Bob Dylan,
Modern Times
(Sony, 2006)

Not sure if you've heard of this guy. He's been around for years, released some great albums, confused and confounded fans and critics alike and is still in the ring, swinging punches. At 65 years old, he has swagger and energy that a lot of youngsters would die for. His voice has always fallen into the love-it-or-hate-it category. Now it is raspy and worn but has a sparkle and a sense of devilment to be relished.

The songs on Modern Times are bluesy with a good dash of rock 'n' roll energy and a dollop of rockabilly twang. The backing band, which played a load of dates on the road with our Bob, has a relaxed and commanding hold on the material.

Our hero wears his influences as well as his heart on his sleeve. "Rollin' & Tumblin'" is based on Muddy Waters' 1950 hit of the same name and does just what the title suggests. "The Levee's Gonna Break" takes its inspiration from Memphis Minnie's "When the Levee Breaks." The spirit of Chuck Berry inhabits more than a few of these cuts.

Lyrically, Bob has no match. His phrasing and timing are second to none. His words are obviously poetic; impressive in their effortlessness; deceptive in their simplicity and funny in their unexpectedness. "I heard a deafening noise / I felt transient joys / I know they are not what they seem / In this ugly domain / Full of disappointment and pain / You'll never see me frown / I owe my heart to you / And it's saying its true / I'll be with you when the deal goes down," he sings on "When The Deal Goes Down," and by the time he gets to that part, you know exactly what he means.

There's been some controversy as to whether Bob has ripped off the material or merely used it as a launching pad for the album. Is this the folk process in motion or a piece of grand thievery? He borrows lock, stock and barrel from other writers and uses entire choruses and melodies from other songs, yet the sleeve notes state boldly "All songs written by Bob Dylan." He has also been accused of copying the poetry of Henry Timrod. I think we will leave it to others to debate the nature of "borrowing" within the folk tradition and in literature. It's not like he invented it.

For the privileged few among you who are already familiar with Bob nee Zimmerman, I am sure this will go to the top of your pile. For those of you who have not succumbed to his charms yet, I'd suggest you get a load of this one. Turn up the hi-fi and pass me a cold one. I want to hear him sing, "I paid my time and now I'm as good as new" one more time. Or even better, "They say prayer has the power to heal / So pray for me mother / In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell / I am a-trying to love my neighbour / And do good unto others / But, Oh Mother, things aint goin' well."

review by
Tim Readman

26 April 2008

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