BluesWax Rating: 10 out of 10
Heavy and Heady
As a lot of artists begin to age, I’ve noticed they tend to slow down and quietly disappear. Also noticed is, if and when they do emerge, their old fans have little or no interest in any new material they may produce. Bob Dylan may be over seventy years old, but the stream of consciousness from which he draws his music from flows like a raging river still cutting rock. Tempest, the 35th studio album from Dylan, is a dark, yet outstanding blend of original folk, blues, and Americana. Returning to Dylan’s band to play guitar is Charlie Sexton. I love the twang factor he contributes to the music backing Dylan’s heavy and heady lyrics.
The first of its ten tracks, “Duquesne Whistle,” was co-written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. This magical song has been stuck in my head upon awakening the past couple of days. I don’t mind. At least it’s a good song to have stuck in one’s head. Elements of country-western and swing guide this song about a Pennsylvanian passenger train and waxing nostalgic.
Using the same backbone of rhythm found in Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” and Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” Dylan comprises a cautionary tale of “peddlers and meddlers” and “sluggers and muggers” in “Early Roman Kings.” Adding an extra layer of texture to this outstanding track is David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) on accordion, which replaces the harmonica parts one would normally expect.
The final three tracks combined run just a tad longer than thirty minutes. “Tin Angel,” a captivating tale of infidelity, retribution, and penance, tells a story that ends in a double murder and suicide. The death count increases drastically with the next song and title track, “Tempest.” Just shy of 15 minutes in length, this ballad of epic proportions recounts the story of the grim final fate of the Titanic. Dylan mixes the actual with the fictional, christening its title character, Leo, after Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the lead character in James Cameron’s film Titanic. In closing, Dylan pays homage to the life and death of John Lennon in “Roll on John.” It plays soft and steady without a lot of extra musical distractions to allow us to focus more on the lyrics, which subtlety references a Beatles lyric here and there and includes a little nod to William Blake’s “The Tyger.”
Tempest may be the best new album I have heard all year. I can’t seem to put it down. Not only am I obsessed with it, but I love it.
Phillip Smith is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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