STYLE: Rock RATING OUR PRODUCT CODE: 20757-11431 LABEL: Columbia 82876876062 FORMAT: CD Album ITEMS: 1 RELEASE DATE: 2006-08-30 RRP: £16.99
Reviewed by Darren Hirst
"I'm beginning to believe what the Scriptures tell." From "Nettie Moore". This might seem an odd quote at first, coming as it does from a writer whose writing has always included echoes of the Bible and whose songs have been surrounded by the atmosphere of both Old and New Testaments for the last 28 years (see Michael J Gilmour's Tangled Up In The Bible - Bob Dylan And Scripture for a handy reference guide) but it is a good place to begin in understanding this new opus from Dylan. Dylan insists that these songs are not autobiographical but it seems obvious that they are about the subjects that concern him at the moment and he simply drops his characters into the situations and they allow him to explore them from different perspectives. But what are the central themes this time around? Some reviewers seem only to have spotted the blues riffs and lyrics that Bob has lifted from various sources from last century and earlier. Others never got far enough into listening to the record to do anything than mention a playful reference to singer Alicia Keyes in the first song. The New York Times calls it "Dylan's Pilgrim's Progress" - an idea I first raised about the travelling songs on his 'Time Out Of Mind' album about a decade ago and this is closer. Musically, it is more reminiscent of his last new set 'Love And Theft' but lyrically it is indeed closer to 'Time Out Of Mind'. Put the lyrics and the melodies together and you have a substantial multi-course meal rather than the light fare that preoccupies most of the other top 20 selling discs today. Amongst the key themes are the struggle to live life to the ideal you have found and the coming apocalypse which will relieve that struggle for everyone. He utilises many of his favourite lyrical ideas - the characters in "Workingman's Blues #2" and "Nettie Moore" are listening to the rails awaiting a coming train. There are many plays on words here. He sings a lot about the "Sun" but the references are to a Sun that is rising, returning and strong and may have more to do with the "Son" that the New Testament writers speak about than the fiery orb. He talks a lot about work but it seems to be more to do with the kind of work without which faith is dead than regular paid employment. The language is not exclusive and could been taken in different ways and any listener who is concerned to really hear will find much to draw them into these songs. What is obvious is that this set of songs is set just before the end of the world. A time when "a day that only the Lord could make" may be upon us, a time when "salvation can be behind the next bend in the road" where there is a blissful place waiting for the faithful "beyond the horizon" and when while "some people still sleepin', some people are wide awake" to what is happening and know their place: "Today I'll stand in faith and raise/The voice of praise/The sun is strong, I'm standing in the light." The struggles of all of this motley crew are poignant and draw you in: "I am a-tryin' to love my neighbour and do good unto others/But oh, mother, things ain't going well." The lyrics are redolent with a New Testament feel but they will find a much wider audience than most songwriters with a biblical bent because they are in touch with humanity's plight. Sit back and listen to a master at work.
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