Ewan Gleadow

Album Review: Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

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Copyright: Columbia

Sixty years into the game, and still making dependable records, Bob Dylan’s latest piece, Rough and Rowdy Ways is a complete surprise. What should not be a surprise, however, is just how good it is. Another effort to tap into the blues contemplation found in his greatest works, Dylan covers a variety of tracks that showcase severe progress. A means of putting things in order, this surprise album release comes at a time when we need it most. There’s no better songwriter out there to put us in order in what has been, so far, a truly repugnant year.  

It’s the same country acoustics as his earlier records, but slower than usual. Melodic, and as Dylan leans into his twilight years persona, it makes for a strong, new style of music production. A modern pop at his older styles, the likes of Goodbye Jimmy Reed elicit fond memories of his 60s hot streak, but with a wizened, sage-like voice at the centre of it. A bittersweet reflection on the days of old, Rough and Rowdy Ways has within it quite a few charming moments that contemplate Dylan’s work on a grander scale. Crossing the Rubicon feels like the most obvious moment of self-assessment, singing of crossing the titular Rubicon, the glory days behind him, questioning how long he can go on. It’s a touching song, the slow, methodical acoustics bring out the power in Dylan’s voice with superb pride.  

The album isn’t without faults, though, an opening selection of tracks that feel like Dylan is attempting to brush off the cobwebs a bit. Lengthier tracks, something that was fairly absent from his greatest albums, but not entirely left out. Rough and Rowdy Ways is far better suited to its meditative, shorter tracks. Mother of Muses is a beautiful track, perhaps some of the best writing Dylan has offered up since his early days of freewheelin’ fun. It’s the lengthier tracks that suffer, though, not bad by any stretch of the imagination, simply lesser than what Dylan is capable of. Sophomore track False Prophet is a solid opener, a tad lengthy for its purpose and style, but amicable in its means of portraying a simple message.  

Harsh blues music from start to finish, a strong outing from one of the best in the business. We should expect nothing less, Rough and Rowdy Ways is a determined, incredibly strong release that documents the waning years of the American dream and the state of its modern affairs. With natural charisma weaving into the chords of his guitar, this album will be right at home with fans of Dylan. It doesn’t feel like a place you can start with his work; the whimsy and self-deprecating charm is lost slightly if you don’t brush up on his discography. A formidable, welcome piece from one of the best in the game, leaving his stamp on another decade of music.