Approaching 80-years-old, Bob Dylan shows no signs of slowing down, even if his music has.
Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first album of self-penned material since 2012's solid Tempest, is just as good if not better. Musically it's not as hypnotic and repetitious, but lyrically it presents Dylan in a historical, long-20th-Century kind of mood. On his previous albums, Dylan seemed obsessed with presenting himself as a Tom Waits-cum-Charles Bukowski barfly traveling through time to Doc Holliday's Old West. The opener, "I Contain Multitudes," clearly references the poet Walt Whitman in the title, but also name-checks William Blake (and The Rolling Stones). The somber, almost majestic epic closer "Murder Most Foul" gives us the JFK assassination conspiracy theory reading we didn't even know we needed, essentially a pop culture history lesson which makes Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" seem even more laughable. These bookends present Dylan at his most mysterious lyrically since his 1960s heyday. The first half of the album finds him returning to the musical style he has frequented since 1997's Time Out of Mind, with "False Prophet" and "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" being standouts. Even the love song "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You" stands out as one of his best. The record might be his best since the 2001 classic "Love and Theft" if not for the three inconsequential numbers that populate Side Three of the vinyl version, which sucks some of the power out of it. As others have pointed out, newcomers to Bob Dylan probably won't see this record as anything special. But those who have stuck with this legend over his 60-year career will find this to be a valuable addition to his voluminous back catalog.