Essential Modern Dylan Part Four

A candle has burned down to the end as the clock nears midnight. A cat meows, as a lawyer restlessly sleeps on the couch in his living room with a baseball game on television. The sound is turned down low. This is part four of the essential modern-era Bob Dylan songs. . .

. . . Sorry, that was a little tacky. I was riffing off the usual introduction to Bob Dylan's XM radio show, "Theme Time Radio Hour". You can check out the show here. You'll get to hear the songs that have shaped Bob's career and American music, all organized around a theme like "money", "cats", or "rain".

On that note, here is the rundown of the last installment of the essential modern-era Dylan. You can find part one here, part two over here, and part three somewhere around here. These songs are off Tempest, Bob's latest album of original songs.

Part 4: 2010-Present:

Early Roman Kings:
Here, Bob lays down his dynamic view of the powerful figures that have shaped geography, business, and empire.

Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus, and Napoleon all conquered great swaths of land and ruled with iron fists. In much of the same way, the early titans of American industry like the Carnage's, Rockefeller's, and Vanderbilt's were robber barons who exploited the labor of the people, created vast monopolies, built steel cities, and weren't afraid to cause serious human suffering to do it.

For a few verses in this song, Bob takes on the persona of one of these "shark-skinned suit" men, and he isn't a likable character to say the least. This tale of steel, money, and power is communicated over a busy guitar riff that is part rockabilly, part blues-shuffle that remains constant over the song. Key lines: "they're peddlers and they're meddlers/ they buy and they sell/ they destroyed your city/ they'll destroy you as well". A lifetime removed from the Greenwich village folk scene, in some ways, Bob is still channeling Woody Guthrie after all-it's just dressed up in a different costume.

Pay in Blood: 
I wrote a long post about this song that you can find here. The song kicks off with a Rolling Stones riff, shows it's muscles, and poses some questions about it's meaning as Bob barks through the tune. A definite must listen.

Duquesne Whistle:
This is the first song off the 2012 album, Tempest. While much of the album is brash, like a cruel barking dog, this track starts off sounding almost like a Hawaiian afternoon. A sweet, sparkling bright guitar riff slowly moves us into the song like a dream. Following the into, the band kicks in, and sounds as commonplace as a capable bar outfit, strolling through some light blues as Bob whistles about distant trains, change in the air, and love. 

Scarlet Town:
Moody keys define this slow moving jaunt through hell, as Bob recounts a tale of lament, of danger, and of a disastrous past. Scarlet town is hell, and the anxious, slow moving keys and sparse musical arrangement leave listeners with the uneasiness that is embedded in the lyrics. If "Early Roman Kings" is about powerful people that have destructive capacity, "Scarlet Town" is about life on the ground.


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