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BOB DYLAN - MODERN TIMES - SONY/BMG
Record Rating: *****

Bob Dylan - Modern Times - Sony/BMG The world's most popular and acclaimed living songwriter, musician and performer, his two most recent studio albums were among his most commercially successful and critically lauded. While most of his music counterparts have fallen by the wayside, Bob Dylan has been consistent only in one thing: he has never stopped making great music, or being cagey about it.

Modern Times, his first collection of new material in five years, finds the 65-year-old Dylan with an unshakable case of the blues, and heís happy about it. The album opens on a high note with the fabulously swinging Thunder On The Mountain; a rambunctious effort, the music is edgy, keening blues-rock galore. Resurrecting his traditional themes of life, love and self-indulgence, this is Dylan's new take on the modern times around him. While there are a handful of lightweight numbers among the ten tracks, at its core are several excellent songs, making it easy to understand why this CD debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 ~ his first album to top the US Charts in 30 years! From the spiritual fervour of Spirit On The Water to the rock and rolling of Someday Baby, Dylan is more upbeat here than heís been in decades. Heís equally captivating on the slower tracks, giving appropriately heartbreaking, anguished performances on the breezily romantic When The Deal Goes Down and the epic reflective closer Ainít Talkiní. This is a far better, more affecting work than his last release, not only because the songs have a stronger emotional pull, but also because itís an uncluttered, resonant production that gives Dylan and his touring band lots of room to breathe. Musically, he hasn't sounded this natural since 1975ís Blood On The Tracks, which by consensus is the ideal starting place for any Dylan virgin. The true masterpiece here that will be compared with Dylanís best work is the torch song Workingman's Blues #2, a gut-wrenching ballad that majestically evokes old myths and creates new ones.

This is an album of enormous depth, providing endless lyrical and musical revelations on each play. In comparison to everything that arrived in the near decade before it, Modern Times is a triumph, finding Dylan coming tantalizingly close to regaining all his powers. At an age when his peers have long lost their creative edge, he continues to toss his listening audience curveballs. If you buy one CD this year, this has to be it.

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