Modern Times is singer-songwriter Bob Dylan's 32nd studio album, released by Columbia Records in August 2006.

The album was Dylan's third straight (following Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft) to be met with nearly universal praise from fans and critics. It continued its predecessors' tendencies toward blues, rockabilly and pre-rock balladry, and was self-produced by Dylan under the pseudonym "Jack Frost". Along with the acclaim, the album sparked some debate over its uncredited use of choruses and arrangements from older songs, as well as many lyrical lines taken from the work of 19th century poet Henry Timrod.

Modern Times became the singer-songwriter's first #1 album in the U.S. since 1976's Desire. It was also his first album to debut at the summit of the Billboard 200, selling 191,933 copies in its first week. At age 65, Dylan became the oldest living person at the time to have an album enter the Billboard charts at number one.NME, "Bob Dylan gets his first number one for 30 years", at ; last accessed September 9, 2006. It also reached #1 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland, debuted #2 in Germany, Austria and Sweden. It reached #3 in the UK and The Netherlands, respectively, and had sold over 4 million copies worldwide in its first two months of release. As with its two studio predecessors, the album's packaging features minimal credits and no lyric sheet.

Band and production

The album was recorded with Dylan's current touring band, including bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George G Receli, guitarists Stu Kimball and Denny Freeman, plus multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron. Dylan produced the album under the name "Jack Frost".

Early rehearsals were held in late January and early February 2006 at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie, New York. Days after the rehearsals, recording sessions were held at Clinton Studios in Manhattan where the album was recorded digitally in roughly three weeks.

While it had been marketed as the third in a conceptual trilogy, beginning in 1997 with Time Out of Mind, Dylan himself rebuffed the notion. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he stated that he "would think more of "Love and Theft" as the beginning of a trilogy, if there's going to be a trilogy."


Dylan's historical stature, as well as his renewed critical acclaim following Time Out of Mind and "Love and Theft", helped to make Modern Times a highly anticipated release. As with Theft in 2001, Sony held a listening event for critics far in advance, but those invited were forbidden from disclosing details or opinions about what they heard prior to the official release.

Modern Times was leaked online through various BitTorrent and Dylan fan websites on August 21, 2006, after 30-second sound clips were released on the official Sony website. The album was first released in some European countries (including Germany and Ireland) on August 25, in the UK on August 28 and premiered in the U.S. on August 28 on XM Satellite Radio, the satellite radio service that carried Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour program.

Credit controversy

Shortly after its release, the album sparked some debate in the media concerning its songwriting credits, mainly the liner notes' contention of "All songs written by Bob Dylan", which appears in most editions of Modern Times.


Many of the album's songs have roots in well-known older compositions, though in all cases, Dylan has given the songs new lyrics.

* "Thunder on the Mountain" has a second verse based on the song "Ma Rainey" by Memphis Minnie. Dylan cuts and shuffles Memphis Minnie's lyrics substituting Alicia Keys and Hell's Kitchen for Ma Rainey and her Georgia birthplace. The reference to Keys was listed by Rolling Stone as among the "ten weirdest shoutouts" in song.

* "Rollin' and tumblin'" is a blues standard first recorded and possibly written by the bluesman Hambone Willie Newbern. An arrangement very similar to Dylan's but with different lyrics was a hit for Muddy Waters, who is also credited with writing the song. Except for the first verse, all the lyrics in Dylan's version are original.

* "When the Deal Goes Down" is based on the melody of "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)", a signature-song for Bing Crosby.

* "Someday Baby" is based on an old standard that can be traced back to "Worried Life Blues", recorded by Sleepy John Estes, and made famous in versions by Lightnin' Hopkins and Muddy Waters. It is sometimes referred to as "Trouble No More", and often credited to Muddy Waters.

* The chorus of "Working Man's Blues" features the line, "Meet me at the bottom, don't lag behind, bring me my boots and shoes." The unusual phrasing appears to have been borrowed from cool jazz singer June Christy's 1946 song "June's Blues", which contains the words, "Meet me in the bottom, bring me my boots and shoes". Dylan has showed an affinity for Christy's music, and played a number of her songs throughout the course of his Theme Time Radio Hour XM page: "".

* "Beyond the Horizon" is based around the song "Red Sails in the Sunset," written by Jimmy Kennedy and Hugh Williams in 1935 using its melody and basic structure.

* "Nettie Moore" takes its title, and some of its chorus, from an 1857 composition "Gentle Nettie Moore" by Marshall Pike and James Lord Pierpont, the composer of "Jingle Bells", though Dylan's melody and lyrics are otherwise unrecognizable, although the song shares a rhyme with "Moonshiner", a traditional folk song that Dylan recorded in 1963: "They say whiskey will kill ya, but I don't think it will" vs. "If whiskey don't kill me, I don't know what will."

* "The Levee's Gonna Break" is based on "When the Levee Breaks" by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. It has been previously adapted by rock acts such as Led Zeppelin. The song has also been in the public domain since 2004.

* "Ain't Talkin" derives its chorus from the more up-tempo "Highway of Regret" by The Stanley Brothers. The lyrics of the first verse seem to be derived from the first verse of "As I Roved Out", a traditional Irish song.

