Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways

Album Review | BMGS4 | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 5/5

If we consider just for a moment Bob Dylan’s body of work over the past six decades, then narrow it down to the opening tracks of each of his albums, we’re already into genius territory.  Let’s recap; “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Tangled Up in Blue”, “Hurricane”, “Jokerman”, need we go on?  Rough and Ready Ways continues the tradition with the excellent “I Contain Multitudes”, its cultural references frantically overflowing throughout, yet at “Maria Elena” pace; a sprawling roll call that includes everything from Edgar Allan Poe’s tell-tale heart to Chopin’s Preludes, by way of Anne Frank, Indiana Jones and the Rolling Stones.  Like Leonard Cohen’ last few years, Dylan’s vocal is pretty much down to a spoken word variety here, which in a way, does the song a service.  This is a low-key stunner of an opening song.

Dylan’s entire raison d’être could possibly be wrapped up in the lyric of “False Prophet” – “I ain’t no false prophet, I just said what I said, I’m just here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head”, Dylan coming clean and with little ambiguity. Both “False Prophet” and “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” return to a muscular R&B, the former not a million miles away from “Pledging My Time”, the latter as punchy as “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, but both certainly harder hitting. It wouldn’t be a Dylan album if it were devoid of Shakespearean quotes or Biblical references, and here they come at us with the urgency of a sermon, most notably “Murder Most Foul”. A meditation, all seventeen minutes of it, which may have been seen as a gift to Dylan fans at the beginning of the lock down, when it popped up out of the blue as the first new Dylan song in several years.  It was received by the thirsty at the well.  Here, the song concludes the album, a lament for JFK over half a century of mulling the messy affair over.  Again, the references come at us like graffiti, from Beatlemania to Woodstock and all set to a similar arrangement as the album’s magnificent opener. An album then, bookended by two of Dylan’s finest statements in decades, and the first Dylan album in decades that I just can’t stop listening to.

Choice Track: I Contain Multitudes (NSV 504)