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Album Review: ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’ by Bob Dylan

Words by Sophie Revell
Image courtesy of Columbia Records

Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways feels like a portal back to traditional song-writing. Released on Columbia Records this summer, this is his 39th studio album and has been met with critical acclaim. Carl Wilson called it Dylan’s best release in “many years, maybe decades” for Slate, and I have to say that this review will be another addition to the multitudes of voices singing his praises this year. If anything, Dylan has gotten better with age. His smokey, gritty vocals compliment the lyrics, which in true Bob Dylan style are excruciatingly poetic. To me, this album feels like light relief from the chaos around us.

The opening track, “I Contain Multitudes”, the second single from the album is a stark reminder of exactly who it is we’re listening to. In the first bridge, Dylan sings “I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones/ And them British bad boys, the Rolling Stones” in a gravelly tone strikingly similar to Tom Waits. His contrasting references to historical figures showcase Dylan’s refusal to fit into a box. The track acts as a precursor to the rest of the album as if he is announcing himself before entering a room. The second track “False Prophets” is where the album lurches into life, with a rousing, lulling guitar riff. With the track ending with a fadeout, I get the impression that the musicians didn’t really want to stop playing. As for the rest of the album, each song blends together like an intangible dream sequence of rolling instrumentation and poetic lyrics, that swell and gently break against the listener. The run time is hardly trim at 71 minutes, yet Rough and Rowdy Ways is bursting at the seams with an encyclopedia of American history, with Dylan squeezing endless references to everything from the Civil War to JFK’s assassination into his rich allegories. 

Bob Dylan is well and truly back on top form after his eight year absence. This is music to drink whisky and forget all your troubles to.

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