1985 EMPIRE BURLESQUE a poor release. Personally, I think EB is a great record. KNOCKED OUT LOAD, DOWN IN THE GROOVE, and the live DYLAN & THE DEAD were all panned, and for good reason. The Dylan/Dead tour of 1987 was also lambasted by critics and fans alike. The shows where so shambling and Dylan and the Dead so out of it that they were barely listenable. Dylan was at his all time lowest professionally.

In steps Daniel Lanios of U2 fame. He is known for atmospheric, moody music, and, like Phil Spector, has a very definitive "sound" that he brings to all his projects, regardless of the artist. While Dylan would later on express dissatisfaction with Lanois's sound on their second collaboration, TIME OUT OF MIND, Lanois made Dylan's music sound artier and more sharply produced than it had been in decades. While the previous two studio albums had a song selection that appeared to be picked at random from several different recording sessions with different bands for each session, OH MERCY was sharp, focused, and had a cohesive feel to it that KNOCKED and DOWN were severely lacking. OH MERCY actually sounds like an album, not songs randomly picked out from different sessions spread over several years.

While Lanois helped hone the music, Dylan also rediscovered his flair for words. While he never really lost that, Dylan once again decided to prominently display his poetic gifts, and to grand display. Dylan's lyrics sound focused and forceful, singing with conviction about politics, Israel, two relationship songs and one questioning the narrator's self-worth. The rest of the material stands out as well, proving Dylan's inspiration could still ring true. "Most of the Time" is an especially devastating love song gone ary, and lyrically, though not sonically, sounds like it is cut of the same clothe as BLOOD ON THE TRACKS. Indeed, "Most of the Time" sounds like the narrators of Blood aged several years.

My complaints are three. I personally think the placement of "Disease of Conceit" ruins the running order of this, with songs 7, 8, and 9 being, at least to me, being of the same type and something of a song cycle with the mood they create. It should have been placed before "Most of the Time", which stands as one of Dylan's best "painful" songs. "Shooting Star" has a special place in my heart, it being the one Dylan song I knew back in the 1980s and 1990s, or at least was aware of it somehow. Vaguely.

As with any Dylan album, what was left OFF the album is often as revealing as what was put onto it. Dylan recorded several strong songs that, for whatever reason, he chose to cut from the final running order. The first two songs are "Dignity" and "Series of Dreams". Lanois wanted to open the record with "Series of Dreams", but Dylan disagreed. Dylan released a radically remixed version of "Dignity", remixed by Brendan O'Brien of grunge fame (produced most of Pearl Jam's work), in 1994 on his third greatest hits. The original version produced by Lanios, which Dylan did not like and would not release on OH MERCY, would appear on the 1997 soundtrack of the smash show "Touched by an Angel". Dylan has always displayed some strange choices on what he left off his albums. Listen to THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 1-3. Most of that stuff should have been issued on the appropriate album, and both "Dignity" and "Series of Drams" should have been included on this. But as another reviewer said, if Dylan wasn't willful and perverse he wouldn't be Dylan. Self Portrait stands as apt evidence for that phenomenon.

There were two additional songs, all of which would appear on Dylan's next album, that were written and recorded for OH MERCY but not released on that album. These were "God Knows," "Born in Time", songs which, especially the later, are as strong as anything that made the final cut. Unlike the other two songs, "God Knows" and "Born in Time" were released on the 1990 effort "Under the Red Sky", making up for their omission from OH MERCY.

Lanois and Dylan work well together, although this feels like a not fully realised release when compared to their next collaboration, the masterpiece TIME OUT OF MIND. OH MERCY pales to that, but as its own its worth four stars. Kind of like this was just something of a warmup to the real masterpiece that they still had in store. If the next release is like OH MERCY is too TIME OUT OF MIND, it will be his best album ever

In the end, is it what its cracked up to be? Yes and no. It's a good release, but not his best. It certainly was the light at the end of the 1980s tunnel. I feel that OH MERCY was so highly praised, along with THE TRAVELING WILBURYS, simply because it felt like Dylan was back from whatever funk he had been in, much like the critical reaction to NEW MORNING after SELF PORTRAIT. I do feel that it, along with EMPIRE and INFIDELS, makes a strong case that the 1980s weren't as bad as everyone says for Dylan.

