Thursday, September 6, 2012

REVIEW: Bob Dylan - Tempest

Five Songs for a Long-Distance Road Trip

Bob Dylan, perhaps you've heard of him?

Tempest, Dylan's 35th studio album, is a dense, compelling work that is going to take many listens to fully unravel. What could drive a man to make edgy, tough-to-categorize music 50 years into his career? Who knows, but we are damn lucky to be here to experience it.

Dylan resides in his own musical space, one where the rock'n'roll of the past 50 years, including his own, doesn't exist. Instead Dylan plays with the building blocks of rock'n'roll - the blues, jazz, folk and string bands of the '20's, '30's and '40's. But Dylan's Americana is not rooted in rosy nostalgia, and instead lurks within the dark underbelly, the margins, the hard times.

Take the title track for example, a rambling 11 minute retelling of the sinking of the Titanic, a story so rich with images of horror, avarice, class warfare. Or the one nod to the rock'n'roll era - "Roll On, John", an ode to the only real musical peer Dylan ever had, his friend John Lennon. In both cases, great seemingly undefeatable forces of progress come to a bad and violent end - a loss of life, innocence and greatness.

Is this all a commentary on modern America?

Another song "Early Roman Kings" suggests the fall of a great empire from greed and corrupt leadership. One line in that song is particularly hard to ignore: "I ain't dead yet, but my bell still rings."

That may be the only thing that need be said about Tempest. Bob Dylan's bell still rings. He is making new and compelling music. He is making it strictly on his own terms.  And there's an undeniable groove and swing to this stuff that makes me want to listen to it all night long. Check out "Duquesne Whistle":

Special kudos to my friend Scott Litt who engineered this record and gets just the right sound.

Tempest will be available in stores on September 11 and can be streamed now in its entirety on iTunes. It's dark and weird and wonderful and you should buy it. Tempest


Kyle Porsche said...

Those interpretations of yours are too obvious, they don't cut through. Early Roman Kings is a mobster song, obviously rather set in the Gangs of New York era than in ancient Rome. Are these all "comments on modern America"? Well, gotta be, surely...

Jim Desmond said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. My reference to Early Roman Kings was a passing one and I wasn't intending to limit the song to any particular fallen empire. And the question about being a reflection on modern American was a rhetorical one that I thought was fairly obvious.
We love getting comments and appreciate a good push too. Explore our blog - our other writers are far more insightful!

Ishman Bracey said...

Your remark that Bob's recent music is created as if the rock and roll era, including bob's work, did not exist is extremely perceptive. It gets to the heart of Bob's ongoing reinvention of his work and its relation to American music (which would include British folk music). I like your linking of the visionary John Lennon to the Titanic as well. Bob seems to suggest these 'modern times' are darker than most of us can realize--that we are living in moments such as the Titanic travelers felt when heading out, or whatever was in John's mind as he left the Dakota that awful night to enjoy the evening. It's not dark yet . . .