Ramblin' Man

Anti-techie Bob Dylan makes a great chill-out album

But "Levee" and "Workingman's Blues #2" are as clearly and directly about real events as anything he wrote back when he wanted to be Woody Guthrie. "Workingman's Blues" is precisely what it says it is: "The buying power of the proletariat's gone down/Money's gotten shallow and weak." (As Greil Marcus pointed out in Seattle, Dylan sings the word "proletariat" as naturally as he might the word "baby.") "Levee," another sly, mid-tempo shuffle, is in some ways more ambiguous: Are "I've paid my time and now I'm as good as new/They can't take me back unless they want me to" the words of the prisoners escaped from the New Orleans jails, their records erased? Mostly, though, it chews up any doubts about its meaning and spits them into the oncoming waves: "Some people on the road carrying everything they own/Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones."

That's certainly how Modern Times's chilling finale, "Ain't Talkin'," sounds. "Walking till I'm clean out of sight," he mutters over brushed drums and delicate guitar picking. "I'm not nursing any superfluous fears." Forget about the present Dylan seems so annoyed by: This is the future, for all of us. Dylan sounds like he's ready to take it on—or to take it as it comes.

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