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Bob Dylan – Rough And Rowdy Ways

June 29, 2020

At 79 Bob Dylan remains relevant as ever on his 39th studio album. After an 8 year dalliance with the Sinatra songbook, he returns with an inspiring collection of new original material. It is yet another masterpiece in his catalog – an amazing feat.

First, let’s talk about his voice. It has never been conventional and it has never been pretty, but it has always been uniquely perfect for his material. The voice on Rough And Rowdy Ways has been conditioned on the Sinatra material of the last several years and sure enough, it is perfect for the material. It is elegantly creaky and balancing on the razor’s edge of gravitas and humor. It is filled with nuance and is totally original – a voice that would make Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits proud. I find it oddly beautiful.

Dylan signaled he had yet another rabbit up his sleeve when he ambushed us with a fantastic 17-minute single in late March. If all he released this year was “Murder Most Foul” I would have been satisfied. He squeezed out two more quality singles and then dropped Rough And Rowdy Ways. The album does not have a bad song and there several total gems:

  • The aforementioned “Murder Most Foul” which you could spend the rest of your life untangling – a reference and allusion marathon.
  • Dylan creates his Frankenstein with “My Own Version of You.”
  • “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” a gorgeous love song both lyrically and musically – or is it? It could just as easily be a peaceful surrender to death.
  • The jaunty “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.
  • “I Contain Multitudes” – the last words of a dying man, or not.
  • The slow blues and mystery of “Crossing the Rubicon.”
  • “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” another long song that starts with a presidential assassination, but then flips into a meditation on Key West and self-reflection

Bob Dylan and his band have perfected their sound for twenty years now. They embraced the Sinatra songbook with their mix of Americana and blues and made those classics bend to them. That adventure prepared them to meet these songs. The arrangements are perfectly matched to the lyrics and Dylan’s vocal delivery.

It is intriguing to me that his last masterpieces, Time Out Of Mind and Love and Theft followed a fallow period reliant on cover songs. I guess the bard needs to recharge his batteries every once in a while. This is a deep and rich masterpiece, if this is Dylan’s last, it is a great way to go. But he throws it off so gracefully, he could go on like this forever. Thanks for one more Bob.


From → Music Reviews

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