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It was Dylan's second consecutive collection of only traditional folk songs, performed acoustically with guitar and harmonica. The songs tend to deal with darker and more tragic themes than the previous outing, Good as I Been to You.
The album received a warm, if not excited, reception from critics. Despite earning a Grammy award for Best Traditional Folk Album, it peaked at a modest #70 in the US, and at #35 in the UK.
Like its predecessor Good as I Been to You, World Gone Wrong was recorded to fulfill the terms of his January 18, 1988, contract. It would be the final album released under that contract.
In May 1993, Dylan once again held sessions at his Malibu home inside his garage studio. Recorded solo in a matter of days, a total of 14 songs were recorded without a single change in guitar strings. Marked by distortion, the recording quality was very primitive by modern standards, with very casual microphone placement and very little tuning. There were some rumors that Dylan had mastered the album from cassette tapes, as Bruce Springsteen had done with Nebraska, but those rumors have been as difficult to prove as they have been to dismiss.
Possibly influenced by the controversy surrounding Good as I Been to You, Dylan wrote a complete set of liner notes to World Gone Wrong, citing all possible sources. It had been decades since Dylan had written his own liner notes, and they were always surrealistic; these notes, while still playfully written, were actually informative.
The balance of songs in World Gone Wrong swung more towards rural blues. Two had been recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks, two more by Blind Willie McTell, one by Willie Brown, and another by Frank Hutchison. Songs popularized by Tom Paley and Doc Watson were also recorded.
In the case of "The Two Soldiers", Dylan had been performing it live since 1988. As Clinton Heylin writes, on World Gone Wrong Dylan invested it "with that classic impersonality the true traditionalist seeks."
Five songs were leftover from the sessions, including versions of "Goodnight My Love," "Twenty-One Years," Robert Johnson's "32-20 Blues," and The Carter Family's "Hello Stranger." In 2008, "32-20 Blues" and another outtake from these sessions, "Mary and the Soldier" were released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.
|Robert Christgau||A− link|
The response to World Gone Wrong was very positive, with many regarding it as superior to Good as I Been to You.
Robert Christgau gave it an A- in his Consumer Guide column published in The Village Voice. "Dylan's second attempt to revive the folk music revival while laying down a new record without writing any new songs is eerie and enticing," wrote Christgau.
Ira Robbins wrote in Newsday that "the record expresses as much about Bob Dylan's art as any collection of originals." Even music critic Bill Wyman, who dismissed Good as I Been to You, wrote that "it's a testament to his unpredictability that [Good as I Been to You] is tedious and World Gone Wrong is a signal document, a mesmerizing and sanguinary walk down the blood-soaked history of folk and blues. It also has his best liner notes since the 1960s."
Wyman was not the only critic enamored with the liner notes, which are written in strange, verbose prose. Andy Gill of The Independent wrote, "it's the liner notes that offer the most interesting aspect of the album...[With] the songs steeped in deceit, treachery, venality and despair—not to mention his sometimes slightly berserk annotations—the picture builds up of the Blues as Bible Study, a series of lessons to be interpreted." Christgau, Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune, and many others expressed their enjoyment in reading the liner notes.
Following its release, Dylan was temporarily a freelance artist. As possible promotion for World Gone Wrong, Dylan arranged for an acoustic television special to be accompanied by a live album release. Scheduled for mid-November at Manhattan's Supper Club, Dylan was accompanied by his current touring band, pedal steel and slide guitarist Bucky Baxter, guitarist John Jackson, bassist Tony Garnier, and drummer Winston Watson. After a series of rehearsals, Dylan performed four shows in front of a live audience, "invest[ing] 'Jack-A-Roe,' 'Delia,' and Blind Boy Fuller's 'Weeping Willow' with a power and passion that had been missing from a whole year of lackluster performances," wrote Clinton Heylin. In addition to songs from his two most recent albums, the group performed acoustic renditions of "Ring Them Bells" and "Queen Jane Approximately" "that spoke with all the hurt that inner voice felt when left crying to be heard."
For reasons never explained, the TV broadcast and CD planned from these performances were all scrapped. It was an expensive decision, as Dylan had paid all expenses out of his own pocket, including those for a film crew and a multitrack digital console. Everything was filmed and recorded, but the results were shelved indefinitely (and are now widely bootlegged.)
At the end of 1993, Sony signed Dylan to another contract good for ten albums. A compilation and a live album would follow, but Dylan would take four years before releasing his next studio album, Time Out of Mind, a collection of originals that won far more media attention than World Gone Wrong.
All songs are Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan, except where noted.
- "World Gone Wrong" – 3:57
- "Love Henry" – 4:24
- "Ragged & Dirty" – 4:09
- "Blood in My Eyes" – 5:04
- "Broke Down Engine" (Blind Willie McTell) – 3:22
- "Delia" – 5:41
- "Stack A Lee" (arr. Frank Hutchison) – 3:50
- "Two Soldiers" – 5:45
- "Jack-A-Roe" – 4:56
- "Lone Pilgrim" (Benjamin Franklin White, Adger M. Pace) – 2:43