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Dylan Crosses the Rubicon

June 22, 2020 | By

This new album Rough and Rowdy Ways can be seen as the fourth in Dylan’s gospel series, though some may not agree, and has to be played after listening to Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love, to make up a quartet.

An early-bird review of Bob Dylan’s new album “Rough and Rowdy Ways”. ( Bob Dylan is a Nobel Prize winner)
The album was released on June 19th for free on his YouTube channel

Track List. (Minutes, name, and number of its appearance.)

  1.   4:39 minutes: Bob Dylan – I Contain Multitudes (Official audio)
  2.   6:02 minutes: Bob Dylan – False Prophet
  3.   6:42 minutes: My Own Version of You
  4.   6:33 minutes: I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You
  5.   4:13 minutes: Black Rider
  6.   4:14 minutes: Goodbye Jimmy Reed
  7.   4:30 minutes: Mother of Muses
  8.   7:23 minutes: Crossing the Rubicon
  9.   9:35 minutes: Key West (Philosopher Pirate)
  10.   16:55 minutes: Murder Most Foul

At first listen, Rough and Rowdy Ways is for me Dylan’s return to form after many lacklustre albums which die-hard fans still listened to for the few gems on them. For me “Oh Mercy” was the album that mattered to me most, last, as a complete album as I could not find any song in it that did not seem worth listening to just once but many times.

The first point I want to make here is about Dylan’s voice. His voice that changed from the voice we all knew when young to the mature one in the middle years literally seemed to me to have given out and was too painful for me to listen to, but here it has become his strength. Now it is that of an old man but beautiful to listen to as it wears its scars proudly and finally his singing, I think, will not grate on the ears of even his strongest detractors as it sounds good, rough, rugged, deep, sweet at times, and though it can probably only use one scale or maximum two it does it with grace while meandering through those notes.

The first song I want to talk of is Key West, the ninth one, simply as I happen to be listening to it even while writing this. To make up for his missing harmonica or mouth organ which nothing can make up for, this one has a beautiful accordion in the background, one of Dylan’s favourite instruments to use from “Joey” onwards in Desire. It is so enchanting and the song itself so melodious that I am sure that with its deep lyrics that seem like a summing up of his entire life and with its symbol of Key West for Death or Heaven, but an equable symbol, with a Dylan who is now ready to accept death, it will be the one most listened to.

I myself would pick this as the one to try to sing, on first listen it is so tuneful.

Bob Dylan The Musician

Bob Dylan (Pic: Inc.com)

It is followed by Murder Most Foul, the last song, in this offering, on a separate CD, very similar in mood, atmosphere, and milieu to Key West, though here taken over by strings and piano, salon music and parlour room music, but also poetry recitation over strings and percussion with no wind instruments. The first half of the song is an elegy for John F. Kennedy whose death seems to Dylan to stand for the beginning of the end of the greatness of America, followed by the downward spiral that has led it to where it is now, a sad mess. The second half of the song is a tribute to American music and thus indirectly to Art as the only saviour left to mankind, or one of them. Art makes tragedy into songs that become immortal undoing the work of the killers who think only death sets one free, the death of the enemy, and are ready to take on Kennedy’s “brothers” if they come, saying that ‘they’ will kill them all, as art alone passes judgement that it was murder most foul and makes the rise of new Kennedys possible, perhaps, through this redeeming act.

The album can be divided, for me, into rock ‘n roll songs, blues songs, soft songs, and the poetry recitations.

False Prophet leans more to rock ‘n roll with its plagiarized or borrowed hook but changed to telling effect (the only song with  a touch of harmonica other than Cross the Rubicon ), while Jimmy Reed is more blues, as is Crossing the Rubicon.

Murder Most Foul and I Contain Multitudes are poetry recitation, more or less, and so is Black Rider.

Key West, I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You. (a mystical love ballad with a compelling riff that can bring the tender ones to tears) and one more song My own Version of You ( a female Frankenstein song that is also Holocaust haunted) are melodic harmonies that remind one of vintage Dylan. Mother of Muses is another brilliant soft song that finally shows Dylan as ready to die.

For Indophiles, Dylan refers to knowing “Sanskrit” and “all Hindu rituals”, though what it means is anybody’s guess as usual.

Do I have any complaints about this album? Only that I wish there was a song in it with just Dylan and the acoustic guitar and piano on it all played only by him, but to make up for it he gives me the best lyrics he may ever have penned in his life, more or less, all about himself finally, often, the song I can and always trusted and not the singer in his interviews except where he talks of music and not even there sometimes. I think this album is the fourth in his gospel series, though others may not agree, naturally, and has to be played after listening to Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love, to make a quartet. Lines like this underscore my point for me.

If I had the wings of a snow-white dove
I’d preach the gospel, the gospel of love
A love so real, a love so true
I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you

(From the song of the same name.)

I live on a street named after a Saint
Women in the churches wear powder and paint
Where the Jews and Catholics and the Muslim all pray
I can tell they’re praying from a mile away
Goodbye Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Reed indeed
Give me that old time religion, it’s just what I need
For thine is the kingdom, the power, the glory
Go tell it on the mountain, go tell the real story
Tell it in that straightforward, puritanical tone
In the mystic hours when a person’s alone
Goodbye Jimmy Reed, godspeed
Thump on the Bible, proclaim a creed

(From Jimmy Reed)

I feel the Holy Spirit inside
See the light that freedom gives
I believe it’s in the reach of
Every man who lives
Keep as far away as possible
It’s dark afore the dawn
(Oh Lord) I turned the key and broke it off
And I crossed the Rubicon

(From Crossed the Rubicon)

I was born on the wrong side of the railroad track
Like Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac
Like Louis and Jimmy and Buddy and all the rest
Well, it might not be the thing to do
But I’m sticking with you through and through
Down in the flatlands, way down in Key West
I got both my feet planted square on the ground
Got my right hand high with the thumb down
Such is life, such is happiness
Hibiscus flowers, they grow everywhere here
If you wear one, put it behind your ear
Down in the bottom, way down in Key West…

Key West is the gateway key
To innocence and purity
Key West, Key West is the enchanted land…

Winter here is an unknown thing…

Key West is under the sun, under the radar, under the gun
You stay to the left, and then you lean to the right
Feel the sunlight on your skin, and the healing virtues of the wind
Key West, Key West is the land of light

I’ve never lived in the land of Oz
Or wasted my time with an unworthy cause

Wherever I travel, wherever I roam
I’m not that far from the convent home
I do what I think is right, what I think is best

Key West is the place to be
If you’re looking for immortality
Key West is paradise divine
Key West is fine and fair
If you lost your mind, you’ll find it there
Key West is on the horizon line (From Key West)

Fare thee well for now, Dylan the great, and Goodbye not yet, it is too good a word to use for you and I hope I never have to.

Rating – *****,

Dr. Koshy A.V. is presently working as an Assistant Professor in the English Department of Jazan University, Saudi Arabia. He has many books, degrees, diplomas, certificates, prizes, and awards to his credit and also, besides teaching, is an editor, anthology maker, poet, critic and writer of fiction. He runs an autism NPO with his wife, Anna Gabriel.
All Posts of Dr Ampat Varghese Koshy

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