A Multitude Masterpiece for Your Mind!

A review of Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways by Stein Arne Nistad (10/10)

The assassination of JFK is the first historical event I can remember. A memory characterized by fear. Life, death, and an uncertain future captured in a single event. I can still feel the childish powerlessness. For most people life is a Rough and Rowdy Way.

GB. ENGLAND. Underground nightclub principally for black people in Cable Street, East London. (Cable Street no longer exists). 1964.

Bob Dylan is a personal lifelong inspiration. Many of his songs and quotes are my compass. At work, private and artistic (a Dylan quote inspired my three 2WW novels).

After eight years of silence, Dylan finally releases an album with ten new original songs. My feelings are mixed. Is this album a Sarepta’s jar or a Pandora’s box? However, Dylan´s «Murderers Most Foul» released in March, was almost too good to be true. A song based on the murder of JFK. But Dylan did not only tell this story. During seventeen minutes he guides us on a journey to our entire culture. To our roots. I still remember the feeling the first time I heard the song. I experienced a kind of inexplicably soothingly perfected mood, without fully understanding the depth of the song. Just a feeling. Just a sense of perfect artistic communication. I also remember this feeling from the first time I heard «Sad-eyed lady of the lowlands» forty years ago. A perfect song and melody. I can`t explain why. It´s just the feeling of experiencing great art.

Rough and Rowdy Ways make mee feel. Make me feel perfection. The feeling of a new masterpiece. Stories about life and death, future and past, love and hate – all captured in an album. A manifestation of everything Dylan is. Take Dylan’s explosive creativity in the mid-sixties, add more than fifty years of experience. Then you probably understand what «Rough and Rowdy Ways» is all about. I was so much older then, I am younger than now! It is incomprehensible that an aging man still can reinvent himself. He is still able to create innovative brilliant music and poetry.

This album is a multitude of layers. So many that it is completely meaningless dive into songs and quotes it will take years to fully understand. What is Dylan talking about: Gods or men? Past or future? Hope or hopelessness? He spans a universe so vast and comprehensive that it contains almost everything human life is about. Including death and darkness. It is no coincidence that «The Black Rider» is all over the place.

Musically, it is easier to describe. Or maybe not. Except for three fairly standard blues tunes, Dylan treads new musical paths together with his regular tour band: Charlie Sexton (guitar), Bob Britt (guitar), Donnie Herron (steel guitar, violin, accordion), Tony Garnier (bass) and Matt Chamberlain (drums) ). In addition, a few other musicians are involved.

On the surface the songs and arrangements may seem quiet and simple. That is not at all true! The tunes are an incredibly sophisticated backdrop to Dylan’s recitation and singing. The production is brilliant. The soundscape is spiced with musical details. «Less in more». Diving into this fascinating musical micro-universe is a great experience. The band understands Dylan and transforms this knowledge to the low-key and expressive music this album requires. Dylan’s vocal is stunning, and he utilizes his foremost musical weapons. Timing and phrasing are perfect and beautiful.

Great artists dare to exceed and challenge personal and formal boundaries. On this album Dylan expand his poetic and musical language and delivers a perfect piece of art. Rough and Rowdy Ways is A Multitude Masterpiece for Your Mind!

Stein Arne Nistad

Journalist and Author

This is a brief translation from an Norwegian article by Google translate.