It’s been 5 years since our pal Bob put out the wonderful Love and Theft (itself a sequel to the Grammy-winning, and equally engaging, Time Out of Mind) but it was worth the wait. Modern Times is a delightful little jewel of a record that should touch the hearts of Dylan fans young and old (yeah that’s me enthusiastically waving my hand…)
Some of the early praise for this collection has been effusive (Rolling Stone, not surprisingly given its worshipful regard for Dylan over the years, waxed rapturously about it in a 5-star review) and just a bit excessive. Look, me and Bob go way back…his songs are often insightful and sometimes downright magical and his voice (definitely an acquired taste) is a ragged, expressive wonder that I’ve come to appreciate enormously over the decades…but I think it piles too much baggage on Modern Times…a sweet (“Beyond the Horizon” is an unabashed love song so warm that you just know that other people are going to be climbing over each other to cover it), witty (Alicia Keys is name-checked to cheeky effect on the jaunty opener “Thunder on the Mountain”), often fun, occasionally haunting (the loping rewrite of the old blues chestnut “The Levee’s Gonna Break” invokes last year’s Gulf Coast disaster to fine effect…and the closing “Ain’t Talkin’” is filled with palpable menace, mystery, and rueful dark humor), relaxed and unassuming record…to act like it’s the second coming of Blonde on Blonde or some such.
Modern Times is a laidback…but never dull…record that Dylan produced (using the pseudonym of Jack Frost) using only his crack touring band as his support musicians (a grand idea…the players all compliment each other beautifully) and it feels lived-in and familiar (in a very good way) from the very first listen.