Down in the Groove (1988)
Another unproduced album on par with Knocked Out Loaded. I give this the slight edge only because it is more listenable on average, even though they are both pretty bad. On Knocked Out Loaded there is only the one real highlight, while here both folk covers, “Shenandoah” and “Rank Strangers To Me,” are pretty good, while “Silvio” is kind of charming. This is perhaps Dylan’s most hodge-podged effort. There are a couple of originals, though mostly from other products – “Death Is Not the End” was recorded for Infidels (and wisely left off) and “Had A Dream About You, Baby” is an alternate take of the song which was recorded for Hearts of Fire, a 1987 feature film starring Dylan, Rupert Everett and Fiona. Other songs were a result of Dylan touring with the Grateful Dead in ’87, a tour which produced what many feel to be Dylan’s worst live album, Dylan and the Dead. During the tour, Robert Hunter managed to convince Dylan to write music to accompany two sets of lyrics that the Dead had rejected as not good enough, “Ugliest Girl in the World” and “Silvio.” Despite these misgivings, it manages to be a little more focused than Knocked Out Loaded and is less produced than anything since Shot of Love, which is nice for a change. Some songs were recorded with Down In the Groove in mind, though, and two of those, covers of Slim Harpo’s “Got Love If You Want It” and Gene Vincent’s “Important Words,” were only included on South American pressings.
Best song: Shenandoah – Just a simple, rather pretty version of this classic ballad about a forbidden affair between a white man and an Indian maiden whose tribe disapproves.
Worst song: Death Is Not the End – Mostly, it is the horrific background vocals, provided by R&B legends Full Force (who started with hip-hop pioneers like UTFO and have had continued success working with Britney Spears, Rihanna and Black Eyed Peas, among others), that make this otherwise lifeless ballad groan interminably.
Best outtake: Got Love If You Want It – Best is a relative term, as this song still pretty much sucks. The song is about as basic as you can get, and so is this cover, but at least it’s kind of catchy.
Notable live version: Silvio – “Silvio,” the song which always gets picked to represent this wreck of an album on greatest hits compilations, spent many years as a live staple that allowed Dylan’s guitarists to warm up and stretch out.