Maybe someone should remind Bob Dylan that he has nothing
left to prove. After more than forty albums, the 65-year old ever-touring
legend sounds as restlessly innovative as the up-and-coming folksinger
who broke out of Greenwich Village and conquered the musical universe
in the mid-1960s.
Or, maybe, we should enjoy the twilight years of a man whose
career and body of work had no precedent, and may never be equaled.
Modern Times, Dylan's newest record, follows 1997's Time
Out Of Mind and 2001's Love And Theft, two records
that drew near-unanimous approval from fans and critics. Although
Dylan never lost his credibility, even the most faithful hadn't
predicted he would storm back with three records more inspired
than anything he'd released since Blood On The Tracks.
The album is more cohesive than either of its predecessors, and
slow ballads and earthy blues melt into a reflective meditation
on life, love, and passing time. Dylan cuts down on the tongue-in-cheek
jokes and asides he scattered throughout Love And Theft,
but the veil of mystery that has become his trademark is firmly
in place. Still, even at their most impenetrable these songs remain
warm and personal.
The result is an album that falls halfway between Love And
Theft and the emotion and heartbreak of Time Out Of Mind.
Set against soft, insistent rhythms, Dylan offers hypnotic ballads
that seem neither contemporary nor outdated, and then switches
gears on high-energy, traditional blues numbers that echo Love
And Theft's "Summer Days" and "Lonesome Day
It's the ballads that truly shine, particularly "When
The Deal Goes Down" and "Workingman's Blues #2."
Like it does on the rest of the album, the weight of Dylan's
own mortality hangs on these songs. "When The Deal Goes
Down" sounds like a hymn he might sing on his way to the
next life, and rather than suggest suffering it hints at redemption.
"Workingman's Blues #2" could be the album's best
song. Telling a story as heartbreaking as the song's title,
Dylan again shows his ability to fashion beauty from pain.
Although the record's influences go back further than most of
us can remember, and although Dylan doesn't struggle to update
his sound, his role as an elder statesman makes the record relevant.
His grizzled rasp bears little resemblance to his '60s snarl,
but it adds experience and wisdom. On Modern Times, it
holds us captive through ten lengthy songs.
Somehow, Dylan's 44th album is just as visionary as his first.
He continues to move forward, keeping an eye on the past, and
drawing his influences and his innovations together to create
records that are nothing if not unique. Modern Times may
not rival Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde On Blonde,
but it's an excellent album, and it feels timeless and complete.
1. Thunder On The Mountain
2. Spirit On The Water
3. Rollin' And Tumblin'
4. When The Deal Goes Down
5. Someday Baby
6. Workingman's Blues #2
7. Beyond The Horizon
8. Nettie Moore
9. The Levee's Gonna Break
10. Ain't Talkin'
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