Bob Dylan released Modern Times on August 29, 2006 and it became his first number one album since 1976’s Desire. At the time, he was the oldest artist to reach the top position on the National charts. Neil Diamond has since surpassed that record.
Dylan borrows heavily from traditional blues tunes of the 1920s and 30s and adapts some interpretations of those songs to his unique style. While he does not credit some of these performances, the folk and blues traditions in the USA are filled with copying and interpretation of songs. Dylan received some criticism for this tactic but people have been copying him for years. The other often forgotten point is that all the songs were in the public domain. However he came to these songs, the updated versions would give the release a sound rooted in Americana by way of a modernization of pre-rock ‘n’ roll blues. The result was an accessible and brilliant release that was one of the best of his career.
"Thunder On The Mountain" is the first track and is a call to the faithful. Whether you interpret the song as revelation or a love song, it just rocks along. The precise phrasing of Dylan’s vocals would set the tone for the rest of the performances.
"Rollin’ and Tumblin’" has appeared under a number of titles throughout its history. Dylan’s version comes closest to that of Muddy Waters although Robert Johnson would provide a raw and sparse version. Other modern interpretations would include Johnny Winter, Cream, and Canned Heat. Dylan strips the lyrics back and adds two new original verses.
"Someday Baby" is based on the old Muddy Waters tune “Trouble No More.” It would win the Grammy Award as the best rock performance of the year and deservedly so.
Dylan takes the old Memphis Minnie blues tune, “When The Levee Breaks” and changes it to “The Levee’s Gonna Break.” He fills in the sound which pushes it toward rock ‘n’ roll and also adds new lyrics which moves it from a natural disaster theme to more apocalyptic in nature.
"Workingman Blues #2" is presented as an easy flowing blues tune. Political, spiritual, and love themes are all mixed together.
"Ain’t Talkin’" is a somber song that borders on depressing yet was a fitting conclusion to the album.
Bob Dylan is now 67 and it remains to be seen if he will issue another studio album. If not, the quality of Modern Times would be a fitting conclusion to his recording career.