Customer Reviews: Modern Times
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on May 3, 2007
Bob Dylan for the last few years has been one of the most exiting artists rock has to offer. He has written a best selling book, toured extensively, and recorded two highly regarded albums, putting him in a late career renaissance

Starting with 2001's effort, LOVE AND THEFT, and now this album, MODERN TIMES, Bob Dylan has newly occupied musical territory. Dylan has broken new ground with both these releases. Nothing in post-millennium rock sounds anything like these two records, and for good reason. Bob Dylan has turned back the clock to pre-rock and roll, and recorded some of the most exiting music of his career, focusing solely on American traditional music.

Dylan came into critical acclaim with the 1997 album, TIME OUT OF MIND. His first album of original songs in seven years, TOOM won best album of the year at the Grammies, and the first of three critically acclaimed albums. MT has been marketed as the end of this "trilogy," but Dylan disagrees with that assessment. TOOM, great album that it is, sounds totally separate from L&T and MT and is an album unto itself, totally separate from the music found on the next two releases. Dylan said MT would be the second part of a trilogy, if there is going to be one, with L&T being the first part.

When LOVE AND THEFT was released, Dylan impressed the critics and the fans a second time in a row. L&T is a markedly different album than its predecessor, TIME OUT OF MIND, which is a much darker, aesthetically different album. MODERN TIMES is very much a companion album to L&T, and proves the methodology behind his 2001 effort was not a one off fluke. Dylan does a wide variety of traditional music on MT, from blues to ballads to crackerjack rock and roll to apocalyptic visions of oncoming doom.

Song for song, MT is as strong and L&T, with a few casual masterpieces. "Working Man's Blues #2" is fantastic, some great lines. "Ain't Talkin'", MT's last song, is not only the best song from album, but also one of Dylan's greatest songs of the last 25 years, easily the equal of any of his 1960s output and a lyrical tour-de-force, the newest of his great story, apocalyptic story songs.

Dylan largely writes from the perspective of one who has seen it all, but keeps on trucking (like the narrator from "Tangled Up In Blue").

Both records have been tremendously successful. MODERN TIMES went to number one on the billboard charts, Dylan's first since the 1976 album DESIRE. Dylan is the oldest person (65 at the time), to have a number one album on the charts. "Someday Baby" won a Grammy.

MT is largely a further exploration of Americana. Just like its predecessor, MT is squarely rooted in pre-rock music. Like L&T, MT sounds fresh, startling, and deeply relevant due to it being so firmly rooted in American traditional music. There is no other musician today who makes these traditional forms so wonderfully alive, and yet so in sync with his or her own unique and musical vision as Bob Dylan does, while still making them so accessible to today's public.

Both titles are a clue to what the album is about. L&T is Dylan's love for prerock music, and his ransacking of the forms (a sly reference to the folk tradition). MODERN TIMES, is rather ironic, as there is nothing modern about the music itself, but the title also acknowledges, in a post modern sort of way, that the album is recorded and presented in modern times for modern audiences, and a knowing reference to Charlie Chaplan's film.

Also, Dylan has gone on interviews saying this is the best band, man for man, that he's had, which is saying a lot, as he was backed by so many great bands. Dylan's also made several comments about how compressed the sounds are on modern records, something he had tried to stay away from.

Where L&T used early 20th musical structures and genres, Dylan wrote all the music and lyrics. With MT, however, Dylan has turned too T. S. Eliot for advice, who famously said "Bad poets imitate. Good poets steal." Working within what is known as the "folk tradition", Dylan has taken several songs from his encyclopedic knowledge of traditional music, updated either the music or the lyrics or both, and then presented the material as his own. He has also used a few select lines from Henry Timrod, the Civil War poet. Both the songs and Timrod are now in public domain, so the sources are not a legal issue. Regardless, All this has caused some controversy.

First, it should be known that before copyright laws and intellectual property rights became one of the abiding legal preoccupations of the 20th and 21st century, musicians and performers largely worked within the context of an oral and written tradition, freely adapting and changing often well known material and presenting it as original work. This goes far beyond just music as well. This process, known within musical history as the folk tradition, has been going on in American traditional music for decades, and has also been part of rock's long and varied history as well.

