Dylan has a new album out, "Together Through Life." I think I might go get it this week.
The artistic re-emergence of Bob Dylan this decade has been nothing short of remarkable. Easily the comeback of the decade (sorry, Prince), and possibly the greatest comeback by a popular music artist ever. This is a guy who, during my entire childhood, was a stand-up comic's punchline, good for a throw-away run through "Rainy Day Women" once a day on the oldies station.
Of course, when I got to college and got Blonde on Blonde, I was blown away. Getting into Dylan's peak era material was something like a religious conversion for me. It completely changed the way I listened to music, what I listed for in music, how I listened to music. Dylan completely changed my idea of what it means to be "hard" in music. "Idiot Wind" for example, is "harder" than anything the crop of mediocre grunge bands I was listening to in 1992 was doing, just in a very different way.
But still, Dylan was an above average folk singer during most of my childhood and teen years. I could safely file him in the same mental category as Randy Newman and James Taylor. He wasn't doing anything as important as his '63-'70 peak, or even his brief '74-'76 revival.
Until the turn of the Century. (Oh sure, Time Out of Mind was a nice forecast of things to come, and the Travelling Wilburys was a pleasant diversion in an ensemble setting..)
To cite his three albums (Love and Theft (2001) and Modern Times (2006), in addition to the new one) to come out in the 00's is to understate the sheer amount of art Dylan released in the decade. Numerous vital archival releases, three movies, a couple books, soundtrack work, a radio show... The fading icon became a music machine, the American Bard, once again.
Love and Theft and Modern Times aren't all that different in general feel. Both comfortable mid-tempo blues rock, with elements of swing and folk all lying under Uncle Bob growling out well-groomed wit and wisdom. Smarter people than me can go over the meaning of the various songs. But the general feeling of joy despite age permeates both discs. Remembrances are bittersweet, rather than bitter, and life right now is pretty good and will remain pretty darn good as long as there's still a bit of tail to chase, no matter how much the politicians try to screw it up.
Or, as Dylan himself says in “Spirit on the Water,” “You think I'm over the hill, You think I'm past my prime, Let me see what you got, We can have a whoppin' good time.”
I give Love and Theft, the more mellow of the two albums, a slight edge, with “Sugar Baby” being my favorite, a wistful song that I imagine is a father singing to his estranged adult child.
Here's hoping Mr. Dylan has another couple of decades of music to give us. Once I've had a chance to listen to Together Through Life, I'll let you know what I think.