Bob Dylan is entering his fifth decade in the rock pantheon, and has again created an album worthy of praise and contemplation. Since the turn of the new millennium Dylan’s records have evoked a time in the not so distant past when whiskey was illegal, women were fast, and music was loose. Dylan has created his own unique genre by his juxtaposition of musical influences and love of literature. One thing that has kept Dylan relevant after all these years is his constant acceptance of change. Dylan’s brand new album “Tempest” expands on the sepia colored template started with 2001’s “Love and Theft”, 2005’s “Modern Times”, and to a lesser extent 2009’s “Together Through Life”. In my opinion “Tempest” is the crowning jewel of these achievements, and Dylan’s songwriting has again reached new heights not scaled since “Time Out Of Mind”.
Dylan’s writing is always at its best when it’s mysterious, dark, and drinking from the cool well of the folk and blues tradition. For those who complain about Dylan’s voice, Dylan fans know that’s not why we listen. Sure, Dylan’s voice is showing the ravages of time and rock, but it has also gained a “blues man” aura that Bob has been striving for since his first LP in 1962. “Tempest” shows Dylan as a keeper of tradition, and the sole heir of the true history of musical storytelling. Dylan, again is leading his listeners down a path unfamiliar to them, but one that Dylan trusts in implicitly. Similar to when Dylan was “going electric”, “going country”, “going religious” or any other place Dylan has “gone”, “Tempest” takes us into the past and into our own consciousness.
I will leave the track by track dissemination and analysis to the “experts”. I want to express my supreme excitement over Dylan’s new work of art. The LP version of “Tempest” is the preferred method for listening in my opinion. The unique and practiced sound of Dylan’s road band lends itself to the crackling cozy sound of an old wooden phonograph. Which is exactly how the record opens when “Duquesne Whistle” rolls into the station on a distant swing band jam that could have been pulled off of an old Columbia lacquer from the 1930’s. “Tempest” rolls along nicely through a generous cross section of Dylan’s current musical stylings. Dylan’s band, impressively understated, lets Dylan croon, growl, chant and sing his words like he always has. Dylan, even with his now limited range dances around shuffles, sings the blues, and forces the beat ahead with his mastery of poetic tempo and dictation. There is no harmonica on this record, only Bob’s voice and his understated backing band.
“Pay In Blood” are some of Dylan’s most venomous lyric’s that he has written in years and harkens back back to “Positively Forth Street”, and “Idiot Wind”. “Pay In Blood” shows Dylan hasn’t lost his ability to crucify or deny in his lyrics. “Long and Wasted Years” is melodically my favorite track on the album. It is a tenderly sung descending ballad filled with sharp Dylan stanzas that both comfort and disturb. It’s such a powerful set of lyrics, I will post it here in its entirety:
It’s clear to me that Dylan is still heads and shoulders above any songwriter, and in years to come tracks like “Long and Wasted Years” will be considered with Dylan’s best work .It’s chilling to hear Dylan in complete control and directing epics like “Tin Angel”, and the title track “Tempest”. These aforementioned songs look back at Dylan compositions like “Highlands” which is the last song of such length that Dylan has composed. Both these tracks pass the standard 5 minute mark and stretch into the proverbial sunset where they extend their legs and bask in the warm glow of the sun.”Tin Angel” is a murder ballad in the classic sense which could have been pulled from a classic folk anthology. Filled with classic Dylan imagery it is in my opinion the peak of the record, a crowning achievement for Dylan. The same can be said for the title track “Tempest”, Dylan’s artistic portrayal of the Titanic disaster. It seems fitting that the “modern ” Dylan would choose such a well known historical moment and stamp it in the typical Dylan fashion with mystery, dreams and love. Only Bob could take such a overexposed time in American history, and look at it through a looking glass in a different way. “Tempest” is history through Dylan’s eyes, and his reflection of the past into today’s world. Only Dylan could create such a “historically modern” record, which he has been doing since “Love and Theft”.
“Tempest” requires a contemplative setting, and the ability to “listen” to the record, as opposed to “hearing” it. This is not an “ipod” record, meaning not a collection of background music. “Tempest” is a collection designed to be enjoyed like a book or an anthology of poetry. When the LP is opened it feels like a dusty cracked book is being pulled off of the top shelf of a library stack. It feels like mysteries are being revealed, and a historical perspective is gained, and a veil is lifted. The LP closes with the song “Roll On John” which, in typical Dylan fashion, is a requiem for John Lennon thirty years later. A tender, honest track peppered with Lennon lyrics and Dylan expressions of honor and respect, it is a fitting close to the record. Ruminating on this song will do nothing, it has to be experienced to understand its full depth. Fitting in with the historical perspective of the record, “Roll On John” is a page from the “Tempest” collection. The collection reaches from steam powered trains, to ocean liners, from American disasters to murder, and finally to an expression of uninhibited love and respect.
Dylan has already secured his place in history as a poet, performer, and “song and dance man”. In my opinion he could have stopped anytime after “Blood On The Tracks” and his place would have been secured as the best songwriter in history. But Dylan has continued on and has not rested on his laurels, but has developed and continued to surprise and create masterpieces. There could be more music coming from the 71 year old Dylan in the future, we cannot be sure. But for now “Tempest” does more than enough to show that Bob has plenty to say and has no problem saying it.
It’s been such a long long time
since we loved each other and our hearts were true
one time, for one brief day, i was the man for you
last night i heard you talkin in your sleep
saying things you shouldn’t say, oh baby
you just may have to go to jail someday
is there a place we can go, is there anybody we can see?
it’s the same for you as it is for me
I ain’t seen my family in twenty years
that ain’t easy to understand, they may be dead by now
i lost track of em after they lost their land
shake it up baby, twist and shout
you know what it’s all about
what are you doing out there in the sun anyway?
don’t you know, the sun can burn your brains right out
my enemy crashed into the dust stopped dead in his tracks and he lost his
lust was run down hard and he broke apart he died in shame, he had an iron
I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes
there are secrets in em that i can’t disguise
come back baby
if i hurt your feelings, i apologize
two trains running side by side, forty miles wide
down the eastern line
you don’t have to go, i just came to you because you’re a friend of mine
i think that when my back was turned,
the whole world behind me burned
it’s been a while,
since we walked down that long, long aisle
we cried on a cold and frosty morn,
we cried because our souls were torn
so much for tears
so much for these long and wasted years
“You don’t write the kind of songs I write just being
a conventional type of songwriter. And I don’t think anybody will write them
like this again, any more than anybody will ever write a Hank Williams or
Irving Berlin song. That’s pretty much for sure. I’ve taken things to a new
level because I’ve had to. Because I’ve been forced to.”-Dylan 2012