Has Bob Dylan made the best album of his 60 plus year career?
Universal acclaim for his 39th album released today, Rough and Rowdy Ways suggests if not the best, it’s very close. It definitely stands equal to his best four recent originals, Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, Modern Times and it’s much more than a belated sequel to 2012’s Tempest. No point in comparisons as it’s totally different to anything Dylan has done before.
After an eight year gap of original releases, the 17 minute opus Murder Most Foul was dropped in March without warning amidst the worst of the world wide Covid 19 pandemic. A most unlikely number one hit on the Billboard chart, it was a perfectly timed song for the age we live in. Excitement grew steadily within the hearts of Dylan enthusiasts world wide. Could there be a new album coming this year.? The two songs that bookend the album, I Contain Multitudes and Murder Most Foul are in many ways the keys to Rough and Rowdy Ways.
Rob Sheffield in his Rolling Stone review states “ the tone for the whole album , set by Murder Most Foul is an hallucination of American history as a juke box, a late night musical tour of the Desolation Row where we find our selves right now.”
Bob Dylan has nothing to prove. These 10 songs contemplate life and the human condition… good and evil. His years of singing songs from the Sinatra songbook have done wonders for his voice. It’s also had an influence on the writing of these songs. It’s the voice of a 79 year old man but this voice has never been stronger or clearer…no matter what some may say you can hear every word.
This is an album that you need to live with. With every listen it goes deeper into your conscienous and seeps down into your bones. Many of the songs are hypnotic and trance like meditations, gentle and beautifully constructed, and you couldn’t imagine them being sung by anyone but Dylan. A perfect fit.
Mikal Gilmore explains ” There’s an especially beautiful track called Mother of Muses, and though a muse is an inspiration – often a mysterious or mystical one – muse is also a verb, meaning to ponder, meditate. This is an album of musing – just about every moment, on a sustained level more than Dylan has managed on any prior album. Musing, of course, isn’t necessarily content, though it’s such a continuous means on this record that it not only frames but also at times forms- that is , becomes- the content. It all makes for a matchless achievement by an artist, who, at 79, has made something new under the sun, a remarkable apex. I can’t really measure Rough and Rowdy ways against anything Dylan has done before because this is something Dylan hasn’t done before. This album takes you into a trance and when you come out you you’ve been places you’ve never been before.”
In the New York Times Douglas Brinkley summed up the album. “Rough and Rowdy Ways covers complex territory; trances and hymns, defiant blues, love longings, comic juxtapositions, prankster word play, patriotic ardour, maverick steadfastness, lyrical cubism, twilight-age reflections and spiritual contentment. “
The ten songs roughly fall into two categories. False Prophet (track 2) My Own version of You (Track 3), Black Rider (track 5), Good bye Jimmy Reed (track 6) and Crossing the Rubicon (track 8) are bluesy, rollicking songs covering familiar thematic territory. Themes of Love and Death with Dylan’s often missed sense of humour at the ready. The remaining songs I contain Multitudes (track 1), I Made up my Mind to give myself to you ( track 4) , Mother of Muses (track 7) , Key West (track 9) and Murder most Foul (track 10) are slower, quieter spoken -sung and deeper contemplations on his life and his place in the world. In these songs the lyrics stand front and centre and the music envelops you and gives hypnotic feels and trance like support.
Patrick Ryan wrote in USA Today , “ But somewhere in the tangents, he always finds truth. ‘I contain Multitudes, the album’s opening track, is among the most disarmingly beautiful song of Dylan’s six-decade career. Likening himself to Anne Frank , Indiana Jones and the Rolling Stones in the same breath, the elusive songwriter explains how he’s a man of contradictions. ‘ I paint landscapes and I paint nudes’, he speak-sings over gentle acoustic guitar. ‘ I contain multitudes’. For fans, it’s a melancholy but comforting assurance that in the twilight of his life, we still have a lot more to learn from Dylan.”
What an amazing experience it would be to hear this album performed live in it’s entirety. Bob hasn’t done that since 1979 with Slow Train Coming.. we’re hoping he feels it’s time to do it again with Rough and Rowdy Ways.
Bob Dylan enthusiasts. Lorne Victoria