Bob Dylan

Modern Times

Columbia

Every time I've heard a new Bob Dylan album over the last 10 years or so, I ask myself: What's missing?

With each new release, the critics rave about his genius reasserting itself. How he's managed to stay vital into his fifth decade in the music biz. How he's still "groundbreaking." He won the Best Album Grammy in 1998.

And yet, for me, something's not there.

I recognize the genius, the blues heritage, the folk-populist sensibility. But that doesn't mean I want to put his newer stuff in my iPod for repeated listenings.

And that's where the problem may lie: Dylan seems more interested in producing artifacts for the microscopes of future musicologists than making relevant pop music that is simply enjoyable.

Modern Times is Dylan's first release in five years. His band is tighter and more interesting than ever. His singing is even a bit more palatable, rising above the low, monotonous growl that characterized the first two discs of this alleged trilogy, Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. Over the course of these recent works, Dylan has gotten very formulaic: shuffle beats with some stinging guitar work; traditional blues themes, otherworldly, '30s-sounding swing; and over-long rambles as closers. Modern Times retains this structure to the letter.

This is not a bad disc; if a younger artist had recorded it, it would sweep the year-end Top 10 lists (it still might). But for Dylan, whose masterpieces are so sharp and so influential, it falls short, especially since — let's face it — his voice is an acquired taste. The opener, "Thunder on the Mountain," sets a strong tone. Even if the line "I've been thinking about Alicia Keys" rings inauthentic, it's balanced by this wonderful observation: "I got the porkchops, she got the pie/ She ain't no angel and neither am I."

"The Levee's Gonna Break" is another Dylan rumination recalling New Orleans, not as good as "High Water (for Charley Patton)" from Love and Theft. His protest, so poetic and transcendent in the 1960s, is reduced to MoveOn-style rants like "The buyin' power of the proletariat's gone down'' in "Workingman Blues #2."

Yes, many critics will splooge all over themselves about this disc. They'll point out the delicious irony of an album called Modern Times that is anything but modern. But outside of musicologists and hardcore Dylan fans, there isn't that much here for anyone born after Woodstock. 3 stars

Bande A Part

NOUVELLE VAGUE

Luaka Bop

This is the French duo's second venture into giving the Space Age Bachelor Pad treatment to pop and alternative songs by the likes of U2 ("Pride [In the Name of Love]"), Echo & The Bunnymen ("The Killing Moon"), Bauhaus ("Bela Lugosi's Dead") and even Billy Idol ("Dancing with Myself"). In all, this 14-track compendium is a needless novelty. The retro-future-swinging bossa nova versions of "The Killing Moon" and The Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love?" are listenable, but everything else, from a bizarre cartoon-jazz take on "Dancing with Myself" to Esquivel-does-Serge Gainsbourg revampings of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and Heaven 17's "Let Me Go" (!), are pointless. The execution itself isn't bad. The very idea of doing something like this, however, was. 2 stars —Scott Harrell

Overnight Sensational

SAM MOORE

Rhino

Resuscitating the careers of veteran R&B singers is in vogue about now, and Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave fame) reaps the grandiose treatment on Overnight Sensational. Produced by American Idol judge Randy Jackson, who was clearly able to put considerable juice into the project, the album features 20 high-profile guest artists, from duet partners Bruce Springsteen, Wynonna, Jon Bon Jovi, Travis Tritt, Paul Rodgers and others, to background vocal cameos (e.g. Mariah Carey's whistle harmonies), to instrumental turns (Robert Randolph, Billy Gibbons, Eric Clapton). You might consider it miraculous that the 70-year-old Moore could even hold his own on his own album. Here's the very good news: He does, and then some. Moore's soaring tenor and sheer robust soulfulness is the chief attraction here — he sounds as sharp as he did nearly four decades ago when he belted out "Soul Man." Moore tears through this 12-song set of old soul numbers and more modern tunes of a similar ilk. His singing partners achieve mixed results. Wynonna proves a bona fide soul siren on the churning "I Can't Stand the Rain," the disc's best tune. Bruce Springsteen likewise taps into a deeper R&B feel on "Better to Have and Not Need." But Bon Jovi sounds very much the white-boy pretender when he squares off with Moore on Bobby Womack's "Lookin For Love." Sting comes off as mannered on "None of Us are Free," but at least he doesn't try to fake the funk. Jackson's production could've used a little more grit, but overall he does a credible job of putting the legend in simpatico surroundings. 3.5 stars —Eric Snider

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