Bob Dylan: sixties folk legend shines on contemplative new album
Rough and Rowdy Ways is the folk legend’s first original effort in eight years
For a musician who never stops touring, the coronavirus pandemic has had a drastic effect on Bob Dylan’s craft.
The folk stalwart had been on the road since June 1988 but was forced to cancel the 2020 leg of his tour in March.
But that virus-related setback hasn’t stopped him from releasing a new album this week. Rough and Rowdy Ways is Dylan’s first album of original songs since 2012.
The 79-year-old, whose real name is Robert Zimmerman – causing him to be known as “Zimbo” at school – is a workaholic. In a nearly 60-year music career, he has released 39 studio albums, 94 singles, 50 music videos, 12 live albums, as well as 19 compilation albums, 14 box sets and he has contributed to multiple film soundtracks.
Being unable to tour has allowed Dylan to once again reinvent himself, with some of his newer songs offering rare introspection. But some of them still show his passion for telling other people’s stories. The Sixties songwriter teased fans with the release of “Murder Most Foul” in March, the 17-minute ballad that became his first Billboard number one in 58 years of recording. That track, which follows the story of the assassination of US president John F Kennedy, rounds out Rough and Rowdy Ways.
On his latest release, his distinctive yet cracked voice barely follows a melody, but fans of Dylan’s work know that’s part of the charm and it allows his famously sharp lyricism to shine through. It is little surprise that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.
The album features the troubadour’s hallmark mix of blues, rock ‘n roll and folk, with a little harmonica action in stomper “Goodbye Jimmy Reed”, a tribute to the electric blues man of the same name.
The lyrical content on Rough and Rowdy Ways has a broad remit – Dylan touches on history and politics, theology, philosophy, life and death – with some famous quotations and cultural references thrown in between.
On album opener “I Contain Multitudes”, the lyrics are dark but have a sly hint of black humour.
“I sing the songs of experience like William Blake. I have no apologies to make. Everything fluid, all at the same time. I live on a boulevard of crime,” he croons.
Later in the track, he sings: “I sail you down the river, I put a press on your head, what more can I tell ya? I sleep with life and death in the same bed.”
On the paean "Mother of Muses" he reflects more on history, saying that he could tell the stories of Elvis and Martin Luther King Jr all day.
But Dylan also reflects on what seems like his own situation. “Take me to the river, release your charms. Let me down a while in your sweet, loving arms. Wake me, shake me, free me from sin. Make me invisible, like the wind,” he sings.
As one of his best albums in decades, Rough and Rowdy Ways will surely withstand the test of time.
Updated: June 19, 2020 06:57 PM