Bob Dylan’s thirty-fifth studio album offers an upbeat old-time blues and bluegrass-sound, and deals with themes of death with fierce grace.
The gravelly growl of the voice of experience, ragged, resonant, and reference-rich. Dylan’s double-entendre-laden and cracked, sardonic whispers roll by in couplets tumbleweed-like.
On recognizing the “forests of the night” allusion to William Blake’s “The Tyger,” glee scarcely contained.
The beer garden rhythm of the album’s namesake (and yes, I still call them namesakes) can’t help but slosh invisible upraised steins—for almost fourteen minutes! Though the lyrics concern the oft-dredged, always applicable disaster of The Titanic, the sound just says good times.
The second song, “Soon After Midnight,” is, at three minutes and twenty-eight seconds, the shortest and the sweetest of the bunch. “Scarlet Town” features banjos, bluegrass, and—like all of the ten songs on Tempest—plenty of focus on the words.
Then again, compare “Early Roman Kings” with Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” and hear in the unmistakable beat Bob’s homage to the great blues legend. He’s that old guy now.
Haunting and hypnotic, “Tin Angel” paves the way for “Roll On John,” Dylan’s ode to John Lennon.
“Tempest” is not a depressing album at all. Neither is it his jauntiest. Even if you’ve never heard of the guy, hey, it’s at least decent background music.
“We cried on a cold and frosty morn,” says the guy who wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in his patented nasal sandpaper hiss. “We cried because our souls were torn / So much for these tears / So much for these long and wasted years.” Baby Boomers take note: Bob makes being 71 hip.
To be sure, Blonde On Blonde is still his best studio album. And he’s got some that I don’t think even he can stand.
But Tempest ranks high, even calling to mind Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Prospero-like, the venerable poet pulls together veritable strands right out of his career, so to speak.
And behold, a marvel!