The 21st century revival meeting goes on with Modern Times, this may be my favorite Dylan album for the new century so far in my listening binge. It’s surprising it took me 14 years to getting around to buying it.
I was overcome with the completist bug and found myself late at night purchasing some Dylan gaps and this was one of them. This last few weeks I bought the records Tempest, Modern Times, Together through Life, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, I cannot really bring myself yet to buy Under A Blood Red Sky after the time I bought the cassette. Trauma is real. This was all brought on by the moment when I bought Rough and Rowdy Ways in the Barnes and Noble half price vinyl sale. We will get there eventually.
The album rolled through two sides of enjoyable late period Dylan, lazy blues, rocking blues, ripping off of other writers and that weatherbeaten voice, sometimes cracking an other times hitting a note or two. But always driving the song along.
Then came Side 3. and the knock out kick in the head moment, that Dylan guy can still manage to put out a great song. Working Mans Blues #2. It’s part protest part complaint and all empathy, Beyond the Horizon a song reflecting on age and love and then the closing punch of Nettie More. A song full of grief loss and struggle sung in a plaintive, demanding and consoling voice. During these strange times when empathy is so missing in the public forum in the USA to have Dylan expressing sorrow, love and concern is particularly jarring when interspersed with the news form CNN.
There is also the inevitable hindsight is 20/20 moment in Ain’t Talkin’.
“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Through the world mysterious and vague
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Walkin’ through the cities of the plague”
If there is an argument for Dylans continued relevance as a song writer it is on Side 3. of Modern Times.
Modern Times entered the US charts at Number 1. which for a 65 year old man was no small achievement. It is a truly satisfying album, contemplative in a way early Dylan is not. It is a reflective album even in it’s more raucous songs. If you have time to spare it’s worth reading some of the plagiarism arguments, everything from Ovid to obscure civil war poets and Muddy Waters. They are great songs and obviously there are influences, it’s almost as if Dylan was listening to a standard and then went in his own direction on some stream of consciousness riff of what the song means to him.
Right after Love and Theft I stopped going to see Dylan live, during the pandemic times as I sit in the plague lands I am regretting that decision. I also apparently stopped buying Dylan albums or even listening to the new ones any more. Again I am beginning to regret that decision.
As I gird my loins to head out into the plague lands to visit with my programs and keep staff moving forward I have been accompanied by these later Dylan albums. The sun beating down and the grass and greenery turning brown Dylan has kept me company with his gamblers and rogues along for the ride, his apocalyptic rasp of a voice just seems fitting to the strange times we are in.