Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Album Review: Bob Dylan - Rough and Rowdy Ways

Bob Dylan
Rough and Rowdy Ways
** and1/2 out of *****

Even though it has been eight years since his last studio album of originals Tempest, Bob Dylan's newest record Rough and Rowdy Ways is a clear companion piece. Both albums contain incredibly sparse instrumentation, random name-dropping word play, a tribute song to a genre great (Lennon/Rodgers) and incredibly overlong meditations on topics which have been analyzed, picked over, and examined ad nauseam in pop culture (Titanic/JFK).

Also mimicking Tempest, the critics/public have wholly embraced this record and in the end, it just isn't that fulfilling of a listening experience.

There is something to be said about the greatest writer of the last 100 plus years releasing any new material. Each Dylan album of original songs should be appreciated, however, as his live events prove, his musical arraignments with his current band are invigorating, inventive, and exciting. Why those skills are not translated to a studio album is unknown. 

Had some of these interesting lyrical excursions been backed with dynamic musical offerings from the excellent players who do that nightly on the Never Ending Tour (Charlie Sexton – guitar Bob Britt – guitar Donnie Herron – steel guitar, violin, accordion, mandolin Tony Garnier – bass guitar, acoustic bass Matt Chamberlain – drums) this could be a hell of a release, but as it stands, things are musically dull.

The opening spoken word slowness of "I Contain Multitudes" discusses Edgar Allen Poe and painting nudes (among many other things) with slow weeping steel guitars and light strings as it meanders along. Continuing along these lines of dropping random cultural touch-points and slow musicality is "My Own Version of You" dragging over it's almost seven minute run time. When the Bard and band drop into electric blues of "False Prophet" and "Crossing The Rubicon" the 12-Bar Blues that Dylan swung so beautifully on Love and Theft, just grind on in joyless fashion.

Things are not completely lost, the middle of the record improves dramatically as a few of the slower songs get matched with interesting attitudes and editing. "Black Rider" is a mournful dirge that is very effective, "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" uses Dylan's harmonica work with glorious results and "Mother of Muses" restrained delivery delivers the goods. One common thread for all of these songs is they are around the four minute mark, not overstaying their welcome.

The one longer tune that works in bizarre Dylan fashion is "Key West (Philosopher Pirate)" this song seems to be a rambling ode to the unique, rum soaked southern most point in the continental USA, but there is a wobbling beneath the surface as if the muse has grabbed a hold of Dylan and he has no idea just where this Florida adventure will take him.

This track, and the album in general, feels like demos/outtakes from Tempest, this is no slight as some of Dylan's best work can be found on his outtake opus Bootleg Series 1-3, but the original record just wasn't our favorite, in fact Rough and Rowdy Ways is better overall. However, like Tempest title track, it will be hard to return often to Bob's ode to JFK, which is dull, grinding, slog of a tune. Sure, Dylan is the worlds greatest song writer, but even he can be totally off for seventeen minutes.

While it would be amazing to hear Dylan's thoughts on our current cultural situations, that is not his job these days, he has no job really, which makes this newest album a pleasant surprise in 2020, just not a major release in his historic career.
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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