(Just a little note: EMPIRE BURLESQUE is just as good as this is. In fact, AMG rates EMPPIRE BURLESQUE 4 & 1/2 stars while this only merits 3.

Also, outtakes to all but "Man in the Long Black Coat" and "Disease of Conceit" are circulating. Some feature different lyrics, and I actually like the outtake version of "Political World" better than the released version. An alternate version of "Most of the Time" was released in 1990 on a promotional EP)
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on June 22, 2004
I avoided this Dylan album for a long time--but eventually, when you own more than 30 Dylan albums, you end up with Oh Mercy. What a fool I was to wait! Buried in the long downswing of his catalog we find one of Dylan's tightest and most enjoyable albums. (Apparently I'm not the only one rediscovering the album; songs from it were featured in Wonder Boys and High Fidelity.)
The SACD version, though, is a revelation: with Dylan's voice lifted ever-so-slightly in the mix, we can hear how well he enunciates the clever lyrics of this album and how Daniel Lanois builds a beautiful bed for those lyrics with his crisp and classy production work. Even the regular CD layer of this hybrid offers a phenomenal improvement in clarity. If you loved the album before this, your experience will be like discovering that you've been listening to the songs through a door; now that door has been opened and you're right there with Bob and the band in all their glory. Highlights include :Most of the Time," "Shooting Star," and "Ring Them Bells," but this is one of the most consistent and listenable Dylan albums in his catalog.
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on July 30, 2004
Every Dylan fan has his own best-of list "tatooed to the back of his head" :) My all time favorites are the great 'Desire', & the monumental trilogy 'Infidels','Empire Burlesque' and 'Oh Mercy' (Well -'Knocked Out Loaded' had a few good tunes - but it's miles away...).

Two tracks stand above the rest - 'Political World' & 'Everything Is Broken', that are fast & furious Rocki'sh Masterpieces, that would fit better in Infidels' sound...

And than again, they give great contrast to the rest of the album, which is mellow and enchanting: you can actually feel the Dark, gloomy, swampy quality emenating from your speakers

as you listen to 'She's Gone With A man in a Long Black Coat'...

This Is One CD I can listen to over & over agin for hours.

Yes - It's that Good !

The production is imaculate, the singing - in it's best, everything clicks !

The great guitar sound is so distinctive - you couldn't confuse it with anything else !

So - If you're a Dylan fan - And ever plan to spend some time on a Dsert Island - (& only allowed to bring a few cd's along ...) - Go for this one first !
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on June 2, 2015
If I had to come up with a list of my top 5 favorite Bob Dylan albums "Oh Mercy" would be on it. This album represents some of the very best work Dylan has done in his long career. Released in 1989 there are many who claim this album was a come back after the albums that Dylan would release during the '80s. Many of Dylan's fans didn't care too much for the music he was putting out during that decade. That to me doesn't make sense. Yes maybe it wasn't the best period of work for him. One of my least favorite albums from that decade would be "Knocked Out Loaded" yet that record did produce "Brownsville Girl" one of his best songs. Another album, "Down In The Groove" is looked down by many fans although while not one of his best I still think was a very good recording. But really that decade also saw Dylan make records like "Infidels" and "Empire Burlesque" which are outstanding in their own right. To me "Oh Mercy" is certainly the best album from that time but not a come back album.

