Review: Bob Dylan – Tempest
Published on October 4th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
If a band makes it to four albums these days, they’ve made a pretty decent fist of it. Tempest is Bob Dylan’s 35th, and as noted elsewhere it’s another age-defying work of excellence that furthers his remarkable and unusual spell of latter-day form.
By now we’re talking Louis Armstrong levels of raspiness, and his soulful gravel works a treat over the delightfully (and, taking the album as a whole, deceptively) breezy hop of opener “Duquesne Whistle”, all walking bass, jazzy brush-drumming and easy-going rhythm and blues guitar. Lines like “You’re the only thing alive that keeps me going / You’re like a time bomb in my heart” may not be wrapped up in riddles but their forthrightness makes an instant classic out of this, ditto “My heart is cheerful / It’s never fearful” from the sublime, pedal steel-assisted “Soon After Midnight”. “I’ve faced stronger wars than yours” we are also told here, indicating the darkness that lies beyond these timeless shows of effortless majesty.
Insistent, grinding guitar works a treat alongside slide guitar, banjo and fiddle on “Narrow Way”, from which “Even Death has washed his hands of you” could almost be referring to his own lingering genius, if that notion weren’t so resoundingly punctured by “I’m armed to the hilt / And I’m struggling hard / You won’t get out of here unscarred” and “I can’t work up to you / You’re surely gonna have to work down to me someday”.
“Long and Wasted Years” belies its title by being the only track here under five minutes, its elegant, bittersweet country trot underpinning the heart-bludgeoning laments “For one brief day, I was the man for you” and “I haven’t seen my family in twenty years / I lost track of them when they lost their land / They could be dead by now”, while “Pay in Blood” sees our hero attesting to making a habit out of the titular activity, with the masterful suckerpunch of a caveat “…but not my own”.
“Scarlet Town” breathes fresh life into a tried and trusted songwriting trick – that is, doomy minor key-dom with foreboding major resolutions – sealing its own deal with plinky banjo, commanding violin and a reference to a “flat-chested junky whore”, and “Tin Angels” makes a similarly fine job of grabbing you by the collar with what sounds like an old blues recording dressed in a modern studio sheen to deliver the menacingly Waits-ian “You’re a reckless fool, I can see it in your eyes / To come this way was by no means wise”.
However, the show is stolen at the death by the title track, a thirteen-minute sea shanty about the sinking of the Titanic, leading Rocksucker to conclude that, at 71, Bob Dylan is still yet to hit his creative iceberg. (Yes, we can’t believe we just wrote that either.)
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
Tempest is out now on Columbia. For more information, please visit bobdylan.com