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Modern Times (Columbia)


As the needle drops on the fresh vinyl disc, the grooves spin to the sound of a
smooth blues guitar run, backed by the flailing of cymbals and gentle drum
crashes. This all gives way to a rolling boogie blues beat, and our singer begins
to belt out his first verse.

It’s a completely timeless tune. It could’ve been sung in a Chicago blues joint in
1936 or 2006. Until the second verse, that is:
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Modern Times
Producer: Jack Frost

Thunder on the Mountain
2. Spirit on the Water
3. Rollin' and Tumblin'
4. When the Deal Goes Down
5. Someday Baby
6. Workingman's Blues #2
7. Beyond the Horizon
8. Nettie Moore
9. The Levee's Gonna Break
10. Ain't Talkin'
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“I was thinking ‘bout Alicia Keys,
couldn’t keep from cryin’
But she was born in Hell’s kitchen;
I was living down the line
I’m wondering where in the world
Alicia Keys could be
I’ve been lookin’ for her even clear through Tennessee.”
Well. That’s certainly new, isn’t it?

And it serves to illustrate the balance that Dylan strikes here on
Modern Times, his
first album since, and an appropriate follow-up to, 2001’s
Love and Theft. As he
did on his last album, Dylan balances his current thoughts and world view on top
of a distinctly retro sound. But, as Dylan would contend, there’s nothing retro about
the music at all. Whatever style Dylan adapts to fit his songs — blues, jazz,
country, etc. — is just another tool in the timeless art of music making.

Take the reworking of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” a song that sees Dylan rewrite nearly
every line of Robert Johnson’s classic, or “Someday Baby,” which recalls Muddy
Waters’ “Trouble No More” in lyric and rhythm. Each works at recalling the past,
but in such a way that always feels fresh and exciting. This trait has been the
hallmark of Dylan’s latter-day work, and it’s in full power here.

Dylan’s sense of time, specifically, has been impeccable since his 1997
masterpiece, Time Out of Mind. Knowing how long to pace himself between
albums, knowing how to best work his material live, knowing how and when to
utilize his band, when to rework a standard, when to reference a modern event,
they’re all reflected here on his new album.

As with “This Levee’s Gonna Break,” the subject matter is a blues classic and
also completely appropriate, with the disaster of New Orleans still fresh and
unresolved. The song itself, though, will likely never sound dated —
it’s been written and performed in a manner that will make it live on through the
ages. This technique is nothing new to Dylan (take 1963’s “Masters of War,” for
the most obvious example), but proves that not only has he not lost his touch, he
has not stepped out of time, both literally and figuratively.

And that is the hallmark of this album. Dylan has once again injected himself into
the musical culture as a relevant, meaningful subject. And he does so in his own
typically uncompromising fashion.

Dylan hangs around because he’s great, and Modern Times gives the listener a
dozen reasons to remember why he’s still around. He still has the power, and as
shown here, he’s not afraid to use it.
It's another classic for Dylan on 'Modern Times'