The major reason why "Oh Mercy" is so good is because of its producer Daniel Lanois. 8 years later Lanoius and Dylan would team up once again and make the Grammy award winning "Time Out Of Mind" album. A great effort on their part to be sure but I always thought "Oh Mercy" was the better of these two albums. The production of this record is great. The sound and feel to "Oh Mercy" seems natural. Dylan is in fine voice that really shines in some of the slower songs like "Where Teardrops Fall", "Shooting Star" and "Ring Them Bells". In a way as well this album reminds me back to Dylan's earlier career when his songs had a more political mood with songs like "Political World", "Everything is Broken" and "Disease of Conceit". In every case however the production and engineering of these songs is outstanding.

For the serious Dylan fan this is a must to include in your music collection. The same would be true for the more casual fan. I would suggest to those not familiar with Dylan this can make a good introduction to his music but don't just limit yourself to just this one album. There were many excellent albums made by Bob during the '60s, '70s and yes even the '80s as well as into the 21st century I think you will like. I certainly recommend "Oh Mercy" to get however!
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on September 19, 2005
... but one of the best albums of Dylan's career. Oh Mercy is particularly remarkable considering what came before it: two of the worst throwaway albums Dylan ever recorded (Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove) and a not-bad album sunk by poppy 80s production (Empire Burlesque). Then when fans were probably about to give up on him, Dylan hooks up with superproducer Daniel Lanois and delivers the excellent Oh Mercy. I think Oh Mercy is almost as good as Dylan's 1997 triumph, Time Out of Mind. Time out of Mind gets the upper hand because the lyrics are so direct and from the heart and there are no weak tracks. Oh Mercy can certainly be seen as a step in that direction, though. Most of the songs are haunting, even mournful, as Dylan talks about the world we live in and his failure at past relationships. There are a couple of upbeat songs to be found, however. The opening Political World is another social commentary similar to Jokerman and Neighborhood Bully from Infidels. Everything Is Broken was the first single, I believe and it's a nice radio-friendly tune, which was covered by Kenny Wayne Shepherd on his Trouble Is... album. Then at track four, we get to the real meat of the album. A set of somber, haunting songs that just knocks me flat. Ring Them Bells, The Man In The Long Black Coat, and Most of the Time are among Dylan's best songs since the Blood on the Tracks era. If the entire album could be as high quality as these songs, then Oh Mercy would be another Blood on the Tracks or Highway 61 Revisited. The album ends on a very high note - the beautiful, melancholy Shooting Star. A couple of weaker tracks keep album from be a true classic: Where Teardrops Fall, What Good Am I and Disease of Conceit. They're not bad songs, just not as good as the rest of the album. However, thanks to the great music and Daniel Lanois' production even the weaker tracks are pretty compelling.

Overall, Oh Mercy is a great album. Not quite up to Dylan's impossibly high standards, but still an excellent album and Dylan's best album since 1975's Blood on the Tracks. That is, until Time Out of Mind in 1997, anyway. Oh Mercy is a must-own album for any Dylan fan except for beginners. You'll want to get all the '60s albums and Blood on the Tracks first.