However, with the entrance of rock, matters get complicated. Intellectual property rights in the past forty to fifty years have become major legal issues. Now, music is copyrighted and royalties get paid. Songwriting credits determine who get paid. Those who wrote original music want to get paid when that music is used. While most of MT's music is modeled after other artists' songs, the credits read "All songs written by Bob Dylan".

Led Zeppelin is also famous for this type of adaptation, and was even sued by Willie Dixon in 1970 for the use of lyrics in their song "Whole Lotta Love" without him being credited. Dixon won the lawsuit.

Bob Dylan has done this type of adaptation and musical pilfering from the very start of his career. One of his very first original songs to be published, "Song to Woody", used the melody of Guthrie's own "1913 Massacre". There are numerous other instances of this type of artistic pilfering in Dylan's music which for reasons of space I will not go into. A book or scholarly paper is better suited to more fully analyses and explore this element in Dylan's music, not a review on a website. For those curious, I include at the end of this review more info about the MT's sources.

While from a business and artistic standpoint, this adaptation and borrowing, yet not crediting the source, is rather alarming to modern audiences, it's my belief that that has what made MT and L&T resonate so well. There is something in both records that simply strike a chord with listeners. Dylan has always been about traditional music, and while he ventured out to record different varieties of music, the American traditional songbook has always been in the back of Dylan's mind.

What has made MT and L&T so successful is they feel like an aural history of American music before 1950. Of all the major rock artists of the modern era, Dylan is the most versed in the rich American traditions. American traditional music have always been the bedrock of his muse, and with L&T and MT Dylan wisely makes that the central focus of his work. This music sounds like a time capsule, music made by an American for Americans before the advent of rock and roll. Dylan is the most qualified of all our major rock artists to make music with this timeless, traditional feel.

Due to his own unique position in rock history, no other major musician other than Dylan has released an album with all the rich history of Americana so inherently woven in the fabric of his new music. In all likelihood, no other artist probably could. Dylan cut his teeth on traditional music, and he is the most able to make that music relevant again to modern audiences.

Bottom line: fantastic album. Must buy.

Appendix - Sources for MODERN TIMES songs:
*"Thunder on the Mountain" is an update on Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Good'. *"Rolling and Tumbling" is a blues standard, recorded by everyone from Cream, Canned Heat, Robert Johnson, and Eric Clapton. Muddy Waters' version is the most famous. There are over sixty recorded versions of this song.
*"When the Deal Goes Down" uses the melody from Bing Crosby's signature song "When the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day".
*"Someday Baby" is based off a Muddy Waters song called "Trouble No More".
* "Beyond the Horizon" lifts the entire structure and melody of "Red Sails in the Sunset", written by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams in 1935.
*"Nettie Moore" lifts the title and some of its chorus though Dylan's melody and lyrics are otherwise unrecognizable.
*"The Levees Gonna Break" is a based on the blues standard "When the Levee Breaks" by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. Led Zeppelin reworked the song as well into their own composition, much different from Dylan's.
*"Aint Talkin" derives its chorus from the more up-tempo "Highway of Regret" by the Stanley Brothers
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on August 29, 2006
Since Time Out Of Mind, us Dylan fans can be proud again to admit that we're fans of the new stuff, not just classic Dylan. Modern Times is his third in a streak of impeccable releases. The latest is a return to the styles Dylan introduced in Love and Theft-- country-blues and smart rockabilly. As with the most recent album, Dylan (aka Jack Frost) produced Modern Times; as such its feeling is closest to Love and Theft-- warmly personal, like listening to the band in a small nightclub.

The songs are longer, the lyrics arguably more memorable and there's a few more down-tempo ballads. Contrary to the popular notion that Dylan's voice is incomprehensible (probably owing to his horrible performance at his 30th anniversary concert), the singing is so clean you can understand everything without the benefit of a lyric sheet.

