Consumer Guide Album
Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways [Columbia, 2020]
The decisive musical achievement on Dylan's first album of originals since 2012 is establishing the aged voice that flubbed his Sinatra albums as the sonic signature of an elegiac retrospective. All three of the prereleased teaser singles work better as album tracks than as stand-alones: "I Contain Multitudes" provides exactly the right thematic sendoff, "False Prophet" opens his heart so the world can come in, and "Murder Most Foul" proves an apt summum despite its excessive length and portentous isolation on the CD package. This is no "Love and Theft" or Modern Times, neither of which is muffled by anything as indistinct as "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You" (though I do wonder who "you" is) or "Black Rider" (though "The size of your cock will get you nowhere" gets me every time). But I love how "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" rides the hush-mouthed groove of the most simplistic of the blues giants like it's leading a parade, and how the comic Frankenstein fantasy "My Own Version of You" sums up the musical grave-robbing Dylan has been transmuting into original art for 60 years now. As does "Murder Most Foul" itself, in this context both an elegy for and a celebration of all the dark betrayals, stunted gains, enduring pleasures, and ecstatic releases of an American era Dylan has inflected as undeniably as any artist even if he doesn't understand it any better than you, me, or whoever killed imperfect vessel JFK.