Friday, September 7, 2012

Review of the New Bob Dylan Album "Tempest"

I got an advance of Tempest and here are my immediate thoughts after one listen

There’s no doubt it is modern Bob Dylan. The music hearkens back to some indeterminate point in American history. Part blues, part folk, part jazz, part some hybrid feeding trough of all roots music filtered through the sensibilities of someone who was there for all of it, every moment of the last 50 years Bob both reveled in and created. He has never been a nostalgia act, he has been his own act; making his own music that encompasses everything that came before and predicts all that is to come. Tempest will not divide fans. I believe if you are a believer in Dylan, all of it - the old, the middle the new - you are going to FLIP FUCKING OUT over this album. It has everything you want and a level of lyrical density that has been gone for a long time. If, on the other hand, you find the modern Dylan to be an impenetrable frog’s croak compared to Blonde On Blonde look elsewhere. You will find this to be the same. It is worth noting that his voice is actually less rough than it has been in recent years, and the musical accompaniment (his touring band with the addition of Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo) is as lightly sweet as Love & Theft but it does not sound like a man in his 20’s.

That aside, I am swooning after only one listen. Dylan’s lyrics are as intense as evocative as they have ever been. They are poetic, historic, intelligent and informative. It is Bob at his best. The album is beautifully produced by Dylan himself and shows a man so comfortable with his own musical skin that “fashion” isn’t even a consideration.  I can’t wait to listen to this album obsessively for the next few months to unlock all its mysteries, but here a few immediate impressions.

1) “Duquesne Whistle” - upbeat tune. Impossible to think of it now except in terms of the amazing, weird video that accompanies it - watch it HERE. Nostalgia and dread mix nicely to form something like…Dylan’s version of normal. Would have fit nicely on Love & Theft. A very pleasing musical arrangement hides a viper’s eye.

2) “Soon After Midnight” - slow, lots of pedal steel. A lonesome cry for companionship.

3) “Narrow Way” - repetitive, guitar driven tale of weary resignation and retribution with the ominous chorus. “If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday.”

4) “Long and Wasted Time” - an embittered cry for lost love, and lost everything else. So many great couplets: “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes, there’s secrets in ‘em I can’t disguise.” An amazing vocal performance.

5) “Pay In Blood” - “I pay in Blood, But not my own.” Wouldn’t have been out of place on Infidels musically. But a deep set of ominous lyrics.

6) “Scarlet Town” - Lyrically, this one is so deep, I can’t even begin until I’ve heard it more. Clearly he is under the influence of another poet here. A vision of the natural world gone mad under the influence of a corrupting mankind? I don’t know - this is one heavy song.

7) “Early Roman Kings” - a groovy, stone blues. One of his best modern lyrics. There is so much going on here, I can’t begin to pick my favorite of the amazing lines that crash the modern condition head on with the ancients.

8) “Tin Angel” - A tale of corruption and betrayal. John Ford meets John Dos Passos.

9) “Tempest” - it sounds like a Stephen Foster epic, but it is pure Bob Dylan. History unravels and spills over the floor like so much unspooled film as Leonardo Dicaprio rubs elbows with the real participants in this tragedy that seems to never lose its appeal. Yes, Bob examines the sinking of The Titanic in 14 minutes of hypnotic storytelling. Getting lost in the dream-like lyrics and lovely musicianship it might be easy to miss the fact that Dylan’s voice is more compelling on this song than it has been in years. As fascinating as the actual story and twice as revelatory. James Cameron eat your heart out. Dylan tells the story with such comparative brevity and absolute poetic superiority, it seems like HE should get the Oscar.

10) “Roll On John” - A tribute to John Lennon. Bob is openly broken-hearted about the senseless loss of one of the few people on earth who could have really understood what it was like to be Bob Dylan.

- Paul Epstein

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