Bob Dylan’s last album won him a Nobel Peace Prize for literature. The two that preceded it were covers from Sinatra and various artists that he admired and enjoyed as young lad growing up in Minnesota. The Tempest (2012) was the last album he released as his own original work. Rough and Rowdy Ways came out last week and now has sat with me fully as the main piece of music I have been listening to driving, cleaning and all other times I just want something on in the background. It has the introspective sincerity that most of Dylan’s album bring as well as a splendid timeliness to it, as some of his other works have had in the past, and whether that was purposeful is neither here nor there. I doubt he would even entertain the question.
Needless to say, his voice since the eighties and nineties has grown further and further away from the one that created timeless classics, such as “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Shelter from the Storm”, and many more. This is expected though from an eighty-year old, who has been singing for most of his life beginning in his adolescent talent show days. His self-titled debut album with Columbia Records came out fifty-eight years ago, so if you are coming into this one anticipating him to serenade you with an angelic voice then you’ve come to wrong place. Although the raspy gargling tone it has taken on could be taken to poorly by some, which I suppose is understandable, there must be an understanding as to why he’s held to the height that he has been steadily lingering at for over half a century: his story-telling, award winning song-writing, his cadence and sheer musical talent on the harmonica, guitar and piano. He has come to be prolific in all these area and showcases these abilities on this album, except the old harmonica, unfortunately. His proficiency though cannot be ignored.
The song “False Prophet” acknowledges his status as a living legend in the slowly fading world of rock stars from the mid-to-late 20th century. His thought provoking and well-granted transparency that are expressed in the lines “I opened my heart to the world and the world came in,” and “I go where only the lonely can go” give a gratuitous tone to a song, that generally speaking, showcases his life and attitude towards his work. Obviously, I’m speaking for the artist in this case and this isn’t an absolute. However, he continues on to call himself “The first among equals…, the last of the best,” alluding to my earlier comment of his acknowledgement of being a legend in many people’s eyes. In songs like “Mother of Muses”, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” and “Black Rider” he gives us a taste of the sweet and sometimes rough and agonizing pains and feelings that come out of love affairs and relationship that we’ve all for the most part experienced here and there in life. As always he majestically provides us with fresh nuanced perspectives that never cease to let us down.
He’s got nothing more to prove, and that is simply not the point of this album, for it is art and should be left to a subjective judgement based upon the individuals personal preferences. There are still lessons and knowledge of his perspective to be learned from, if not, at least observed. He offers a beautiful sentiment of human nature to observe and hold oneself to a standard, based on people and figures that one admires or hopes to emulate in his or her own life, especially in the song “My Own Version of You”. “I’ll be saved by the creature I create…I’ll bring someone to life, someone for real Someone who feels the way I feel”, these lines give us a glimpse into what it means to cultivate a swagger and confidence about oneself, to be an individual, think for yourself. Something he has preached and pandered out to his audience and anyone who has asked since he has been a figure in the public eye. Think of it as the mystique or allure that being Bob Dylan has in-sighted for so many.
As a whole the album runs about and hour and ten minutes long. With almost a third of this time spent on tracks like “Murder Most Foul” and “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)”, which resemble a quite recognizable Dylan ballad, such as “Hurricane” and the many other that we have come accustom to know. They tell marvelous stories of the JFK assassination and a tale of a wandering and mournful sailor. Very on brand and spectacular. He brings a smokey barroom at midnight vibe to the rowdiest songs on the album with “Crossing the Rubicon” and “Goodbye Jimmy Reed”, that are on par and finely placed, giving you the wont and desire to tap your foot on the floor along and light a cigarette to enjoy it to its full extent.
Although there will hopefully be many more to come after Rough and Rowdy Ways, this album could be seen as an exquisite final chapter of his discography. Mr. Dylan had already cemented himself in our hearts making himself immortal to an extent by leaving such a grandiose catalog of ranging types of music from folk, covers, rock and blues. He has usurped our hearts for decades spanning over multiple generations with a cornucopia of tunes that will, without a doubt, leave a lasting affect on me and many others.
“Don’t criticize what you can’t understand” ~ Robert A. Zimmerman
Listen to Rough and Rowdy Ways on whatever music streaming service you have available. You won’t regret it.