by Erin Salvi
Apparently, Bob Dylan can do no wrong. With 42 albums under his belt, at 65 years old, one might think that he would have run out of good material by now. Not so. With his most recent concoction, “Modern Times,” Dylan has cranked out yet another masterpiece.
But it seems that Robert Allen Zimmerman was born with the sole purpose of making music. On the road since the late ‘80s, with no permanent place to call home, Dylan would probably keel over and die if he ever tried to retire. He is less a creator of music than a vessel through which music can express itself. As Joan Baez wrote of him in “Diamonds and Rust,” Dylan “burst on the scene, already a legend.” With 1962 album, “Bob Dylan,” he instantly became the voice of a generation.
He solidified his place in the world of music with such albums as “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” “Bringing it All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde.” Dylan lost a number of fans when he became a born-again Christian in the late ’70s and has barely produced any new music in over a decade, relying heavily on his old classics. With “Modern Times,” however, Dylan is back in his prime.
Glancing at the track list, “Modern Times” may seem a bit short, with only 10 songs, but one must remember that these are Dylan-length songs, meaning they are at least five minutes each; the longest runs for nearly nine minutes. The songs are a little bit country, a little bit blues, a little rock and a little folk, but they’re all classically Dylan. Many of them actually sound like they could fit right in on albums such as “Bringing it All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited.” The two that particularly stand out are “Spirit on the Water,” a love song that could easily stand next to “Just Like a Woman,” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Workingman’s Blues #2.”
Dylan’s voice sounds much clearer than it has in recent years. A friend of mine attended a Dylan concert a few years back and said that he was barely understandable, mumbling his way through songs to which he had forgotten half of the lyrics. The voice on this album sounds more like the original Dylan, rather than the stammering, drug-ravaged musician my friend saw perform.
Dylan, however, is not trying to recreate his music of the ‘60s. He has moved forward, as the title of the album clearly demonstrates. In “Spirit on the Water” he sings, “I can’t go to Paradise no more, I killed a man back there.” He is not attempting to return to the past, he has just rediscovered and reinvented the poetic sound that made him famous. The music is relaxed, unforced and controlled, just as Dylan seems to be at this point in his epic career. So don’t think twice about buying this album, it’s more than alright.