As I said, the songs are longer: the shortest is 4:58, the longest over eight minutes. Dylan borrows from blues standards on Rollin' and Tumblin' and The Levee's Gonna Break (no, he doesn't cover Led Zeppelin :), but liberally infuses a brilliant mess of his own lyricism. When the Deal Goes Down and Workingman's Blues, especially the latter, are his best ballads in decades. All in all, its not as forceful as Love and Theft. It's not as surprising as that album was, but hardly less of a masterpiece. His lyrics have gotten sharper and wittier, jumping out at you at odd moments with silly innuendos, jokes about getting old, an Alicia Keys name-drop, countless thought-provoking one-liners and an all-around optimistic glow. Altogether, it's friendlier and more fun that the last two releases; it might be Dylan's most 'personable' album since, well, 'Another Side...' or 'Self-Portrait.' The last track, Ain't Talkin' is reminiscent, stylistically, of Time Out of Mind's opener, though it's probably coincidental. Dylan sings, 'Ain't Walkin', Ain't Talkin' in the same tone as Love Sick's lyric 'I'm Walkin', bringing what Columbia's been labeling a 'trilogy', full-circle.

Though reviewers elsewhere have said that Modern Times is unlikely to impress non-fans, I can't imagine how anyone couldn't enjoy the heart-wrenching warmth and sagacious wit flaunted by Dylan and his band. Dylan's last two albums and his live shows, on the other hand, are denser affairs, more tuned to the mind of the familiar fan, but, similar in appeal to, but greater in quality than, Johnny Cash's later recordings for American Records, Modern Times is Bob Dylan singing for everybody. And just as well, those who've stuck with Dylan over the years and listened with awe to Time Out of Mind are going to keep Modern Times out next to the CD player for quite awhile.
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on August 31, 2006
In his latest Rolling Stone interview, Bob Dylan was quoted as saying "This is the best band I've ever been in, I've ever had, man for man." Quite a compliment coming from someone who's been backed by not only the best session men of the sixties, but The Grateful Dead, The Heartbreakers, and of course The Band. However, after listening to `Modern Times' and `Love and Theft' it really is hard to argue with him. He not only has found a band that can lay down an interesting backdrop to his at times epic poem-like lyrics, but create such good music that it stands up against Dylan's brilliant lyrics as an almost equal competitor for your attention.

Instantly the high level of musicianship is evident on "Thunder on the Mountain". It opens with short punctuated drum fills that bring to mind Cream's "White Room" but instead of Clapton's psychedelic phase, the guitar sound throughout is more in the style of someone like Chet Atkins playing twelve bar blues. Dylan's first line is introduced with a brilliant cymbal wash that sounds like it could be the rock n' roll equivalent of a gong being banged before Confucius speaks. But that first line "Thunder on the mountain and a fire in the moon/the river's in the alley and the sun will be consumed" sounds more like John the Revelator.

"Rollin' and Tumblin' is basically a really great cover of the Muddy Waters classic from 1950. Dylan leaves the chorus as is, but writes completely new verses all his own (certainly the original didn't contain the line about how "some young, lazy slut has charmed away my brains"). The subject matter of the original does remain the same however, with Dylan rattling off lines that sound like they were pulled directly off any classic Delta blues tune ("warm weather's coming in/the bug's are on the vine/ain't nothing more depressing than trying to satisfy this woman of mine"). In fact, this really just exemplifies how Dylan has reinvented himself once again as a bluesman over the last three albums. The entire subject matter of his last three albums has been the subject matter of the Delta blues: religion and women.

Every one of the hard blues songs on `Modern Times' contains the best soloing on a Bob Dylan studio album since "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" - and by soloing I don't mean just one solo stuck in between the words somewhere, but splattered throughout the songs naturally, never once sounding forced. On "Someday Baby" is where it peaks. The fuzzy guitar tone just glows, making you want to kill for whatever vintage tube amp the guitarist had to have been be using, and the rhythm just cooks. This is one of the rare Dylan tunes where the music just slightly edges out the words in terms of pure listening pleasure. Even Dylan`s singing is way above par here, especially listen to the line "So many good things in life/that I've overlooked/I don`t know what to do/baby you got me soooo hooked" and try and say that Dylan's voice isn't just improving with age.

"The Levee`s Gonna Break" is another cover of a classic blues song, this time Memphis Minnie's classic "When the Levee Breaks." The verses are completely Dylan's own, but again the chorus is the same as the original made so famous by Led Zeppelin. Of course before even listening to the song people are going to try and say it has to do with Katrina, but the lyrics have more to do with love and the apocalypse than anything as simple as a natural disaster. Take for instance the line "Put on your camp clothes mama/put on your evening dress/few more years of hard work then there'll be a thousand years of happiness." Even an atheist like myself knows what he's talking about. And then there's the final line "some people still sin and some are wide awake."

