By: Howard Riell
It’s been eight years since 79 year old Robert Allen Zimmerman – better known as singer-songwriter Bob Dylan – came out with an original album. But that’s just what he’ll do this Friday, when ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ hits store shelves.
Word on the street is that it’s pretty good, too. On June 13, Neil McCormick in The Telegraph awarded the album five stars out of five. Anne Margaret Daniel, reviewing for Hot Press, said “Rough and Rowdy Ways is a record we need right now, and it will endure.” Mikael Wood, in the Los Angeles Times, said that Rough and Rowdy Ways “rolls out one marvel after another.”
Rolling Stone went further, saying the album has “the bleak majesty of latter-day Dylan albums like Modern Times and Tempest, yet it goes beyond them, tapping even deeper into cosmic American mysteries.”
A trio of songs on the album have already been released as singles: “Murder Most Foul” on March 27; “I Contain Multitudes” on April 17; and “False Prophet” on May 8.
“Rough and Rowdy Ways,” Dylan’s 39th album, is “in some ways a nostalgic look back too,” noted ultimateclassicrock.com. “Its centerpiece, the sprawling, 17-minute closer “Murder Most Foul,” details the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy down to various conspiracy theories and its Dylanesque connection to Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Woodstock. And it doesn’t stop there. The album is full of name checks, references and direct lines to 20th century cultural touchstones – from political and geographical talking points to life-long influences and his musical peers that helped shape the rock ‘n’ roll landscape in the ‘60s.”
In a thoughtful interview with the New York Times, Dylan was asked whether he viewed the COVID-19 pandemic in biblical terms. He said, “I think it’s a forerunner of something else to come. It’s an invasion for sure, and it’s widespread, but biblical? You mean like some kind of warning sign for people to repent of their wrongdoings? That would imply that the world is in line for some sort of divine punishment. Extreme arrogance can have some disastrous penalties. Maybe we are on the eve of destruction. There are numerous ways you can think about this virus. I think you just have to let it run its course.”
Dylan, of course, has been a major figure in popular culture for more than 50 years. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defied pop music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture.