26 September 2023

Rough And Rowdy Ways

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Reviewed by Ian Phillips.

By Bob Dylan, Sony Music 2020.

Mr evergreen himself Bob Dylan has released a new album and his song writing capacity seems to be undiminished by age.

He’s assembled a great group of musicians who have played on most of his recent albums and they are masters of the understated.

No flashy guitar solos, twinkling fingers on the ivories, no extended and egotistical indulgencies, just good tight unpretentious playing.

It often takes more skill to play as little as possible and that’s just what Dylan wants.

Play only what’s necessary but make each and every note count.

For some time Dylan has been mining the extensive American musical heritage finding new ways of exploring familiar themes, tunes and melodies.

Sometimes this has resulted in albums that contain songs that you’re sure you’ve heard before but, try as you may, you can’t find the originals because in most cases you’re listening to them for the first time.

This album of 10 new songs presents Dylan at his enigmatic best.

The tunes are often strangely familiar but the lyrics are as potent as ever.

The opening song, I Contain Multitudes, really sums up the man himself.

Dylan is the only songwriter to win the Nobel Prize For Literature and his songs really are complex short stories that just happen to rhyme and are sung.

They are lives and universes in miniature.

He’s also an enigma.

It’s said that you never know what you’re going to get from a Bob Dylan concert and that’s certainly my experience.

On occasions I’ve floated out of the arena sure that I’ve just witnessed genius at work.

On other occasions he’s seemed totally disinterested.

I suppose that when you are Bob Dylan you know that you can’t please all the people all the time.

Dylan has an amazingly productive imagination fuelled by an impressive intellect and encyclopaedic knowledge.

And Dylan’s vocal style means that despite his age he still presents his songs well.

His husky, half sung half spoken, vocal presentation is an instrument that he’s shaped and mastered over a lifetime, much like Tom Waits.

Gone is the strong nasal twang of some of his early work instead there is a mellowness that comes with age and experience.

It’s understated rather than strident, in keeping with his songs and his legendary status.

A few stats: 39 studio albums, 12 live albums, 19 compilations, 14 box sets… He’s done it all.

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