The subtle apocalyptic messages of "The Levee's Gonna Break" perfectly set up for the eight minute plus epic closer, "Ain't Talkin." The feel is the same as `Time Out of Mind's "Highlands", but Dylan's lyrical flow never gets disrupted for a six minute retelling of a conversation with a waitress. The imagery in the song is dark, dangerous, and not very hopeful. Picture Dylan walking down a lonely path through the Mystic Garden, in the cities of the plague. His sick mule and blind horse are walking by his side. At one point he is hit from behind by an unknown stranger. Bad idea - the Dylan here is no one to mess with, he waits for his opponents to be caught sleeping and then slaughter's them where they lie. Dylan also manages to fit in some of his usual subtle sarcastic wit, this time directed at his disillusion with the trappings of fame - "well the whole world is filled with speculation/the whole wide world which people say is round/they will tear your mind away from contemplation/they will jump on your misfortune when you're down...someday you'll be glad to have me around." Later he returns to religion, reaffirming his status as a diehard Christian, but still distancing himself from any organized view of it - "ain't no altars on this lonesome road" Really I could go on and on about this song, which is the crown jewel of the set, with every new verse being a revelation. Musically the song is even more menacing than "Highlands" with the addition of a perfectly minimalist use of lurking viola, even though it ends with a happy crescendo, it only adds to the feel of apocalypse like it was a musical representation of Jesus returning.

`Modern Times' is Dylan's third straight masterpiece in a row and only cements the fact that his current period can only be compared to his inspired 1964-66 run. Certainly you could argue that with 4-5 years between albums it's nowhere near as prolific, but when the albums are this shockingly and consistently brilliant song after song who cares? To quote the review in Rolling Stone, "there is no precedent for the territory Dylan is now opening with albums that stand alongside the accomplishments of his wild youth." The only person to even come close is (as always) Neil Young. Dylan himself, in the same interview, when asked about this being the third part of a trilogy beginning with 'Time Out of Mind' gives the best description of how great `Modern Times' really is: "'Time Out of Mind' was me getting back in and fighting my way out of the corner [referring to his second infamous "dry period" after 1989's `Oh, Mercy' where he didn't release any original material]...on this record, I ain't nowhere, you can't find me anywhere, because I'm WAY gone from the corner
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on August 29, 2006
Since Time Out Of Mind, us Dylan fans can be proud again to admit that we're fans of the new stuff, not just classic Dylan. Modern Times is his third release in a streak of impeccable material. The latest is a return to the styles Dylan introduced in Love and Theft-- blues and rockabilly. As with that album, Dylan (aka Jack Frost) produced Modern Times. Here, the songs are longer, the lyrics arguably more memorable and there's a few more down-tempo ballads. Contrary to the popular notion that Dylan's voice is incomprehensible (probably owing to his horrible performance at his 30th anniversary concert), the singing is so clean you can understand everything without the benefit of a lyric sheet (though it would have been nice to have).

As I said, the songs are longer: the shortest is 4:58, the longest over eight minutes. Dylan borrows from blues standards on Rollin' and Tumblin' and The Levee's Gonna Break, but liberally infuses a mess of his own lyrics. When the Deal Goes Down and Workingman's Blues, especially the latter, are his best ballads in decades. All in all, its not as forceful as Love and Theft. It's not as surprising as that album was, but hardly less of a masterpiece. His lyrics have gotten sharper and wittier, jumping out at you at odd moments with silly innuendos, jokes about getting old, an Alicia Keys name-drop. It's altogether friendlier and more fun that the last two releases.

Like reviewers elsewhere have said, Modern Times is unlikely to win him many new fans or impress fans of his earlier work that never bought into his new stuff, but those who've stuck with Dylan over the years and listened with awe to Time Out of Mind are not going to be able to put down Modern Times for quite awhile. Now I just wish Dylan would put out albums more often! Maybe in a couple years Columbia will release all the songs (I've heard about 2 hrs worth) that wouldn't fit on these last three albums...?

