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Musically speaking, Bob Dylan has nothing left to prove, and hasn't had for a good many years. Nobody has expected him to make a really groundbreaking album for the last thirty years or so. Since the 1970s his new releases have differed widely in quality, from the forgettable to the unexpectedly good. In my view, 'Modern Times', his 44th 'new' album (excluding compilations and live sets), comes into the latter category. During summer 2006 it made history by making him the oldest performer ever to top the US album chart with a new recording, and with a peak UK position of No. 3, came close to doing so over here. (He did so in 2009 with the subsequent 'Together Through Life', by the way).
The songs aren't madly original, it must be admitted, and you've got to raise an eyebrow or two - or at least admire his cheek - when he claims authorship of all ten, including the old blues standard 'Rollin' and Tumblin''. (Still, on 'Dangerous', Michael Jackson copped a bit of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on a song he then tried to pass off as his own composition, and Led Zeppelin ripped off some of the old blues guys in their early days. They all do it). But if you don't pitch your expectations too high, and accept this as a pleasant meander into the musical territory that is blues-meets-easy listening and soft jazz, I think you'll enjoy it. The vocal rasp which slightly overshadowed his previous album, 'Love and Theft' has mellowed out, to be replaced by what is best described as a gritty crooning. The musicians never overplay their collective hand, but are content to provide a gentle rolling backdrop to the songs. Also every track is fairly long, with the shortest finishing at a pinch under five minutes, and the longest close to nine. The feeling is that the band just let the songs flow naturally, rather than attempt to compress everything into short radio-friendly bite-size chunks.
'Thunder on the Mountain' opens with an interesting slow jazzy intro on guitar before meandering off into a jaunty 12-bar blues, punctuated with a few lead guitar breaks here and there. 'Gonna sleep over there. That's where the music's coming from. I don't need any guide, I already know the way,' he sings. That says it all - and he should know after all this time.
'Spirit On The Water' is a soft jazz shuffle, that ends in a laid-back harmonica break, light years away from the frenetic blowing which you frequently associate with the man, especially on the earlier stuff. It culminates in a rather nice little jazz passage between guitar and double bass that suggests a degree of discipline and working with the other musicians which he hasn't always been noted for in the past.
'Rollin' and Tumblin'', notwithstanding his claiming the authorship, really is the goods. I've heard and loved several versions of the song (the late 1960s one by Canned Heat probably being my favourite), but this is as good as any, or almost - or at least comes close. It's a simple song, with Dylan and the musicians obviously enjoying themselves on it. And as for the possible plagiarism issues, (a) as far as I know, nobody has taken him to court yet, and (b) it sounds like most of the verses are his own, so the song is probably 'public domain' by now - though it would have been more honest of him to credit it as 'Traditional, arranged by Dylan'.
'When The Deal Goes Down' is more gentle, somewhere between balladry and jazz. The lazy vocal that's not much more than a whisper suits the mood well, as do the laid-back guitar, violin and piano.
Ah, but he can't resist that old rockabilly swing, and that's what we get on 'Someday Baby'. A good twang on the lead guitar and steady rhythm with brushes on the drums carry this one well.
'Workingman's Blues #2' has a mournful tune and piano figure that reminds me of 'Let It Be', particularly in the introduction, although the song itself is not in the least similar. There's a gentle lyrical incursion into political issues, as he sings of the 'buyin' power of the proletariat.../Money's getting shallow and weak.../They say low wages are reality if we want to compete abroad.'
'Beyond the Horizon', sounds just like another jazzy shuffle straight out of the 1940s. In fact it is based largely on 'Red Sails in the Sunset', a song from 1935. I'm not too familiar with the original, and this is fine by me, though I'd be interested in the opinion of anyone who is.
'Nettie Moore' is a slow and soulful, very gentle, rather doomy love song, with the most laid-back imaginable acoustic guitar, piano and drums unobtrusively in the background. The atmospheric chorus particularly makes this one -'Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore / And my happiness is o'er /Winter's gone, the river's on the rise / I loved you then and ever shall / But there's no one here that's left to tell / The world has gone black before my eyes.'
