Monday, September 17, 2012


This is his Royal Bobnesses 35th studio album released just a month short of the 50th anniversary of the release of his first eponymously titled debut album. That initial release seems a lifetime away, not just in musical recording terms but also in the way Bob Dylan writes, sings, records and produces his music. There isn't another artist alive who has such a breadth or work over such a long period of time, The Rolling Stones may have released their first album in 1964 but its debatable whether they have produced more than a handful of listenable songs over the past twenty five years let alone continually produced albums of quality that match their golden period from 1969-1973.

Each decade sees a 'new' Dylan in the sense that the man's voice has matured, dropped a range and acquired a depth that is hinted at in his earlier work, compare the youthful exuberance and nasal whine of  Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bringing It All Back Home - 1965) with the deeper crooner like voice we hear sing Lay Lady Lay (Nashville Skyline - 1969) to see how he could change his voice to suit the song and the mood. The Dylan we hear on this album compares favourably with any of his output over the past thirty years or so, the musicianship (as you'd expect) is extraordinary and if it's true that Dylan is a musical sponge then he must have given himself a pretty good squeeze in the writing of this album.

Whether it's the voice, the status or his age, he manages to get away lyrically with moments on this album that would sound crass were they sung by anybody even half his age. There are some dark moments on this album, one that references, in the title track, RMS Titanic (and the James Cameron film of the same name), a tribute to John Lennon (the closing track - Roll on John) and the use of Muddy Waters "Mannish Boy" riff on Early Roman Kings.

This is a warm album, an album that talks about love, life, betrayal, death, happiness - all human emotion is in here. Musically speaking Dylan is as musically relevant to the youth of today as Al Jolson was to me but he sings and plays with such wisdom and humanity that he deserves to be heard.  Is he making records for himself or his fans, whichever it is he is making a good job of it. He isn't the sort of musician that will win many new converts at this stage of his career but to his admirers he is still at the top of his game, and any songwriter that can include the line "I gonna have to take my head and bury it between your breasts," as he does on "Narrow Way" will surely attract members of younger generations.

The thing about Dylan's lyrics is that they can veer from the mundane to the profound and there's rarely a rhyming couplet anywhere. Keith Richards has always seen himself as some sort of troubadour but Bob Dylan tours, writes, tours on a schedule that would kill off lesser and younger men and he really is a throw back to the old days of the strolling musician, the direct line from the musician with the guitar on his back is as strong as ever.


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