About the bonus disc: don't waste your money. Everyone knows Columbia's holding on to a ***-load of unreleased Dylan stuff and all they could choke up for an extra eight bucks is four (okay, one of them is new...) mediocre tracks that barely differ from the album versions? Instead of offering something interesting for fans and collectors they're just taking advantage of those few who'll invariably say "why not?" and throw them the extra few dollars. Buy the regular version. You won't miss anything by skipping the bonus DVD (no one's going to watch it more than once anyway).
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on September 7, 2006
When I first listened to the CD I thought it was second or even third of the last three he has made. But after listening to it for a few days I am think it is perhaps the best of the three. It is not a humorous as the second or as dark as the first. Even more than the first it points to someone who is coming to terms not just with aging, but with the end of life which is beginning to come into view. I think he is again giving voice to his generation, where we are getting to the point where both our parents have passed, and while we are not ready to go yet, we can now see a bit of the horizon which in the past was only an intellectual exercise. And yet even with that there is the will to carry on, and carry on with vigor...thus we have lyrics like, 'you think I am over my prime, lets put it to the test'...dont have the lyrics in front of me, but I am sure others will have the exact lyrics.

He has also returned a bit to social commentary with "Workingman's Blues" where he gives his opinion of globalization. In "The levee's gonna break" there are certainly references to New Orleans, but also I see it as being an extension of "Hard Rain Going to Fall" in that perhaps we are going through such a rain and indeed the levee's may break. That could be a reach, but the is the wonder of his songs, they are nebulous enough for us to find the meaning that suits us :)

I really like almost all the songs on the album, probably the faster ones a bit more but even "Beyond the Horizon" which has a Hawaiian flavor is good due to the strong lyrics. (Not really a bit fan of Hawaiian music).

A number of songs like "Ain't Talkin" remind me of the way he strung different images together like we saw on his earlier songs like Hwy 61. The other theme that continues is his religious references, which are mostly personal now. So we get things like 'now I see where the scriptures are true.' These flow with the song, again much like is early music but a bit more personal. Always loved the idea that God was telling Abraham that the next time he saw him he had better run :)
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2006
Modern Times is a very good Bob Dylan record that fits nicely into the current "Social Security Renaissance" phase of his career. The record company and lots of critics have been calling it part three of a trilogy that began with Time Out of Mind and continued with Love And Theft but I would suggest that the latter two enjoy a much closer connection with Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, his early '90's revisit of the folk songs that lit his fire in the first place. I guess this theory makes Modern Times the last block in a quad.

Time Out Of Mind shares with its two subsequent neighbors in the Dylan discography a return to exquisite song craft, stunning lyrics and passionate musicianship that were sorely lacking from the hit and miss affairs of the eighties. However, the atmospheric production and small army of master musicians playing on it tie it much more closely to the other Daniel Lanois produced highlight of the catalog, 1989's Oh Mercy.

When the back to back folk-cover releases, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong dropped in the early 90's after the uninspired Under The Red Sky, it looked like a retrenchment for an artist who had run out of inspiration. Who knew that by revisiting his roots, he would re-ignite a blast of inspired creativity that continues to inform and inspire his work to this day?

As other reviewers have noted, Modern Times is very much Love and Theft Part II, which is no bad thing. Both records draw on traditional folk and blues melodic and thematic forms but emerge as a Dylanized hybrid that sits comfortably beside his best work.

In addition to the invigorated songwriting and the no-frills Jack Fate production a major key to the success of these two albums is that they were recorded by Dylan's Never Ending Tour band. Instead of his usual method of hiring a band of studio aces supported by superstar guest appearances, the guys playing on these records are the same cohesive unit blazing away with him night after night in arenas, theaters and baseball parks. This provides a sympathetic foundation that he has not enjoyed since his collaborations with The Band. Ironically, as the Never Ending Tour band continues to evolve, bassist and musical director Tony Garnier is the only link between the two groups that made these records.

Like Love and Theft, the songs on Modern Times are a mix of familiar song forms. There are roots-rockin' / bluesy rockers Thunder on the Mountain, Rollin' and Tumblin', Someday Baby and The Levee's Gonna Break. Old Timey Waltzes Spirit On The Water and Beyond the Horizon as well as a straight ballad, When the Deal goes Down. There are also tunes that I think of as Dylan-esque (for lack of a better term) and these are probably my favorites: Ain't Talkin', Nettie Moore and Workingmans Blues #2. In Fact, Ain't Talkin' may be the knockout Dylan classic of the whole album.

