Back in late March, Bob Dylan released the nearly 17 minute single “Murder Most Foul”. The track acts as an elegy for John F Kennedy as it focuses on his assassination. “Right there in front of everyone’s eyes/Greatest magic trick ever under the sun/Perfectly executed, skillfully done” The song then touches on pop culture that was occurring at that moment including The Beatles, the British Invasion, Thelonius Monk, etc. Similar in tone to Van Morrison with just piano and strings, the song has a dreamy quality of a man looking back upon his life.
In several places on Rough and Rowdy, Dylan’s 39th studio album, he mentions his contemporaries and other historical figures including Anne Frank and The Rolling Stones on “I Contain Multitudes”. The lead track is about living a life of contradictions with multiple layers. A phlegmy growl powers the bluesy “False Prophet” where the man sings, “I’m first among equals/Second to none/The last of the best/You can bury the rest”. Most of the 70 minute album has a slow to mid tempo speed. “My Own Version of You” adds a bit of jazz noir to the proceedings in a track about putting body parts together to create something new.
Dylan’s voice is clear on “Crossing the Rubicon” and follows the a style that appears on a few other songs of having many verses with the name of the song featured in the last line of the verse. “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” mentions the blues legend on a rollicking track about religion. Lyrically the album is a dense lyrical wonderland but tracks like “Mother Of Muses” give the listener the chance to listen to the legend strum and sing a lovely little tune. Similar in tone, “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” mentions “Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac” and that the “radio signal, clear as can be/I’m so deep in love that I can hardly see”.
On a personal level, I’m familiar with most of Bob Dylan’s 60s albums plus a few others. This is the first Dylan album that I’ve purchased when it actually came out. Upon purchasing the The Complete Albums Collection Volume 1, I’ve gone back and started to review his albums in order, with a long way yet to go. As Dylan turns 80, he makes it all seem effortless on a collection that is a wonderful addition to his discography. Rough and Rowdy Ways is one that will endure beyond just being a late period footnote.