I’ve spent a little time with the new Dylan album and while many of the songs still need to get under my skin both lyrically and musically, I’m here to say that It would be hard to justify the 5-Star accolades that are being heaped upon the record especially when there are three songs, encompassing close to 30 minutes of music, that are far less than compelling. Sure some of the tracks here are good including this one, the old-timey “Duquesne Whistle” (co-written with Jerry Garcia collaborator Robert Hunter), the rocking “Narrow Way,” the ballad “Soon After Midnight,” the sinister “Pay In Blood” and the long violent parable “Tin Angel” all featuring some of Dylan’s most violent and at times funniest lyrics…and not a note of harmonica to be found…anywhere. It is a dark album indeed, but I just don’t see how the record can be getting 5-star reviews when the rest of the record is stuffed with overlong songs that kind of meander along, like the tedious 14-minute title track which is a fictional account of the Titanic disaster, “Early Roman Kings” that contains laugh-out-loud lyrical couplets but comes musically wrapped in a rehash of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” and “Roll On John” a plodding tribute to John Lennon 32 years after his death. Dylan is in fine late-period growl here and the band is mostly made up of his top-notch touring unit, including the venerable Tony Garnier on bass, George G. Receli on drums, Donnie Herron on steel guitar, banjo, violin and mandolin, Stu Kimball on guitar, Dave Hidalgo (of Los Lobos) on guitar, accordion and violin, and one of Dylan’s greatest guitar foils, Charlie Sexton on guitar. With sturdy production courtesy of Jack Frost (Dylan) himself, it’s great to see Dylan still at it after all these years, and this record is a big improvement over his last one. Five stars? Hardly…perhaps three!
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