Although quite good, Modern Times is a little softer, a little less rockin' that Love and Theft and I wonder if this is not partly due to the absence of Charlie Sexton. Charlie Sexton is such a consummate rocker and I think his much lamented departure from the touring band spills over into the studio. The rockers on Modern Times are good but never quite achieve lift off. Watch the Cold Iron Bounds video presented here for a taste of the rock bite this band was unable to provide.

Finally one minor complaint: The record company is charging quite a bit extra for this deluxe edition, and I think it would have been very appropriate to load the bonus DVD up with more than four videos. High on my personal wish list is a complete version of the smokin' Drifter's Escape from the Masked and Anonymous movie.
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on November 18, 2006
This is going to be a different type of review, but, I believe, an honest one. The reason my review is a little dated is because my brother gave me this album on Thursday, November, 16, 2006. He said you've got to listen to this. It's great. Well, I was very hesitant in listening to it. You see, I had written Bob Dylan off back in the early '90's after I had seen him perform on a few shows on TV. I couldn't understand a thing he said, and the melodies sounded like junk. Bob's voice sounded like he had mush in his mouth, and he sounded like he was down in some dungeon. I was totally embarassed for him, and embarassed when old friends of mine approached me after seeing the same performances and riding me about why they could never see what I had seen in Dylan for years.

You see, I was a Bob Dylan fan from the beginning, way back in the Folk days of the sixties. I went through the Electric period when alot of Dylan fanatics turned on him, but I didn't. I went through his Spiritual years, also when many Dylan fans turned away from him and I stuck in there. But, after hearing how bad he was in his performing in the early to mid '90's, even I gave up. Now, my brother lays this "Modern Times" album on me. I put it in my CD player, expecting the mush I had last heard. Remember, I hadn't heard "Time Out Of Mind", or "Love and Theft" at all. When I had heard that he won awards for these two albums my reaction was one of disbelief, and didn't care to give them a try. When "Modern Times" started playing I couldn't believe my ears. This is the old Dylan, sort of. Sure, his voice was more gravelly, but I could understand him, and the band was excellent. A few songs like "Thunder On The Mountain", Spirit On The Water", When The Deal Goes Down", Nettie Moore", The Levee's Gonna Break", and "Ain't Talkin'", were pure Bob Dylan, with a blues twist to them. You know Folk always was just a step away from The Blues, all along. The songs like "Someday Baby" and "Beyond The Horizon" are basically mainstream country-rock, easy listening, but with Bob Dylan's distinct style. Sinatra could have done "Someday Baby".

For me, Bob Dylan was back! Something I never thought would happen. What a great surprise! I have been wondering for a long while why two of my all-time "Real Country" heroes, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, had wanted to tour with Dylan. My gosh, do they want to turn their fans off? And, for what reason.

Well, as I'm sitting here, I can't wait, from what I've heard from other reviewers, to here "Time Out Of Mind" and "Love and Theft". Before hearing "Modern Times" I certainly wasn't going to be crazy enough to waste my money on the other two albums. Now, I am crazy enough to spend my money on the previous two. But, I don't think it's going to be a waste. I can't wait!
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on September 3, 2006
"When I was a little kid in La Jolla, California, which is a very small town, we had a parade on the 4th of July and I remember clearly the sight of Civil War veterans marching down the main street, kicking up the dust. The first time I heard Bob Dylan, it brought back that memory. And I thought of him as something of a Civil War type. A kind of 19th century troubadour. A maverick American spirit...his words go straight to the heart of America.- Gregory Peck 1997, Kennedy Centre Award ceremony

`I couldn't exactly put in words what I was looking for, but I began searching for it over at the New York Public Library...I started reading articles in newspapers on microfilm from 1855 to about 1865...I wasn't so much interested in the issues as intrigued by the language and rhetoric of the times' - Bob Dylan,2004 Chronicles Part 1, page 84

`I realised how astonishing [Dylan's] songs were, provided that you really listened to them...this won't do for background music; it won't even do for middle ground music; it has to be right at the front of your attention'- Professor Christopher Ricks, Book Talk, Australian Radio National, March 2004.

