At seventy-nine years old and after last releasing an album’s worth of original material eight years ago, Bob Dylan has released his eagerly anticipated new album Rough and Rowdy Ways, and in the process put to bed any doubt that the popular music legend is past it.
Since 2012’s Tempest, Dylan has gone the Rod Stewart route in releasing three albums of classic American songs with mixed results. However, the question being asked by many was would he ever record another album of original material? Thankfully, he did, and Rough and Rowdy Ways is arguably his best release since 1997’s Time Out Of Mind.
With his now long time backing band in support, a band that includes the likes of Dylan mainstays Charlie Sexton on guitar and Tony Garnier on bass, Dylan is in fine form here both musically and lyrically. Throughout the album he drifts from Americana to folk to blues rock, something that has pretty much been the template for his albums of the last twenty-five years.
Buoyed on by the epic seventeen minute Murder Most Foul, easily the longest track on this record, Rough and Rowdy Ways contains some of his most memorable song writing moments in decades and shows that despite his age he has lost none of his spark musically.
I Contain Multitudes is a lyrical tour de force showing off Dylan at his best. Only he could name check Anne Frank, Indiana Jones, and the Rolling Stones in one line of a song. Meanwhile, False Prophet is a good old fashioned down and dirty blues rocker which worked well as one of the pre-release singles.
I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself To You is for me the best song on the album and could easily hold up in a best of Dylan list. The tender melody works wonders as Dylan’s husky vocals float effortlessly along in this six minute masterpiece.
Then there’s Goodbye Jimmy Reed, the closest Dylan gets on here to his Highway 61 Revisited days and a song that would not sound out of place in 1965. It is 2020, but Dylan and the band are definitely having fun on this loose blues rock jam.
On Mother of Muses, Dylan’s vocals are stunningly good and here he sounds very much like Tom Waits, another troubadour from a now long lost era. Finally, the accordion drenched but subdued Key West (Philosopher Pirate) is the perfect way to wind down the record, allowing listeners to take in one final moment of a master at work.
At this point in time, Bob Dylan does not need to continue to release new material. Anyone would forgive him for wanting to slip quietly into retirement and out of the public eye for good, after all he has earned that right thanks to one of the finest careers in popular music, a career that is still going nearly sixty years later.
Dylan though had other ideas, and the result is this beautiful record, a record which has surprised many due to the quality of song writing on display, song writing as good as any going around at the moment.
Will this be his last album? Who knows, however, one thing is for certain, this deep into his career, Dylan still has the power and magic to deliver songs that most musicians strive their entire career to reach and that still cannot match the lyrical ability of Bob.
Oh, to have lived in a time.