Rough and Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan, always sitting pretty at the top of the songwriter tree, has delivered us an album definitely of its time. Not one to deliver us random old tunes and musings during this time of social distancing, Dylan instead dropped three new tracks online. Nestled within a global pandemic, panic, violence, protests on the streets, and an impending presidential election, its timing and importance cannot be denied.
Dylan’s thirty-ninth studio album is also his first collection of original songs in eight years. That these tracks are new in no way diminishes the quality. He quotes historical figures, and references pop culture, places, cinema, song and literature – and gives us ten tracks of legendary Dylan who sounds like he’s just starting all over again.
Some of the tracks, such as the seventeen-minute ‘Murder Most Foul’ and the much shorter ‘I Contain Multitudes’, are practically spoken word poetry with a background wash of incidental music. ‘False Prophet’ is more of a rhythm and blues shuffle. It draws inspiration and elements from a 1954 blues number from Billy ‘the kid’ Emerson. As a side note, the image accompanying the track on YouTube shows a person with a skeleton for a face and a shadow whose outline bears a striking resemblance to one D. Trump. Listen and judge for yourself. This is a double album in which ‘Murder Most Foul’ takes up a whole disc.
Dylan has often sung with a menacing tone while at the same time telling tales of impending doom, always bringing us one step closer to world’s end. However, his trademark wit and turn of phrase adds a levity that balances out the rage.