If you're one of those "music fans" who still gets a laugh when late-night talk show hosts make fun of Bob Dylan's voice, don't bother with his latest record - you never got it in the first place.
If you're one of those "music fans" who still appreciates heart, musical heritage, grit and soul, go right now and pick up Dylan's 32nd studio recording, Modern Times, released August 29.
Dylan continues a creative renaissance that started nearly 10 years ago with the Grammy-winning Time out of Mind, followed a few years later by the utterly brilliant Love and Theft.
His "never-ending tour" of live shows continues with a jaunt that will make an early November stop at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
In the last couple years, we've seen Dylan's irrepressible tome Chronicles - must reading for anyone who enjoys any form of 20th century art, and Martin Scorcese's film, No Direction Home.
The last decade has seen Dylan set aside his persona of mystery man. He now speaks, writes, and performs with clarity rarely witnessed in his 45 years in the spotlight. Yes, he'll never sing "Like a Rolling Stone" as he did in 1965, but hasn't your voice changed in the last four decades?
Bob Dylan continues to move forward - by continuing to move back. Back to the sounds and the groove that made him fall in love with music on all those cold winter nights in Hibbing, Minnesota, while continuing to evolve as his own man, unencumbered by expectations from fans, media, and the world at large.
The new record's opening track, "Thunder on the Mountain," is built around Chuck Berry guitar licks right out of Maybellene and Let it Rock. You wouldn't expect anything less from Dylan, who produces the record under the name of Jack Frost. Dylan said in his high school yearbook his goal was to "join Little Richard," and almost 50 years later, he's done it.
Lyrically, "Thunder" declares, I've already confessed/no need to confess again, telling the world, maybe for the last time, that the "spokesman for a generation" died and was buried long ago.
The only expectations Dylan now adheres to are his own. Musically and lyrically, "Thunder on the Mountain" shows us that Dylan sings and writes what he wants, sings how he wants, performs as often as he wants - and music fans of all persuasions should rejoice.
"Rolling and Tumbling" may be the disc's biggest mover and shaker, an electric blues with authentic riffs provided by guitarists Stu Kimball and Denny Freeman. Dylan said recently his current band is his best ever, and coming from a man that's surrounded himself with the likes of Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, The Band, and Charlie Sexton, that's saying a lot.
Kimball and Freeman deliver the goods in a manner that recalls the famous electric blues of Muddy Waters and his brethren of the late 1950s and early 1960s, while Dylan continues in his underappreciated yet long-standing role as one of music's biggest proponents of the form - in fact, Columbia Records also just released a compilation of Dylan's greatest blues tunes. The artist also uses a line in "Rolling and Tumbling' to show advancing age hasn't mellowed him too much: I ain't nobody's house boy/I ain't nobody's well-trained maid. By now, you get the message.
In case you didn't get it, Dylan fires a shot straight from the bow in "The Levee's Gonna Break." Though he never mentions Hurricane Katrina or New Orleans by name in the song, Bob's affinity for the Crescent City is well-documented, especially in the pages of Chronicles. When he growls, Some people on the road carryin' everything they own/Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones, Dylan recognizes that he may not be the spokesman, but if you want, he can still clue you in on what's truly right and wrong.
As he did on Love and Theft, Dylan presents numbers like "When the Deal Goes Down" that sound straight out of the 1940s, with lyrics that remind one of Hank Williams, yet another of Dylan's heroes of his youth. "Nettie Moore" shows Bob at his storyteller best, adding company to the sad-eyed ladies and Brownsville girls he's created over the years.
And top things off, Dylan ends the lesson with "Ain't Talkin'," an epic that goes by all too quickly at just under nine minutes, bringing to mind lengthy gems like "Desolation Row," "Highlands," and many others.
It's no coincidence that perhaps the best two records of 2006 may be Modern Times and Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions, albums by artists who refuse to rest on their laurels and move ahead by recalling music that is much a part of our country's fabric as any freeway or factory. Modern times dictate that anyone and everyone will certainly get their 15 minutes of stardom. But, Modern Times, the album, shows Bob Dylan continues to shine brightly for all the right reasons, with no indications of ever burning out.