Before moving on to the review, I’d like to point out that Bob Dylan is usually not covered by Stargazed Magazine, which is of course primarily focused on heavier genres. However, since his new album contains some very raunchy blues rock that would fit right in on ZZ Top’s First Album, some of our readers might find it interesting.
After eight long years, Bob Dylan is finally back with his first full-length album of original songs since the highly acclaimed album ‘Tempest’ in 2012. Much has happened since then, Dylan has won the Nobel Prize in literature and released just about five albums worth of cover songs. The timing of him winning the most esteemed award possible for the written word, while simultaneously in abundance doing the exact opposite of writing new songs and staying current, is also typical Dylan. Always distant and always uncaring of his audience wants and needs.
So the question is; is Bob Dylan at 79 years old capable of meeting both the unrealistic expectations of his fans, whilst continuing to raise the increasingly high bar set for late-career albums as an artistic statement? The answer is, yes. ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ does not only stand tall by his great later albums like 2006’s ‘Modern Times’, it also stands tall with peak-career albums such as ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. It could easily be considered one of his best albums, and is also a new key album for understanding the Dylan myth and lore.
“I ain’t no false prophet, I just said what I said” snarks Dylan over heavy blues rock on the latest single ‘False Prophet’, seemingly alluding to his status as “voice of a generation” in the 1960’s as him just speaking his mind. The confessional tone is at is strongest in album opener ‘I Contain Multitudes’. With lines like “I fuss with my hair and I fight blood feuds/I contain multitudes” we know him as a man who entertain both trivial and serious battles. The title of the song is borrowed from the Walt Whitman poem ‘Song of Myself’, which is another clue to where Bob Dylan’s true greatness lies.
The albums penultimate song ‘Key West’ offers more explanation to his mystery in the line “I was born on the wrong side of the track/Like Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac/Like Louis and Jimmy and Buddy and all the rest.” The first part refers to the great American Beat Generation authors by their surnames, the latter part refers to American musical innovators by their first names; namely the Jazz of Louis Armstrong, the Blues of Jimmy Reed and the Rock N Roll of Buddy Holly. This is partly explained by another song on the album, ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’, which cleverly use the style of blues guitar invented by Jimmy Reed as its foundation. It’s also easily one of the heaviest songs of his career.
In the case of the other two; Buddy Holly was name-checked in Dylan’s Nobel Prize lecture as his first musical hero, and Louis Armstrong’s music is referred to in album closer ‘Murder Most Foul’. In this song lies the answer to both the skeptical and the unbelievers, as well as the followers and the fans. Like a master of the highest order, like a spirit from a higher plane of existence, Bob Dylan inserts himself into both American literature and American music history, or more specifically, he claims his place. There is no argument against him, there is nothing to say to contradict his own gospel about himself. He already admitted to being contradictory, he already admitted to being petty and hateful, but he also proved himself to be deeply nostalgic, caring and understanding of the history of his own country.
If this is his final statement, he surely made his point come across. He made himself the one true link between the American heritage of music and literature. He put Rock N Roll music right up there for the academics and the intellectuals. Right where it belongs.
Title: Rough and Rowdy Ways
Date of release: 19/6-20