The result is a sound and a set of songs unlike anything Dylan or anyone else has ever done before…. The lyrics of “Sara” and “Abandoned Love” (and, for that matter, of “Isis” and “Hurricane”) could not be more perfect, but overall the triumph of Desire is musical
~Paul Williams (BD performing artist 1974-86)
Recorded in the summer lull before the first Rolling Thunder tour and released soon after it, the stand-out tracks are ‘Isis’, ‘Romance in Durango’ and ‘Black Diamond Bay’, but ‘Hurricane’, ‘One More Cup of Coffee’ and ‘Oh Sister’ are breathing down their necks.
~Michael Gray (BD Encyclopedia)
Studio E Columbia Recording Studios New York City, New York 31 July 1975 5th Desire session, produced by Don DeVito
The following night [31 July 1975], Dylan held another session, this time recording three songs. From this session, Dylan recorded the master take for “Isis” as well as master takes for “Abandoned Love” and “Sara.” Dylan’s wife Sara, the subject of the song that bore her name, also accompanied him to this session.
This song is in a moderately fast 3/4 time, in the key of B-flat major. The arrangement is based on rhythm chords played on acoustic piano, accompanied by bass, drums, and violin. The harmonic progression consists of an ostinato using the chords I-♭VII-IV-I (B♭-A♭-E♭-B♭) throughout. The lyrics are all verses; there is no chorus. The melody is in the style of a modal folk song, emphasizing the tonic and dominant notes in the scale, with leaps of a fifth in between them. The mode is Mixolydian with a major third in the harmony, but Dylan’s delivery of the melody uses a flatted third as in the blues.
The song was written and recorded during a time of separation and reunion in Dylan’s own marriage; consequently, for fans and critics the temptation to interpret it as an allegory of Dylan’s own marital difficulties is irresistible, especially since the Desire album contains the song “Sara” which is openly about their marriage and separation. Since Dylan was known to include autobiographical hints in his previous songs, this interpretation cannot be considered farfetched. “Isis” draws upon mythological themes of a male hero separating from his wife, going on adventures, and returning to the marriage, going back to the Odyssey.
Dylan did an up-tempo live version of this song with the Rolling Thunder Revue, a performance of which was included in the film Renaldo and Clara. A live Rolling Thunder version of the song was included on the compilation album Biograph, which Dylan introduces as “a song about marriage”. Coupled with the name of the album, this introduction further insinuates that the song documents Dylan’s marital tribulations.