Both the opening and closing songs of Bob Dylan’s new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, are a litany of things that have inspired Dylan over his nearly 60 years as a recording artist. While it is often hard to nail down exactly what Dylan means in a song or a line, there are times when this album sounds like Dylan could be trying to summarize his life and his art, perhaps thinking of this as a final artistic statement. But, being Dylan, nothing is ever that straightforward.
Looking back, though, is a major theme of this album, both personally (as in the opener “I Contain Multitudes”) and for society as a whole (in the album closer, the 17-minute-long “Murder Most Foul.”) Even the name of the album refers to the old Jimmie Rodgers song, “My Rough and Rowdy Ways” and Dylan’s “Goodbye Jimmie Reed” references an old blues singer. You can hear the years in Dylan’s voice, perhaps an acquired taste even at its best. But he sings with an expressiveness that gives the album a gravitas that is hard to miss.
Bob Dylan is the first artist to place albums in the Top 40 in seven(!) decades, and Rough and Rowdy Ways is a worthy successor to many of the albums (and the Nobel prize in Literature) that made him a household name in all of those decades. (Columbia Records)