In a time of great societal upheaval, doesn’t it seem prophetic for us to receive a new album from Bob Dylan, whose unforgettable songs have not only made him a living musical legend on par with bands like The Beatles but have also formed the sonic backdrop of some of the twentieth century’s defining moments? Speaking of defining moments, the album’s closing number, “Murder Most Foul,” which was released earlier this March on Dylan’s YouTube channel, covers the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Considering the way this year has panned out since March, it might not be too late to reinstate Dylan as America’s gravelly-voiced oracle.
Though the album has its own twists and turns, it’s not difficult to spot the Dylan of old in “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” his first album of new songs since 2012 (his most recent three efforts were covers of American standards). Nowhere is his signature wit, playfulness, and prescience more evident than in the previously mentioned “Murder Most Foul,” which also has the honor of being the longest single track (at almost 17 minutes) that Dylan has recorded in his over half a century long career. Just read the following passage and try not to imagine the prophet returned: “What’s new, pussycat?- wha’d I say? / I said the soul of a nation been torn away / And it’s beginning to go into a slow decay / And that it’s 36 hours past Judgment Day.”
In times like ours, so similar in ways to the 1960s, we need artists like Bob Dylan to help guide us through our troubles. It just so happens that we’re still lucky enough to have the Bob Dylan to be our muse and oracle in 2020.