Asked by friend T Bone Burnett to be his opening act on a tour last year, Mr. Dylan eagerly accepted. It was a break from the rock band he fronts, the Wallflowers, and a chance to hang out backstage with musicians he admires, such as Mr. Burnett, drummer Jim Keltner and guitarist Marc Ribot.
"It was the opportunity I was kind of waiting for," he told The Associated Press recently. "I was kind of confused. I didn't want to get right back on the treadmill and write another record for the band. Relationships with the record company (Interscope) had dissipated. It was a bad relationship. Not a crossroads, but we just weren't sure what to do next."
Mr. Dylan landed at Columbia, his father, Bob's, label, and told label chief Rick Rubin he was writing some songs without the band in mind.
He couldn't have gone to a better person. Mr. Rubin's ability to rip protective layers off an artist to get to the essence of a song is the defining characteristic of his control room talents.
So Mr. Dylan entered the School of Rick Rubin, leaving with the disc Seeing Things . The stripped-down affair highlights Mr. Dylan's voice and acoustic guitar.
The songs on Seeing Things require concentration. With no band behind him, Mr. Dylan needed to carry them on his own. For the most part he does, although a lack of variation in tempo is a weakness.
He likens his compositions to paintings, with rich imagery the brushstrokes. War is a frequent backdrop to these songs, although the author is quick to say it's not necessarily the current one. He's not much for explaining songs, anyway, believing listeners have the right to take what they want from them.
The solo album doesn't mean the end for the Wallflowers. It was just a break; the band has some gigs this summer. His band members are always busy with studio work, so it's not as if they sit around waiting for him.
"A couple of them are happy about it, to tell you the truth," he said.