Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Icon among icons, Bob Dylan re-emerges with his 35th studio album.
Dylan’s success in his later years is a testament to the man’s musical and lyrical genius. Recent records, ‘Love and Theft’ and ‘Modern Times’ re-established Dylan as one of the greatest artists of all time, while garnering him many new fans, no small feat for an artist of his age. ‘Tempest’ cements all these sentiments; it is a fine work that stands tall in Bob’s canon. It contains an enthralling collection of songs and like so many of his albums, ‘Tempest’ is a lyrical tour de force. The imagery and themes explored move from the macabre, sardonic to the uplifting and historical, Bob’s eccentricity and acute understanding of the human condition is weaved into magical narratives that affirm his role as a modern griot or bard.
‘Duquesne Whistle’ is an uplifting folk and blues train song and one of the album’s standout tracks that balances Dylan’s heavy lyrical style with New Orleans Dixie influences. ‘Soon after Midnight’ is another gem, a slow bluesy doo wop number that belies its tale of harlots. ‘Narrow Way’ is a long, dark rockabilly and blues hoe down which gives way to the murderous and macabre ‘Pay in Blood’. Themes of death and murder abound in couplets like… ‘I got dogs could tear you limb from limb…I pay in blood but not my own’. The song’s bright blues rock deceives its dark lyrics. On ‘Scarlet Town’ the music takes a back seat sitting behind lengthy verses that explore life in a town filled with good and bad, fiddle, banjo and subtle keys provide perfect accompaniment to this slow and raspy ballad.
Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley influences are found on the metaphorical, ‘Early Roman Kings’. A warning blues jig that highlights the corruption of civil leaders. ‘Tin Angel’ is another long slow ballad that might test your patience but continued listening will reward the listener eventually. The titanic and its fated journey are explored on the album’s title track; even James Cameron’s epic film is referenced. ‘Tempest’ is lengthy, stretching nearly fourteen minutes long but once again Dylan’s keen storytelling combined with folk and early country influences will wear down any impatient ears. ‘Roll on John’ is a moving tribute to Bob’s friend and rock and roll titan John Legend. The lament is mournful but never becomes sentimental.
‘Tempest’ needs to be listened to repeatedly and only then will its richness be revealed. It is dry initially and some songs are very long. Casual listeners’ attention spans will be sorely tested but once you soak in the music and the lyrics the album opens up and you’re rewarded by Dylan’s mastery over a lyric and his unceasing exploration of early folk, blues and country music.