Additional sources

Two other sources of the album's lyrics were cited in the latter half of 2006. In September, The New York Times ran an article exploring similarities between some of the lyrics in Modern Times and the work of 19th century poet Henry Timrod. Albuquerque disc jockey Scott Warmuth is credited as the first to discover at least ten substantial lines and phrases that can be clearly traced to the Civil War poet across several songs. Dylan and Sony have declined to comment on the matter, and Timrod's name is nowhere to be found on the liner notes. Robert Polito of the Poetry Foundation wrote a detailed defense of Dylan's usage of old lines in creating new work, saying that calls of plagiarism confuse "art with a term paper".

In October 2006, The Nelson Mail ran an article by New Zealand poet Cliff Fell exploring similarities between some of the lyrics in Modern Times and the works of the first-century Roman poet Ovid. Fell cited numerous direct parallels between lines from Ovid and those in four of Dylan's songs. A sampling of these included:

Fell considered the borrowings an homage and not plagiarism, noting Dylan's direct reference to Ovid in the album's first song, "Thunder on the Mountain", with the line "I've been sitting down and studying The Art of Love." The Art of Love was one of the great poet's most famous works.

Dylan's response to credit controversy

None of these previous incarnations or their authors are credited, though Dylan has casually acknowledged some of the uses. In a 2006 Newsweek online feature, Dylan mentioned that he was working on a song based on a Bing Crosby melody, now known to be "When The Deal Goes Down". Meanwhile, Dylan has a history of being open about his songwriting techniques, and his usage of older classics. For instance, in a 2004 interview with Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times, he stated,

The lack of official credits is not a legal problem, given the age of the songs, but it troubled journalist Jim Fusilli of the Wall Street Journal. Fusilli thought that this was contrary to Dylan's long track record of noting his influences, as in the liner notes of 1993's World Gone Wrong.WNYC's Soundcheck, "Deconstructing Dylan," 6 September 2006, at ; last accessed September 15, 2006. Joe Levy of Rolling Stone claimed to have raised the question with Sony BMG executives, who shrugged it off as a non-issue.

Levy and many others have supported Dylan in the context of a larger, older blues and folk tradition of songwriters evolving old songs into new ones, which Dylan was no stranger to in the 1960s. Pete Seeger himself has previously expressed the view that Dylan is a link in this chain of folk and blues songwriters. Seeger has spoken many times about the folk process, often recounting that his friend Woody Guthrie once said to him "That guy stole that from me, but I steal from everybody". Ramblin' Jack at one time expressed similar sentiments: "Dylan learned from me the same way I learned from Woody. Woody didn't teach me. He just said, 'If you want to learn something, just steal it - that's the way I learned from Lead Belly'".

Critical reaction

The response from critics was overwhelmingly positive. The publications Rolling Stone and UNCUT both crowned Modern Times with five-out-of-five stars. Rolling Stone critic Joe Levy called the album Dylan's "third straight masterwork". Robert Christgau of Blender described it as "startling the observant calm of old masters who have seen enough life to be ready for anything—Yeats, Matisse, Sonny Rollins". Jody Rosen of the online magazine Slate concurred, calling Modern Times "a better album than Time Out of Mind and even than the majestic Love and Theft, which by my lights makes it Dylan's finest since Blood on the Tracks". The album was also credited for original blues and folk rock music which was said to be, "hard to hear these days" by critics.Jody Rosen, review of Modern Times, 30 August 2006, at ; last accessed September 9, 2006.

Alexis Petridis in The Guardian ridiculed the lavish praise heaped on the album and wrote: "It's hard to hear the music of Modern Times over the inevitable standing ovation and the thuds of middle-aged critics swooning in awe." While enjoying the record, Petridis said Modern Times was "not one of those infrequent, unequivocally fantastic Dylan albums".Alexis Petridis, review of Modern Times, 25 August 2006, at ; last accessed September 9, 2006. Jim DeRogatis of The Chicago Sun-Times appreciated the lyrical content but found fault in the languid music, writing that "with the exception of the closing track 'Ain't Talkin', one of the spookiest songs he's ever written, Dylan disappoints with... inexplicable fondness for smarmy '30s and '40s balladry".Jim DeRogatis, review of Modern Times, 27 August 2006, at ; last accessed September 11, 2006.

Perhaps the sourest review came from Ron Rosenbaum. Writing in the New York Observer, Rosenbaum called Modern Times, “a wildly overhyped disappointment... The new album is possibly the worst since Self Portrait, with songs that rarely rise above the level of Dylan’s low point - and everybody seems afraid to say so."

Some reviewers who liked the album were critical of its musicianship, such as The Chicago Tribunes Greg Kot,Greg Kot, review of Modern Times, 27 August 2006, at ; last accessed September 9, 2006. and Jon Pareles of The New York Times, who wrote that "onstage Mr. Dylan’s touring band regularly supercharges his songs. But on Modern Times the musicians play as if they’re just feeling their way into the tunes."Jon Pareles, review of Modern Times, 20 August 2006, at ; last accessed September 9, 2006.

According to Metacritic, a site that tracks prominent critical opinion, Modern Times approval rating hovers around 89%, indicating universal acclaim and earning it the honor of 30th most-liked-by-critics album (on Metacritic) of all time. Metacritic: Music High and Low Scores.

The album also became Dylan's third successive album to top the Village Voice's 'Pazz & Jop' poll. "Love and Theft" and Time Out of Mind won in 2001 and 1997 respectively.

49th Annual Grammy Awards, 2007

*Bob Dylan won a for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance for the song, "Someday Baby".

*Modern Times won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk/Americana Album. By the end of 2007, Bob Dylan's Modern Times Album had sold over 6.3 million units worldwide.

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