Picks and Pans Review: Oh Mercy

updated 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Bob Dylan

After years of floundering on his own, Dylan has finally reached out for help, and the result is his most trenchant album in more than a decade. For too long, Dylan has been issuing slapdash affairs. Their raw urgency could not excuse his egregious sloppiness. On Oh Mercy he collaborates with producer Daniel Lanois, who has worked with Peter Gabriel, U2 and others. Lanois's economical but evocative production gives Dylan's music a gratifying focus and texture.

Mason Ruffner and Brian Stoltz contribute some wiry guitar work, while Lanois adds yeast with his own Dobro, lap steel and omnichord playing. The hard-bitten demi-boogie of "Political World" and "Everything Is Broken," a chugging meditation on entropy, sound like songs, not outtakes from some bleary 3 A.M. jam session. Dylan's writing is notably improved, as on the smoky Western ballad "Man in the Long Black Coat" and on the cadenced self-examination of "What Good Am I?" Oh Mercy cannot be compared with the artist's classic work, but it is a far, far better thing than he has created in recent memory. (Columbia)

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