Review: Bob Dylan - Tempest
I finally started to pay closer attention to Bob Dylan's music after seeing the documentary No Direction Home on DVD. I don't know why it took me so long - maybe sometimes a person just needs the right guide, especially when they're traveling in a world as rich and complex as Bob Dylan's (thank you Martin Scorsese). And now here comes Tempest, the first proper studio album since I officially became a Bob Dylan fan - and it was worth waiting for.
Opener "Duquesne Whistle" will inject any room with a little something I like to call "Instant Atmosphere." The gently twanging opening riffs transport the listener back in time to the heyday of western swing king Bob Wills, but when the band kicks it up a notch at the forty-two second mark, it isn't long before this chugging old-timey train song takes on a weird intensity all its own - check out the official video and see what kind of strangely romantic and violent images this song begat in at least one director's mind.
"Soon After Midnight" sounds like a fifties-style slow-dance swooner that might even get my fiercely anti-Dylan wife to sway around the room with me, while still delivering Dylanesque delights like "I'm searchin' for phrases, to sing your praises," which contrasts amusingly with a triple-headed rhymer like "Charlotte's a harlot, dresses in scarlet."
"Narrow Way" employs a searing, broken-record style blues riff for over seven minutes while Dylan growls his way through a winding tale of apocalyptic anxiety and violence, punctuated by the memorable refrain "if I can't work up to you, you'll surely have to work down to me some day."
And it just gets better from there.
Many casual and new Dylan listeners might find the first half of the album to be the most user-friendly, while tracks 6-10 contain the more challenging (and more violent) offerings, including the fourteen-minute, forty-five verse title track as well as a tribute to the late John Lennon. But this is all worthwhile stuff delivered with a brilliant confidence and DIY flair appropriate to one of the most important and influential figures in the history of recorded music. The fans and the critics will get this album and will have plenty to say about it, but to the Bob Dylan fence-sitters I'd like to quote Joan Baez in No Direction Home:
"There are no veils, curtains, doors, walls, anything between what pours out of Bob's hand onto the page and what is somehow available to the core of people who are believers in him. There's some people who'd say... you know, not interested. But if you're interested, he goes way, way deep."
Hopefully this outstanding new album will find many of those who are interested...but just don't know it yet.