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By Blaine Schultz
With Modern Times, Bob Dylan finds himself inhabiting the itinerant bluesmen’s spirits he merely impersonated when he cut his first album in 1962. As with the masterful Love and Theft, Dylan immerses himself in American music forms, touching on blues, old-timey country and Tin Pan Alley pop, and lets his band rip into these templates, reinventing them in his own image. If these songs sound familiar it is simply because Dylan is not shy about borrowing generously – a Muddy Waters line here, a slide guitar lick there – from source materials that were magpied plenty of times before he got to them. But like Miles Davis and Bill Monroe, Dylan reconfigures the very DNA of the music.
This is the second album in a row Dylan has chosen to record with his current touring group and, musically, Modern Times
excels when the players work in their signature driving, roadhouse blues that allows for real-time interaction and bits of improvisation. Not unlike his legendary work with The Band, this lineup is a stellar example of how songs are treated in the hands of sympathetic players. Unfortunately, in Dylan’s tour of the American songbook he seems to have developed a jones for crooners. While his cragged voice woks great for the Old Testament cane-stompers, there’s too much Bing Crosby included here; that’s my lone caveat. Consumer note: some pressings include a DVD of four fantastic performances, and orders from his website include a CD of Dylan’s Theme Time satellite radio show with his hilarious commentary on baseball-themed tunes.