Dylan's 'Modern Times' Are A-Changing Bob Dylan is 65, an age at which many people expect to slow down. The revered songwriter is doing the opposite. In the last two years, he's launched his own weekly satellite radio program, the Theme Time Radio Hour. This week brings a CD called Modern Times, the first new songs Dylan has released in five years.

Dylan's 'Modern Times' Are A-Changing

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Bob Dylan is 65, the age when many people slow down a little. Well, not Dylan. Between launching a weekly satellite radio show, writing a second volume of memoirs and touring at a breakneck pace, Bob Dylan has found time to record. This week's release marks his first new CD in five years.

It's called Modern Times, and Tom Moon has this review.

TOM MOON reporting:

On the surface, there isn't much that's terribly modern about the new Bob Dylan CD.

(Soundbite of Modern Times)

Mr. BOB DYLAN (Singer): (Singing) Spirit on the water, darkness on the face of the deep. I keep thinking of you, baby. I can't hardly sleep. I'm traveling by land, traveling through the dawn of the day.

MOON: Inside these 10 songs, you can hear ghosts and inspirations from the distant past. There are the gentle soft shoe rhythms and the sturdy blues forms Dylan used on his last two albums. When he borrows lines from old blues songs, they fit in perfectly.

Even the recording methods come from a simpler era. Most of this album, which Dylan produced under the pseudonym Jack Frost, was captured live in the studio. Just when it seems Dylan is avoiding anything too 21st century, out of the blue he name checks pop singer and keyboardist Alicia Keys.

(Soundbite of Modern Times)

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) I was thinking about Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying. When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line. I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be. I've been looking for her even in Clearblue, Tennessee.

MOON: With that song and a few others, the most influential songwriter of the last half-century goes on a long, free associative bender. Leaning on that ravaged, yet still expressive voice for all it's worth, Dylan makes repeated attempts to reckon with a higher power, then he imagines that the art of love will fit him like a glove. Then, shifting gears, he tosses out a gloomy, apocalyptic vision. Then he tells about a woman who's got him mesmerized.

Somehow this stuff all works together, unified by one serene steady rolling band. Dylan recently told Rolling Stone .agazine he considers this the best band he's ever had.

(Soundbite of Modern Times)

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) She ain't no (unintelligible), neither am I. Shame on your gritty, shame on your wickedest views. I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams.

MOON: Bob Dylan's been blunt before, but never quite like this. He sounds like someone with big scores to settle and no time for conversational niceties. At times his words are as direct as the captions of silent movies.

(Soundbite of Modern Times)

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) So many good things in life that I overlook. I don't know what to do, baby, you got me so hooked. Some day, baby, you ain't gonna wait for me anymore.

MOON: A lot has happened in the world since Bob Dylan released his last album, Love and Theft, on September 11, 2001. Those expecting an inventory of catastrophe will be disappointed. Dylan just glances at current events, and that's all it takes for him to conjure up the dread of the age. His songs catch the curious blend of unwavering faith and formless fear that distinguishes the present moment.

(Soundbite of Modern Times)

Mr. DYLAN: (Singing) I hear the deafening noise, I felt transient joys, I know then I was (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) demand for disappointment and pain. You'll never see me frown. I owe my heart to you and that's saying it true, and I'll be with you when the deal goes down.

MOON: We look to great art to help us understand what's going on. Considering how many times Bob Dylan has provided a fresh perspective on the world, a set of songs so cluttered up with ghosts and memories might be considered a disappointment.

Modern Times is not a disappointment. It's Bob Dylan wrestling with the internal questions, human foibles and treacheries, the meaning of life, but in a sly fox sort of roundabout way. He knows what the old blues men he so admires knew, that he doesn't have to load up his songs about modern day worries to powerfully signify what it means to be alive in modern times.

SIEGEL: The CD is Modern Times by Bob Dylan. Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

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