Then it's back to good old 12-bar rockabilly for 'The Levee's Gonna Break', based on 'When The Levee Breaks', a 1929 blues song by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. (See 'Led Zeppelin IV' for another version of the song).
To finish up with, 'Ain't Talkin', based around a couple of minor chords, has piano, fiddle and percussion jostling for the musical honours. Dark and introspective, it's one of Dylan's songs which benefits from being long (8.48) and having the space to create a kind of world of its own.
If you ever caught his radio show, 'Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour', from about three or four years ago, you may recall that much of his playlist was based around 1940s and 1950s country/jazz/gospel tunes - admittedly, with the occasional nod to more modern fare from the Rolling Stones, Mungo Jerry, Blur and the Clash. It feels like much of the musical influence from that era has rubbed off on him here. Nobody would pretend 'Modern Times' is his greatest album, but it does make very pleasant listening, even fun in an understated kind of way. At least half the tracks could be described as 'easy listening', which is not a musical genre you normally associate with His Bobness.
All right, it's not another 'Highway 61 Revisited' or another 'Blood on the Tracks'. But it's worth four stars - and after all, how often can you reinvent the wheel?
The latest in Dylan's later day revival, he's still fascinated by the old-time feel so splendidly realised on 'Love & Theft', but this set is arguably better.
Once again it's made with Dylan's regular touring band & produced by Dylan himself (under the pseudonym 'Jack Frost'). Highly anticipated upon it's release, namely due to the quality of his previous 2 albums, it's hard to think that many could be let down by 'Modern Times', while the critics will inevitably swoon with joy, I have yet to meet a Dylan fan who hasn't fallen in love with this record.
As usual Dylan is playful, biting, furtive & downbeat all at the same time. But surely no one would expect him to name drop Alicia Keys in the first verse of the first track, well that's exactly what he does.
The latest great Dylan record, but then, you'd be disappointed with anything less these days..
This is the album that completes what has been often seen as the triology of Dylan's most recent work, taking in Time Out Off Mind, "Love & Theft" and this, the latest offering from the greatest musician to ever live, in my opinion. If you wanted something like "Love & Theft" then you may see elements of that in this, but ultimately this is a different album, altogether, taking a much more rock approach to it, although more classic than modern, which is a good thing.
1. Thunder On The Mountain - What an opening track, the opening few notes especially really hitting as you press play on your stereo, as MP3s just won't cut it here. The vocals i think suit this style of music so well and take influences from all of American music, and the lyrics as well are definently of the modern Dylan era and are great.
2. Spirit On The Water - After the more upbeat opening track, thus brings down the tempo and shows a more relaxed side of Dylan, playing a more love based song. I love this track as well, but then i love the album, although this is such a nice track, with the lazt guitar adn drumming nicely backing the vocals.
3. Rollin' And Tumblin' - This brings it back to more of the style of Thunder On The Mountain and shows the rock Dylan that can be seen in concert. This is again very Americana influenced and shows his versatility as an artist.
4. When The Deal Goes Down - This is another laid bakc track that is more of a historical story, although he switches from him to the whole so easily, bringing us into his domain and allows you to jst sit back and listen.
5. Someday Baby- Continuing the soft and rock style, this is another more upbeat track, although i do prefer the style that this track is done in on the Bootleg Series Volume 8, but this is still a great track, that although it doesn'pack the same punch as some of thers, is nice lyrically and vocally.
6. Workingman's Blues #2 - In a nice nod to the influence to this song in the title, this tells the story of the hardships of modern times for work in the US, that is both endearing and heart-breaking, told in the great style of Dylan vocal that is a highlight of this album.
7. Beyond The Horizon - A different style of track that is much more laid back and care-free, providing a nice come back to earth after the hardships described in the last track.
8. Nettie Moore - One of the best songs on the album, which has some of the best vocals on the album, and the instrumentation on this suits it so well and backing band seems very tight and ready.
9. The Leeve's Gonna Break - A nice more upbeat track before the epic finale, that although not the best on the album is still a great track.
