With Dylan’s 1974 opus “Blood On The Tracks” universally regarded as his greatest LP, at least of his post-”Blonde on Blonde” career, any attempt to chronicle his career in its aftermath has to begin in that shadow. Yet there’s an alternative way of thinking that aligns “Blood On The Tracks” not with rebirth, but with a death of sorts.
It marked the end of Dylan as a purely self-propelled machine and his awakening as a social animal, one whose choice of musicians and methods of working stepped away from the insularity that hallmarked his first 12 years of recording and into a new world of regular bandmates (as opposed to the regularity of The Band), nonstop touring and increasingly esoteric albums. And if “Desire,” the record that inaugurated this era, is to be considered the true apex of Dylan’s ’70s-and-beyond output, then the Rolling Thunder tour that accompanied it marks one of the highlights of his entire on-the-road life.
“Shelter From The Storm” is the story of that tour … another story, in fact, following the now-classic, in-person accounts by Larry Sloman and Sam Shepard. Drawing from the recollections of sundry players, but more tellingly built around author Griffin’s own knowledge of and thoughts about Dylan, it is the kind of book that sends you scurrying to your music collection in search of your cache of period bootlegs to listen to while you read.
A scrapbook of fascinating literary ephemera appears — a cassette tape that Roger McGuinn left rolling on the tour bus, capturing the conversations taking place around him. A scene-by-scene breakdown of the four-hour Renaldo and Clara tour movie (with Griffin playing editor and suggesting the scenes that should be cut in order to render the film a more viewer-friendly length); an almost frame-by-frame recounting of the NBC TV special that wrapped up the tour; and song by song accounts of the most memorable shows.
There’s a close eye focused on the recording of “Desire,” a discography of related recordings and a veritable storm of information that will keep the reader entranced for hours. In fact, the only real criticism is that Griffin’s writing takes the entire period a lot more seriously than Dylan seemed to. Replay “Desire” and rewatch the movie, and Dylan probably laughs and smiles more there than he had in the decade beforehand. Even the photos here don’t capture that.
— Dave Thompson