These three comments sprung to mind, when Bob Dylan's brilliant new album concluded with a final track to match almost any in his mighty back catalogue. The music is crammed with impressions of `that old weird America'. The language is rich and almost noble in its cadences. The ancient voice is awesome. But you do have to listen very carefully. As usual, too many media critics have rushed to [generally positive] judgement. Most have been complimentary but often superficially so, like somebody reading a Camus novel for only its story line and missing deeper allegories.

Nostalgic 60s devotees may scoff, but I hear this as close to his best-ever album. Perhaps it is because I am growing old too, but this is exactly the Dylan I want to listen to right now. When he sings `Oh I miss you Nettie Moore...', I hear a chorus as affecting as anything he ever wrote and a vocal of absolute perfection. It is the highlight of the album for me.

Notwithstanding regular criticism from the concert-reviewing set, the band contributes mightily too. The album has a beautifully clean, uncomplicated sound. And the subtle use of violin, viola and, especially, cello `underneath' several tracks really adds something.

Another fabulous creation from a man who, as Tom Petty said this week, is simply better than everyone else.

The dvd is a nice bonus too.
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on September 5, 2006
Bob Dylan feels good about his music and you will to. There was a period in time after the sixties, and before the Modern Times, where Dylan sort of just went through the motions and put out some extremely goofy and just plain lousy music. It was a very short period of time, but it took him years to overcome. In 1993 critics said that the man was all done, and for the first time in 30 years Bob Dylan took a walk around his block and nobody cared. It was the greatest day of his life.

Then no more than seven years later he put 3 more Grammys and an Oscar under his belt. Now he just stays on the road constantly, and puts out some of the greatesrt music I've ever heard. More laid back than ever with his newest disc, Dylan once again astounds. I can't stand the people who have compared any of Dylans last three albums to his sixties material. It's a whole different show all together. The old man showers his wisdom down as if he was himself no longer a man, but a legend. A ghost. Died in '97, remember?

And he's not just one ghost, but a whole crew of them at once. Ones that have followed him from the very first album, and new ones that he's picked up along the way. The tour is "neverending", and at one point he struggled with his place in life, and in fame. Now he owns it, and it sounds so good. What makes these modern times so intense, is the fact that he makes it all sound just like a dream.

They are calling this the third part of a trilogy now. Making 97's TIME OUT OF MIND part one, and 2001's "Love and Theft" part two. I don't really get it, because those two albums were completely different from each other, and really so is this disc. More relative to 83's Infidels album than anything from Time Out of Mind. A very relaxed groove, where every song allows you to paint your own story in your head, rather than form an opinion of the world around you. Dirty women and religion are tossed in for good measure, maybe to activate your left and right brains at once, which causes you after a few listens to not only want to hear more and more, but also triggers something that wasn't there before. You may find yourself dusting off those 80's Dylan albums and hearing them in a whole new light. The ghosts want you to this. Its hard to believe that he is the greatest man alive. Or dead. But I can definately say he's better than anybody else.
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on September 2, 2006
"I got the porkchops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams"

Who else but Dylan can write stuff like this? The man who gave us "the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face" 40 years ago continues to amaze.

Modern Times is Dylan's best work since Infidels, and that's saying a lot. This is a great band, producing a new version of "that thin, that wild mercury sound" that is characteristic of Dylan at his best. Here it is polished, tracing a razor's edge, at times seductive, at times raising the hair on the back of your neck.

It is remarkable what Dylan, at age 65, is able to do with his voice. To me it never sounded better. Yeah, I know his range is shot and that it's raspy and raw. But the phrasing is complex and precise, it hits every time, and the range of emotion that's conveyed is without compare. Nobody ever said that Dylan is an operatic singer, but he's an incredible vocalist, and Modern Times sets a new standard for this greatness.

The songs flow together, contrast with, and build off one another. This is an "album" in the classic sense; buying individual songs or shuffling them will lose a lot.

So for instance when the funky twelve bar rhythm of The Levee's Gonna Break transitions into the stark, haunting, slow chords of Ain't Talkin', you almost get weak in the knees, and the hair really does stand up on the back of your neck.

And Dylan sings,

"Ain't talkin', just walkin'
Up the road, around the bend.
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
In the last outback at the world's end."

Who else but Dylan does stuff like this?

Just one thing. For the money more substance to the bonus DVD would be in order.

Otherwise, highly recommended.
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