10. Ain't Talking - A great final track on a great album that has some of the most eerie vocals Dylan has ever done. The lyrics on this are also a highlight, described so nicely as Dylan seems to just stroll in from the fog and then slowly amble off into the mist of time.
Overall, one of my favourite albums, that become number 1 in America to give Dylan his best showing in years and the title as the oldest person to top the album charts. This i feel is a great end to what is one of Dylan's best periods in his career, or will there be a follow-up? One can only hope.
This is a review I originally wrote on the comparedby.us site and now present here for your consideration:
As of writing this is Bob Dylans latest album and finally sees him realise his own declaration that he is a song and dance man. It is his first album since Desire in the mid 70's to reach Number 1 in the US charts.
It contains some of the emotional songs of latter day career such as 'When the deals goes down'. Musically speaking, as with his other recent albums, he deals with rockabilly and pre rock n roll balladry and blues. This is quite a turn around from someone who was at the dawn of rock ad helped to direct it down new paths. Dylans voice is shot to pieces on this album but if your any kind of fan you will probably know that is has been disintergrating since the late 80's. However, on Modern Times Dylans once again has written songs that his voice can handle and mangle into different forms. Album highlight for me has to be Spirit on the Water as it beautifully skips along and has a nice chorus. A recurring thread to the album is how all the songs sound both full and yet live and immediate at the same time. I would recommend this album to anyone who likes 'real' music and say that it is one of the top albums in the whole of Dylans career - which is quite a feat to achieve.
Modern Times is Bob Dylans second studio album of original material of the new century. It shares a similar Memphis sound to his 2001 release of Love and Theft, but has a more sophisticated sound. Both albums represent a significant departure from 1997s Time Out Of Mind, which was, in itself, ground-breaking. Some critics regard Bob Dylans last three albums as a revival of Dylans talent, but this is to ignore his superb albums of the late eighties and early nineties such as World Gone Wrong and Oh Mercy. Dylan has often been criticised by those who expect him to produce endless albums similar in style to Freewheelin. Thankfully, however, Dylan has continually progressed as a musician over the decades and is as fresh now as he was in 1963 when Freewheelin was released.
However, despite its fresh and original sound, Modern Times does owe a heritage to early blues music. Indeed, Rollin and Tumblin, although significantly adapted, derives from Robert Johnsons If I had possession over judgement day. Dylan is not the only one to evolve work from this 1930s release however. Muddy Waters was the first to use the name Rollin and Tumblin for the tune and it has been covered in various guises by Eric Clapton, using both names. Rollin and Tumblin is the most obvious allusion to Johnson, but Dylan pays further tribute with lyrics such as I believe Ill bust my broom. Yet, this remains a thoroughly modern album, as the title suggests. The Leveess Gonna Break, adopts a semi-New Orleans sounds to tell the story of Hurricane Katrina and is similar to the Love and Theft track High Water, which now sounds oddly prophetic.
Dylan has always been well known for his political songs, though has been as enthusiastic in avoiding politicising himself as others have been labelling him a topical song writer. Yet, Dylan has included a little political comment in his song Working Mans Blues #2, which is both well written and beautifully played by Dylans band who maintain a professional and integrated sound throughout the album.
Dylans voice is not to everyones taste, but its emotion is superb and it is well utilised on this album. Indeed, many people who have previously found Dylans voice harsh may find his vocals on this album more to their tastes. Yet, concurrently, long standing fans of Dylans vocals will not be disappointed either.
Modern Times illustrates that Dylan still has all his creative faculties and, moreover, is capable of creating music that is fresh and full of energy. Not only is Modern Times essential listening for anyone considering themselves Dylan fans, but for anyone seeking sophisticated music of a high quality.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Thunder on the Mountain
2 Spirit on the Water
3 Rollin' and Tumblin'
4 When the Deal Goes Down
5 Someday Baby
6 Workingman's Blues
7 Beyond the Horizon
8 Nettie Moore
9 The Levee's Gonna Break
10 Ain't Talkin'