As she explained last week, Emma Swift found the way to reconnect with her muse, her love of music, and herself, was to connect with Bob Dylan. Or at least Dylan through his songs.
Turns out it works, as Wind Back Wednesday dons a dapper hat, a sharp jacket and some sugar in the bowl to remember first encountering Dylan’s Modern Times in 2006. That was, incidentally, his 32nd album. And it pleased.
Thanks Bob. Thanks Emma.
Modern Times (Sony)
Modern times? Hardly. As he did with his previous two albums, the sombre Time Out Of Mind and the livelier Love And Theft (which seems now like the first part of a double act with this album), Bob Dylan has made an album more suited to pre-rock days, more in touch with the roots of his love affair with American music than to anything "modern".
The blues - acoustic rural and electric urban - figure prominently, while country, tea room jazz and old old-school pop (the type sung by men in dinner suits and women in high hair) are also on the menu. When you add Dylan's laconic, raspy and wheezy (but startlingly clear sounding) voice the black and white picture is complete.
Good times? Oh yeah, Dylan's having plenty of them. This is an album made by a man who has left off worrying about death (which hovered all over Time Out Of Mind) and has rediscovered if not his youth, then something more substantial: the zest to grab life. As with his highly entertaining satellite radio shows and recent autobiography , there are droll lines(from a nod to Alicia Keys and "put some sugar in my bowl/I feel like laying down" to "I got the pork chops, she got the pie") and the sly musical references of a music junkie scattered throughout Modern Times.
Better yet though, everything is infected with boyish enthusiasm, never more so than in the sexily propulsive Rollin' And Tumblin' and the quick shuffling The Levee's Gonna Break but also in the Hawaiian-inflected stardust of Beyond The Horizon and the soft-shoe feel of Spirit On Of the Water.
Lyrically, the themes are familiar Dylan topics: fate, faith and love. Sometimes all in the one song. For example, there may be a new love in his life in Beyond The Horizon ("my wretched heart's pounding/I felt an angel's kiss") but he could just as easily be singing about his God ("beyond the horizon/o'r the treacherous sea/I still can't believe that you've set aside your love for me").
And then there is the image-rich, slow-time dance of Working Man's Blues #2 which rides through valleys of struggle, fear, redemption and rest and evokes Woody Guthrie, old gospel and Dylan himself, circa Like A Rollin' Stone.
Maybe the final word for this seriously entertaining album should go to Bob Dylan. "You think I'm over the hill/you think I'm past my prime/let me see what you got/we can have a whoppin' good time".