It’s been over 35 years since Dylan’s released anything that could be discussed in the same room as “Blood on The Tracks,” “Blonde On Blonde,” or “Highway 61 Revisited,” so nowadays we greet each new release wondering what temperature of “boring” he’s going to approach: awfully, terribly, or excruciatingly. Sadly, there have been too many releases in the latter category, which simply may be the result of just too many releases. The man turns 68 next week…I think he needs a vacation. Still, we do have this 33rd artifact and it’s not going to go away until we poke it with a stick and see if it moves. His voice has been shot for two decades, but that hasn’t hindered his ventures into the studio to work on his Tom Waits/”Satchmo” Armstrong impersonations, which actually work in his favor on tracks like “My Wife’s Home Town.” But the bard of our generation has long ago abandoned the kind of dense, enigmatic lyrics that launched a thousand books and doctoral theses, so we’re left with the same tired tales of forlorn love (“Forgetful Love,” “This Dream Of You”) and unrequited love (“I Feel A Change Coming On” and a honky-tonkin’ “Jolene” that screams out for a Wilko Johnson or Dave Edmunds guest solo instead of the typically cookie-cutter hack work from Mike Campbell, slumming from The Heartbreakers.)
The swaying, soft-shoe shuffle of “If You Ever Go To Houston” might have actually worked up a sweat and a tinge of excitement in the listener if it wasn’t tossed off with the reckless abandon of someone who’s late for catching a train, although I will give him props for a few whoops of excitement on the album’s best (but last) track, “It’s All Good.” And that is the key to the problem with the record – it’s too aloof, too laidback for its own good, with Dylan not so much singing as pontificating pearls of wisdom like the Godfather preaching to the choir of servants at his feet.
Graham Parker writes tighter, more poignant songs and Leonard Cohen, in his 75 year-old wisdom, has a suaver, more sophisticated delivery (despite a voice that’s a few octaves lower than the ninth circle of hell), but the world ignores their brilliant releases and fawns over each new Dylan release, perhaps wondering if he’ll ever recover past glories. They just can’t seem to put him out to pasture like a prized heifer, so let me be the first to suggest that it’s time to hang ‘em up and spend the autumn years giving guitar lessons to the grandkids. 4/10 -- Jeff Penczak (20 May, 2009)