“I’m a man of contradictions. I’m a man of many moods. I contain multitudes.” Bob Dylan rasps that little confession (with no apologies to Walt Whitman) a couple of minutes into his 39th studio album. You don’t need me to tell you that’s not exactly breaking news. But let me tell you this: When it comes to Rough and Rowdy Ways, truer words have never been spoken. Especially those last three words. Over the course of 10 tracks and 70 jam-packed minutes, the former Robert Zimmerman essentially surveys “the history of the whole human race” from Creation to Judgment Day — paying special attention to the bittersweet mysteries of life, love, war, religion, creativity and anything else that sparks his razor-sharp mind and roguish wit. Bragging like a gangster rapper and dropping pop culture references faster than Dennis Miller on speed, the 79-year-old singer-songwriter pinballs from topic to topic like James Holzhauer running the Jeopardy! board. He ponders the assassination of JFK and its turbulent aftermath. He expresses his love for Key West and sends off Jimmy Reed (but not Jimmie Rodgers, the source of the album’s title). He lays his heart bare as a young lover. He thumbs his nose at death. And he name-checks everyone from Julius Caesar and Karl Marx to The Rolling Stones and Indiana Jones. Even more impressive: Somehow he manages to tie it all together like one giant murder board of humanity. And he wisely sets it all to another nostalgic collection of laid-back blues, Americana and vintage Tin Pan Alley songcraft that works to complement and not compete with his lyrical tsunami. By the time you get to the end ofthe near-17-minute epic Murder Most Foul, there’s no doubt that Rough and Rowdy Ways is the latest late-career masterpiece from a man who’s not only the finest and most influential songwriter of the last half century — but also one of the most original and impactful songwriters working today. But you probably don’t need me to tell you that either.
THE PRESS RELEASE: “Rough and Rowdy Ways is Bob Dylan’s first album of original material in eight years and his first since becoming the only songwriter to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. Its 10 tracks include the three new songs released this spring: the album’s lead-off track, I Contain Multitudes, the nearly 17-minute epic Murder Most Foul and False Prophet.”