Bob Dylan released his third new song in six weeks, “False Prophet,” Thursday night — and now the question of whether his career paradigm for the 2020s has switched to being strictly a “singles artist” has been answered. Embedded in the artwork for the song was the promise of a new album, to be titled “Rough and Rowdy Ways.”
Further digging on the web revealed more information on the album: It’s a double album in both CD and vinyl formats, it’ll be out June 19, and it includes 10 songs — three of which Dylan fans already have in hand, between “False Prophet” and the previously issued “Murder Most Foul” and “I Contain Multitudes.” (As for why a merely 10-song album needs to stretch across two discs, the 18-minute length of “Murder Most Foul” may be a partial answer to that.)
Dylan fans are eagerly waiting for the official announcement of the album Friday morning, to find out whether the remaining song titles will then be revealed.
One question is whether “Rough and Rowdy Ways” will have a title track. If it does, it’ll likely be a cover of the 70-year-old Jimmie Rodgers song of that name, although it wouldn’t be unlike Dylan to borrow the phrase from one of his heroes without actually covering the tune.
“Rough and Rowdy Ways” will be Dylan’s first album of original material since 2012’s “Tempest.” In the interim, he has released three albums of Great American Songbook standards, the last of which was 2017’s triple album “Triplicate.”
Although “False Prophet” doesn’t have the epic wordplay or cultural references of the two songs that immediately preceded it, it may be the most crowd-pleasing of the three new songs he’s put out so far: It’s got a good (mid-tempo) beat and you can (sort of) dance to it, as opposed to the drum-kit-free, more musically free-form “Murder” and “Multitudes.”
The new song works eight verses into six minutes, with just enough stream-of-consciousness to incorporate sexual bravado, spiritual light, and “anger, bitterness, and doubt.”
“Hello Mary Lou, hello Miss Pearl, my fleet-footed guides from the underworld,” he sings at the beginning of the second verse, referencing a Ricky Nelson song (in one of the relatively few song callouts here, compared to the previous two singles). “No stars in the sky shine brighter than you / You girls mean business and I do too.”
Bragadocio definitely figures in: “I climbed the mountains of swords on my bare feet,” he boasts. And: “I’m nothing like my ghostly appearance would suggest / I ain’t no false prophet / I’m just said what I said / I’m just here to bring vengeance on somebody’s head.”
Yet he ends the song on a heavenly note, even as the band remains determinedly earthy: “Oh you poor devil look up if you will / The city of God is there on the hill.”