Even at age 71, is there nothing Bob Dylan can't do that's still refreshing and kick-ass as ever? The man has been constantly touring the world every year (been doing that since the late '80s) and prolifically churning out new stuff. Most artists can only dream of having a career like this. When news of his latest album was announced, many speculated what if this could be his final farewell in recording (the title was after all, taken from Shakespeare's final play). Fortunately he publicly dispelled those claims. Tempest follows closely the same vein as his previous three (not counting Christmas In The Heart) since 2001's Love And Theft. So musically he's not breaking any new ground. But he can still pen songs as riveting and passionate as his thirty year old self. That's why people keep coming back to Dylan.
Duquesne Whistle (co-written with Grateful Dead collaborator, Robert Hunter) begins kinda unexpectedly, at least in a Dylanesque sense. The short intro evokes a very charming, 50s American Suburban outlook. Even when the song is in full swing, there's this juxtaposition of the somewhat unhappy lyrics against the chirpy innocence in the music, that only someone like Dylan can pull off. Lovely instrumental breakdown in the middle. I love the uncompromising raggedness and godlike quality in his voice; his singing is the absolute shit, and I mean it in a perfectly good way; he can do marvelous things to his words. Soon After Midnight fits right in as the second track, a tender old-fashion ballad with a melody we've all heard somewhere before, and it's easily one of the best slow love songs he's sung in a while; the subtle pedal steel makes it more gorgeous. Long And Wasted Years....oh my God; that's where it's fucking at, man. Infectious melody, infectious chord progression, and a powerhouse vocal performance that's sure to give lots of goosebumps. I only wish it were longer.
Narrow Way is a rollicking 12-bar blues tune with a very similar groove to Summer Days; he's done this kind of thing thousands of times before, but it never gets old. There are other musical similarities elsewhere; most noticeably on Early Roman Kings, a stab at the greedy corporate pigs of America, which sounds exactly like Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy, but with the accordion providing the main lick. The mysterious and haunting Scarlet Town is reminiscent of Ain't Talkin', the underrated closing tune off Modern Times. Even Pay In Blood, a very catchy straight-up rock tune, sounds like something from the Stones catalog circa late 70s/early 80s. Really dirty, really badass growl. I'll even dare say it's his most accessible song in a decade. Tin Angel is another classic example of Dylan's prowess as a narrative songwriter. Here is a tragic love tale told in nine minutes. It's so damn good you won't mind the monotonous melody.
The title track is another one of those epic-length songs (fourteen minutes -- almost as long as Highlands, close in spirit to Cross The Green Mountain), done in Irish Waltz style, in which Dylan tackles a subject you'd never thought he'd do; the Titanic and its maiden swansong. He's a visual storyteller -- you can almost picture yourself going down with the ship. Lastly Roll On John is a tribute to Lennon, one I'm sure he would love if he were still alive today. Tributes aren't really Dylan's forte, but seriously, this is one of the all-time top songs in this category. He drops a few Beatles lyrics throughout the verses; he sings the chorus everytime with slight variation, and everytime it cuts right to the heart. It's a fitting closer.
This record boasts a great production, with a solid low-end. The players are from Dylan's current touring band, some of the best live musicians you'll ever hear -- they are extremely tight onstage. To sum up this new album in one word, it's sublime. And the flow from song to song is just flawless. Countless brilliant one-liners. May be a bit too early to say, but to my ears already, this could easily be his best work since 1997's Time Out Of Mind. It's a combination of the best from Love And Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life, all strong albums in their own right. An all-encompassing trip through the great, big American Songbook. Roll on, Bob.
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