Now nearing the sixth decade of his recording career, singer/songwriter Bob Dylan has recently released a brand-new studio album. The album, Rough And Rowdy Ways, is Dylan’s first album of all original material since 2012’s Tempest. Even at 79 years old, Dylan has a lot to say on the new album. While it isn’t without its flaws, Rough and Rowdy Ways is a solid effort from Dylan.
Musically, the songs on Rough and Rowdy Ways sound like they’re picking up where 2012’s Tempest left off: the songs range from bluesy rockers to somber folk tunes. The album opens with the self-observant “I Contain Multitudes,” a somber yet effective opener in which Dylan speaks from the heart. In the song, Dylan is talking about himself- with mentions of his “tell-tale heart” and his rings that “sparkle and flash.” As expected, Dylan’s voice isn’t in the best shape. While some will argue that Dylan was never a great singer to begin with, some might find it difficult to listen to his current singing voice. For most of this album, Dylan’s voice surprisingly sounds slightly better than it did on Tempest– which is probably why there are more slower tunes on here, which his voice can handle.
Lyrically, the ten songs presented on Rough And Rowdy Ways deal with several subject matters- society, history, love and mortality. Of these subjects, Dylan’s morality is the most consistent theme on this album- to the point where he toys with it. Take the aforementioned “I Contain Multitudes” for example: Dylan sings “The flowers are dyin’ like all things do.” At 79 years old, Dylan has outlived many of his influences and peers- which one can imagine weighs heavily on Dylan’s mind at times. With that, “I Contain Multitudes” is the perfect way to open up the album. Further into the album, Dylan seems to question his time on earth on “Mother of Muses”- as Dylan declares “I’ve already outlived my life by far.” On the acoustic-based “Black Rider,” Dylan is facing off with death itself. While these songs would suggest that Dylan is okay with dying, he seemingly brags about his longevity on the jaunty blues tune “False Prophet.” In the song, Dylan sings that he’s “the last of the best” and to “bury the rest.” “Bury ‘em naked with their silver and gold” Dylan sings. “Put ‘em six feet under and I pray for their souls.”
While there isn’t a whole lot of them, the album does have a few bluesy rockers. The aforementioned “False Prophet” is an example of one. There’s also the history themed “Crossing the Rubicon” and the religion based “Goodbye Jimmy Reed.” Of those two, I prefer the latter as it’s a fun toe tapper that sounds like something from Blonde on Blonde (“Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat,” anyone?). Another stand-out on the album is the doo wop-esque “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You.” The lyrics are beautiful, with Dylan describing his dedication to a relationship- so much so that Dylan can’t imagine life without this person. “I’ve seen the sunrise, I’ve seen the dawn” sings Dylan. “I’ll lay down beside you when everyone’s gone.” Dylan’s vocal performance is strong- especially when his voice cracks during the more emotional parts.
If the album had its downsides, the album does run out of steam toward the end with the last three songs. While decent songs, “Crossing the Rubicon” and “Key West” aren’t as strong as the earlier songs. However the biggest misstep on the album, in my opinion, is the album’s closer “Murder Most Foul”- a 16-minute epic about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Dylan’s no stranger to writing 10+ minute epics- some of them being Dylan’s best tunes, such as “Desolation Row” and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” However, there are dozens of the other artists who have written better songs about Kennedy’s assassination. Take Lou Reed for example with “The Day John Kennedy Died” from The Blue Mask: not only is it at better song but it’s also shorter. While musically beautiful, the song falls short of being a classic as Dylan spends most of the 16 minutes name dropping other musicians. The song is also confusingly left on a disc of its own. With a runtime of 70 minutes, all ten songs could easily fit onto one disc. Despite its flaws, the song isn’t necessarily bad and in all honesty- it’s a fitting closer to the album.
While not quite the masterpiece that critics are claiming it to be, Rough And Rowdy Ways is a good album from Bob Dylan. While I find myself preferring Tempest over this, Rough And Rowdy Ways is still worth a listen.
I'm a writer/journalist with a passion for music and pop culture. Having graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2014, I've been looking for a platform in which I can share my passions. Since 2009, I've been posting to my own blog- The Walrus' Music Blog- via Blogger. I'm also the author of two self-published books, "The Camp: Stories from the Summer" and "The College: Stories from King's." Together, the two books cover the story of my life from 2004 to 2014. I've been lucky enough to interview several of my favorite musicians over the years and go to concerts from time to time. I'm also very devoted to the CBS reality TV show Survivor, which I started watching in 2002 when its fourth season started. I currently live in New Jersey.