A resurgence of Folk music charged with Civil Rights power in the 21st Century
“I’ve already outlived my life by far.” Bob Dylan is an American folk-singer-songwriter that has been wildly admired for more than 50 years. Dylan popularized folk with his guitar in hand, harmonica around his neck and his renowned talking-rather-than-singing vocal style. Bob Dylan’s most beloved works are from the 1960s, such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin.’” These tracks became civil rights and antiwar psalms, marking Dylan as an activist, as much as he is a musician. His music is bursting with political, social, philosophical and literary inspirations that “defied pop music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture.”
Not only is Bob Dylan a musician that uses political and socially charged lyrics, but he is a visual artist who has published eight books of illustrations and paintings. Musically, Bob Dylan is a legend. His records have sold over 100 million copies, received Grammy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Academy Awards, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Award, the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature for his poetic expression in American songwriting. That being said, Bob Dylan’s music is incredibly ample with power. Dylan released his new record, Rough and Rowdy Ways, in the heart of the global pandemic and social uprising that reverberates the 1960’s counterculture.
“I Contain Multitudes” is a smooth, flamenco song with Bob Dylan serenading that “half my soul, baby, belongs to you.” The song has simple guitar picking and strumming, while his voice draws the most focus above the background tinkering. Another example of Dylan’s literary influence arising in his songs is shown here when Dylan croons: “Got a tell-tale heart like Mr. Poe/ Got skeletons in the walls of people you know.” “False Prophet” is a vintage, blues-jazz fusion, with the hint of a Louis Armstrong growl in Dylan’s voice. The twangy guitar owning a monosyllabic strum with a suave, soloing brass section proves that Dylan has ventured out into a fresh sound.
“Mother of Muses” is a beautiful ballad filled with imagery and guitar picking that resembles those of Leonard Cohen. Similar to Cohen, “My Own Version of You” is a macabre song of talking/singing a narration of walking through a graveyard to reanimate corpses (an allusion to Frankenstein by Mary Shelley), and asks the famous question: “Can you tell me what it means: To be or not to be? … Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?” (an allusion to Hamlet by William Shakespeare). This philosophical song can be interpreted as Dylan nearing death and wanting to know how to cope with the mystery that follows it.
“Murder Most Foul” is a 17-minute, ominous narrative of Dylan retelling the 1963 JFK assassination, saying he was “being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb.” This song starts with the blunt ending of when “they blew off his head while he was still in the car,” but uses this space to tell of the influence he left on the world after his murder. Using orchestral instruments to create a divine sound, Dylan uses this sound as a tribute to John F. Kennedy.
Filled with classic electric guitar riffs, a silver-tongued drum beat and accordion accents, “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” is a nine-minute song about a vagabond traveling on the U.S. Route 1 until he reaches the end of the road, singing that the “Key West is the place to be if you’re looking for your mortality.”
Bob Dylan’s new album seems like Dylan embarking his greatest wisdom onto the world in his last days. His words will not be taken lightly.