Bob Dylan's new album, Modern Times, is incredibly relaxed. Most of the songs are mid-tempo shuffles, with the arrangements focusing on texture (a guitar riff here, a drum fill there, a bit of violin) rather than on power. There are only a couple real rockers, and even they are not played for rock-and-roll drive.
My first listen was last night after supper, with three kids running round (well, okay, Sara was not running around, since she can't walk yet, but it's a metaphor). The sound of the CD made the whole living room calm; the kids' energy did not seem hectic with these gentle but pulsing rhythms surrounding them. Despite being very worn out, I just sat there on the couch and enjoyed the music and the kids.
I've been catching bits of lyrics here and there, but nothing that makes me want to cite anything yet. Lots of nice turns of phrase, as always, and a healthy dose of lines that are actually clichés, but that sound beautiful in a song. Also, the lyrics are not included with the disc, and I have not yet been able to find them on line.
In fact, the phrases that keep coming to me tend to be from songs from Dylan's last, Love and Theft, which just indicates that this CD sounds a lot like that one—and why shouldn't it? One feature of both Love and Theft and Modern Times is just how wonderfully recorded they are.
The titles that have struck me the most on Modern Times are the first two, "Thunder on the Mountain" (not a rocker; the thunder is in the distance, as it were) and "Spirit on the Water" (with some exquisite rhythym riffing from the guitars), as well as two ballads, "When the Deal Goes Down" (with its title that sounds familiar to any Deadhead) and "Nettie Moore." The last of these is the most singular tune on the CD musically: the groove is much less pronounced, and the sparseness of the arrangement (though not the details) recalls the exquisite "Sugar Baby" from Love and Theft. The arrangement of the drums deserves special mention: using mostly just a straight-four bass drum, with some percussion details added on the choruses (or perhaps they are bridges?), George Recile has produced a masterpiece of minimalism in his playing here.