By the way... regarding the rating, I'd actually give Oh Mercy 4 and 1/2 stars, but Amazon won't allow that.
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on October 4, 2004
This is the first Bob Dylan CD I ever bought and kept and I bought it the year it came out. Strangely enough, some local radio show in Northern California played a track off of it--Everything is Broken. I knew almost nothing about Dylan at this point. 2 years before, during high school, during I had ordered a Greatest Hits CD from BMG only to return it along with all the others. I had given only a couple of listens and never got around to apprectiating or understanding Dylan, though I was aware of "Like a Rolling Stone" and a couple of other famous songs. When I went out to buy "Oh Mercy", I had decided my real exploration of Dylan would begin. Amazingly, like almost all of Dylan's albums, I didn't exactly like it that much the first time I listened to it. (not unlike my first listens to a Miles Davis or Coltrane CD) But it has grown on me over the years immensely and I'd put it among my top 5. It's unlike anything else he's done. I agree with someone who mentioned the "space" in these songs. It is a space not only created by the subtly atomospheric production, but also by the songs themselves, the pauses in them. Some of my favorites are: "Ring Them Bells", "Man in the Long Black Coat", "Shooting Star", "Most of the Time", "Everything is Broken", "What Good Am I", "What Was It You Wanted". I agree with those that say that this album could and should have been even better if the track selection had been different. I think a lot of Dylan albums could have been better for the same reason. One of these days, I'm going to make my own "Oh Mercy-Reconsidered" CD, but there are no tracks here that I would give up--I would just add to it. Even Disease of Conceit has its power--though I do understand the complaints against it. I'm not one of those that feels that Dylan's 80's work is mostly shoddy. I feel that if you have an open mind and you look for it, you will find treasures that even surpass his 60's work--though obviously in the 60's, the man was possessed like no else has since, including himself. However, I'll have to admit that an openess to Jesus and the New, as well as the Old Testaments--and also ownership of "the Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3" is required to reach this estimation. The songs here are not as strong for their word play or their poetry in the 1960's sense. They are strong for a different reason: The music, the melodies, and the mystery. This is an album tinged with a hidden, subtle, but deep spirituality. I agree with those that have said that this is a beautiful CD. It is. You should get it and give it a chance--even if you're not a Dylan fan. If you are a Dylan fan and don't have this--you will be rewarded. It's yet one more aspect of the artist in display and it you won't get this glimpse of him from any other CD of his that I am aware of. "Man in the Long Black Coat" is a haunting song. It's mysterious, evasive, a little scary, very evocative. I don't know if it's the first time it's done--probably not--but when he turns the metaphor "To beat a dead horse"--into a literal statement--the effect is scary delight:

There's smoke on the water, it's been there since June,

Tree trunks uprooted, 'neath the high crescent moon

Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force

Somebody is out there beating the dead horse.

She never said nothing there was nothing she wrote,

She gone with the man

In the long black coat.

Edgar Allan Poe would have liked this song!

Some lines that get me from "Shooting Star":

Listen to the engine, listen to the bell

As the last fire truck from hell

Goes rolling by, all good people are praying,

It's the last temptation

The last account

The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount,

The last radio is playing.

Seen a shooting star tonight

Slip Away.

Dylan's delivery is stirring. If you're not a Dylan fan and have been told Dylan can't sing--this little known song will show you how unique his vocal talent is: There's simply no one else who could deliver these lines this way in a native sense--they'd have to be trying to imitate him to deliver them this way. Of course, for fans, there are countless examples of his gift--the way that meaning, melody, phrasing and delivery are wonderfully wedded. But "The last radio is playing"--What an image!--and what a way to follow up: "last time yo might hear the sermon on the mount".
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on April 10, 2005
I think I bought Oh Mercy when it first came out, probably my first Dylan purchase. I have since bought lots of his other cd's, and I like them all for various reasons, but Oh Mercy still has to rank as my favorite. It may not have the historical impact of "Blonde on Blonde", "Highway 61 Revisited" or "Blood on the Tracks", but the songs on "Oh Mercy" really speak to me. I love the way the cd kicks off with "Political World" ("your houses are haunted, your children aren't wanted, your next day could be your last"), slows down with "Where Teardrops Fall", and back at it again with "Everything is Broken" ("broken hands on broken plows, broken treaties, broken vows"). I like that little 4 beat drum thing at the end of Everything is Broken. I didn't care much for "Man in the Long Black Coat"("there's a soft cotten dress on the line hanging dry") at first, but after a while the imagery really grew on me. I love the "love-and-lost" of "Most of the Time" ("she ain't even on my mind, I wouldn't know her if I saw her, she's that far behind"), the plaintiveness of "What Good am I?". I love that he would end this gem of a cd with a gem of a song "Shooting Star"("was I still the same, had I ever became, what you wanted me to be?"). All in all, just a wonderful cd.
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