Rough and Rowdy Ways

Columbia Records

At a time when we need a guiding voice in the darkness, 79-year-old Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan’s 39th studio album has arrived with his first original material in eight years. A lyrically dense and highly allusive affair, Dylan draws many references to works of art across all mediums that have similarly stood the test of time. On their recent tour together, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger famously compared Dylan to Walt Whitman, another highly respected chronicler of all things Americana. The opening track here takes its title from one of his poems.

Dylan’s voice frequently breaks in emotion on the quieter tracks and rasps heavily on the bluesier numbers, but the years of audible grizzled experience only serve to enhance the image of the wise, mystical narrator these brilliantly woven stories are coming from. Most of the songs coast over the kind of folksy, muted acoustics and shuffling percussion Dylan revolutionized in the 60s, the instrumentals always leaving enough space for the real draw: Dylan’s hypnotic voice and storytelling abilities that make you hang on his every word.

Dylan’s subject matter is often philosophical and deeply serious, with quite a few musings on death and even a 17-minute epic surrounding the assassination of JFK, but he’s always sure to catch listeners off guard with a dirty joke or a well-earned egotistical boast concerning his own legacy. It’s all part of the charm that’s kept him captivating listeners for 60 years. 

Best Track: I Contain Multitudes