And the Streak Continues
I’ve never been to a smoky, wood-floored, gritty bar on the Mexican border. And yet I can’t help but imagine that Bob Dylan’s new album captures what being in one would feel like. Is this a masterpiece on the order of Love and Theft? No. But it is a remarkably strong album, with the old-timey, Tin Pan Alley colors and flavors of that album, or the in-the-groove 50s dance hall band feel of its immediate predecessor, Modern Times, replaced by a distinctly Latin-flavored color here, primarily added by David Hidalgo’s accordion.
The opening track, “Beyond Here Lies Nothing,” has a careless, tossed-off feel, almost like a warm-up, but the second track is a real keeper, a delicate rumination colored by trilling banjo and defined by a stuttered, halting, earnest melody. And the wheezing, charming, accordion-driven up-down riff in “If You Ever Go to Houston” is a great engine, with more complex harmonies underneath than might be immediately apparent.
There’s blues here (in the shuffling one-two beat of “My Wife’s Hometown,” and balladry, but none of the more straight-ahead rocking that modern Dylan has favored (nothing like Love and Theft’s “Tweedledee and Tweedledum” or Modern Times’ “Thunder on the Mountain”). And yet it doesn’t feel missing.
This is another in a series of albums that are very much of a piece, with a definite sound and color palette unique to themselves. And, lest we forget, it’s an album written and sung by a 67-year old. Lots of singers have kept on recording great stuff well into their dotage, but have any songwriters? It’s looking increasingly like Dylan is going to have a career more singular than anyone imagined.