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Dylan's Modern Times his best yet

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

New York (Reuters): Bob Dylan's new album ''Modern Times'' was released on Tuesday to rave reviews that showed the 65-year-old legend has plenty to say about the changing times since his last record came out on September 11, 2001. But in typical fashion, the gravel-voiced star of the 1960s known for mumbling his words says it in elusive fashion. National Public Radio critic Tom Moon said that much had happened since Dylan's last studio album ''Love and Theft,'' released on the day of the September. 11 attacks in Washington and New York, but the new album showed Dylan wrestling with tough issues ''in a sly fox sort of roundabout way.'' ''Those expecting an inventory of catastrophe will be disappointed,'' Moon said.

''Dylan just glances at current events and that's all it takes for him to conjure up the dread of the age. His songs catch the curious blend of unwavering faith and formless fear that distinguishes the present moment.'' Critic Steve Jones wrote in USA Today praised the album by saying, ''It takes about 30 seconds to figure out you're in the presence of greatness.'' He said the album ''contains some of Dylan's most direct love lyrics, vindictive vendettas, meditations on mortality, pointed political commentary, dry wit, apocalyptic imagery and head-scratching flights of fancy -- sometimes in the same song.'' Jon Pareles in The New York Times said that even in a song titled ''The Levee's Gonna Break,'' Dylan merely hints at the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans last year. ''The particulars of the present mean less and less to the songwriter who radically and irrevocably changed popular music in the 1960s,'' Pareles wrote of the album, produced by Dylan himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost and mostly recorded live in the studio.

Pat Gilbert wrote in Entertainment Weekly that the new album was billed as a final installment of the trilogy started with ''Time out of Mind'' in 1997 and ''Love and Theft'' in 2001 -- ''two superlative records'' after a patchy period in the 1990s. The 10 tracks on the album range from love songs such as ''Spirit in the Water,'' featuring the lyrics ''You think I'm over the hill/ You think I'm past my prime,'' to ''Workingman's Blues #2,'' a critique of the US economy that Gilbert said could have been written by Bruce Springsteen. The album ends with a haunting ballad of death, regrets and revenge, nearly nine minutes long and titled ''Ain't Talkin','' in which he is ''walking through the cities of the plague.'' While several critics picked up allusions to events such as the September. 11 attacks, there is nothing obvious of that nature.

Rolling Stone magazine's Jonathan Lethem wrote that the record was littered ''with glinting references to world events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, though anyone seeking a moral, to paraphrase Mark Twain, should be shot.'' Dylan told Lethem in an interview: ''I'd make this record no matter what was going on in the world. ''I wrote these songs in not a meditative state at all but more in a trance-like, hypnotic state.''

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