Bob Dylan

Modern Times (Columbia)

Modern Times? Hardly. Dylan's third album in his current streak of artistic renewal harks back to such hoary old icons as Chuck Berry ("Thunder on the Mountain" is in melodic essence "Johnny B. Goode"), Muddy Waters (a recast of "Rollin' and Tumblin'") and Memphis Minnie (who earns more than a nod on "The Levee's Gonna Break"). Dylan is also not above resurrecting some of his own ghosts from his chameleonesque past--the then-confounding crooner of his 1970 album Self Portrait surfaces on both "Spirit on the Water" and "Beyond the Horizon." And the album title is only part of the irony that suffuses his 31st new studio release. His followers would have been aghast if this puppy had yelped out in the 1960s or '70s, yet it arrives today with some hefty initial praise. But the truth is, neither of these extreme reactions really applies. After drawing renewed inspiration from his roots on Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft, Dylan here creates a period piece so archaic (yet also oddly compelling) it could be called Time Out of Time. No, there's nothing here that even approaches such recent stunners as "Tryin' to Get to Heaven," "Make You Feel My Love" and "Mississippi," and the modern topical allusions on "Levee" and "Workingman's Blues #2" (again, refer to Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues") are to be found only between the lines. In the end, Modern Times sounds like a work from the ages but, alas, never quite for the ages.

 
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