With Just A Hint Of Mayhem

Music trivia, useless info, extra added random stuff and the odd rant from me

‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – Bob Dylan July 2, 2020

Filed under: Review — justwilliam1959 @ 10:37 pm
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“Today and tomorrow and yesterday, too
The flowers are dying like all things do”

Thus begins Bob Dylan’s 39th studio album. His first of new material since 2012.

Bob is in a biblical mood on ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’. He comes across like some kind of preacher. Each song an atmospheric sermon delivered over a melancholically minimalist sonic architecture. That minimalism is the main theme here, sonically. Many tunes eschew percussion completely, leaving a kind of softly strummed, string-drenched soundscape. Structurally, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’, seems to straddle two genres in the main: Blues and a kind of spiritual gospel, which fits perfectly the preacher/sermon comparisons.

Lyrically, this is a radically different album for Dylan. Where his past works wove an entirely original literary landscape (or universe) of fictional characters with roots in American folklore, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ features real people and their literary creations. Gone are the Jokers, thieves and Sad Eyed Ladies Of The Lowlands. In their place you’ll find Anne Frank, Indiana Jones, JFK and all manner of other significant personalities from the last 60 years of Western culture. “I Contain Multitudes” is named for a line in Walt Whitman poem, for example.

Dylan of old was awash with metaphors and similes. Abstract imagery and far out concepts which Dylan absorbed from the worlds of art, music and literature. When he talked about “Ezra Pound & T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower” in “Desolation Row”, this was obviously used as a metaphor for the differences between their styles and for a young Bob Dylan to signal his literary love and knowledge. When he sings, on “Mother Of Muses”: “Sing of Sherman, Montgomery, and Scott/And of Zhukov, and Patton, and the battles they fought/who cleared the path for Presley to sing/who carved the path for Martin Luther King,” he really means, literally, to thank these generals and that Elvis and MLK couldn’t have done what they did without them. There’s no artifice or alternative interpretation. On ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’, Bob says exactly what he means and means exactly what he says.

I don’t know if anyone would agree with this interpretation, but I get a feeling of encroaching mortality and tying up of loose ends from ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’. It’s fair to say that Dylan is no spring chicken, and he’s not getting any younger, so I think it would be more surprising if he didn’t think about his own mortality. I already wrote, in my review of “Murder Most Foul”, that I thought Dylan was singing about things which had been occupying his thoughts for some time. I imagine when JFK was assassinated, Dylan thought to himself: ”I should write about that.” “Murder Most Foul” was, in my interpretation of the Dylan mythology, the old man finally achieving the ambitions of the young man.

This review has taken me longer than it should have because I have a had a hard time getting my thoughts in order about it, but in a display of serendipity, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ made the news today, Friday 26th June, one week on from release. Today the BBC reported that Dylan has broken/set the record for oldest artist to have a number one album in the UK. This only a couple of short months on from Murder Most Foul becoming his first Billboard chart number one. We might all be having a rough year, but Bob Dylan seems to be having a great year. Career-wise. And where serendipity comes into this: if I had being able to write this review quicker, I would have missed this incredibly exciting news. <and if I had published it quicker you, dear reader, would have been reading this excellent piece from Tom in June! – Bill -Editor>

Written by Tom Ray.

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“I Contain Multitudes” – Bob Dylan April 20, 2020

Filed under: Review — justwilliam1959 @ 9:39 am
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Hot on the heels of his epic 17-minute dissection of the J.F.K. assassination and the last 60 years of popular culture (and also his first Billboard number one), “Murder Most Foul”, Bob Dylan returns with yet another incredible new single.

“I Contain Multitudes” seems to be a more personal work than “Murder Most Foul”. Musically it is just as sparse and minimalistic as its predecessor. The arrangement seems to consist of just gently strummed guitar chords, deep and mournful cello, steel slide guitar and voice. There is no percussion. This creates a very intimate atmosphere that is both similar and radically different to “Murder Most Foul”. Where “Murder Most Foul” felt like Dylan giving a quasi-religious sermon, “I Contain Multitudes” feels warm and conversational.

Structurally however it’s a little more familiar to long term Dylan fans. It follows similar “mathematic” song structures to his earlier works. Each verse contains four lines with a simple AABB rhyming scheme followed by two lines which end in the title of the song. This type of songwriting is Dylan’s bread and butter. A quick look back at some of his most loved songs, such a “Desolation Row”, “Visions of Johanna”, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Like a Rolling Stone” etc. reveals this same pattern repeated in a multitude (heh) of different ways.

Lyrically, obviously, is where “I Contain Multitudes” gets really interesting. Like “Murder Most Foul”, it draws from the world of literature but where the former song looked to Shakespear, “I Contain Multitudes” takes its title from a line in ‘Song of Myself, 51’, a poem by Walt Whitman, a writer Dylan has regularly signalled his admiration for in the past. Like the Poem, the song seems to be taking a long, hard look at the artist with a nostalgic and rose-tinted view of his past. Also, like “Murder Most Foul”, it is packed with references to various cultural touchstones which are as disparate as they are iconic. Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Frank, Indiana Jones, “them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones”, William Blake, Beethoven and Chopin all find themselves in the lyrical maze. These lyrics simultaneously paint the writer as both a slightly boring everyman and an exciting and roguish outlaw. He lives on the “boulevard of crime” and carries “four pistols and two knives” but he also paints landscapes and nudes. There is also an undercurrent of awareness of mortality which is only natural, I suppose, for a man in his late seventies. As such a lot of the lyrics read as a more literate “My Way”. Lyrics like “I sleep with life and death in the same bed” certainly cut deep in this regard.

This is another strong Dylan single and we look forward to more. At this rate, we might have to set up a Bob Dylan Desk here at With Just a Hint of Mayhem!

Written by Tom Ray

“I Contain Multitudes” is available now to stream or buy from all good digital retailers and streaming services.

“I Contain Multitudes” – Lyrics

Today, and tomorrow, and yesterday, too
The flowers are dyin’ like all things do
Follow me close, I’m going to Bally-na-Lee
I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me
I fuss with my hair, and I fight blood feuds
I contain multitudes

Got a tell-tale heart like Mr. Poe
Got skeletons in the walls of people you know
I’ll drink to the truth and the things we said
I’ll drink to the man that shares your bed
I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes
I contain multitudes

A red Cadillac and a black mustache
Rings on my fingers that sparkle and flash
Tell me, what’s next? What shall we do?
Half my soul, baby, belongs to you
I rollick and I frolic with all the young dudes
I contain multitudes

I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end
I go right where all things lost are made good again
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make
Everything’s flowing all at the same time
I live on a boulevard of crime
I drive fast cars, and I eat fast foods
I contain multitudes

Pink pedal-pushers, red blue jeans
All the pretty maids, and all the old queens
All the old queens from all my past lives
I carry four pistols and two large knives
I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods
I contain multitudes

You greedy old wolf, I’ll show you my heart
But not all of it, only the hateful part
I’ll sell you down the river, I’ll put a price on your head
What more can I tell you? I sleep with life and death in the same bed
Get lost, madame, get up off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind
I’ll see to it that there’s no love left behind
I’ll play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes
I contain multitudes

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