Forgive this out of context review, but when Bob Dylan’s newly released “Tempest” hit the shelves earlier this month I came to it with relatively fresh ears. I must be a terrible Minnesotan, but the only other Bob Dylan record in my possession is 1964′s “The Times They Are a-Changin’”. Due to this, I don’t have a great idea of Bob Dylan’s progression as an artist. Perhaps this is a major fault in my impression of the album, but maybe it is a bit of an asset since critic Alexis Petridis stated it’s difficult to hear the music of Dylan’s recent releases “over the inevitable standing ovation and the thuds of middle-aged critics swooning in awe.” Regardless of baby-boomer review bias, I found the the album to be quite good, especially for an artist in his seventies.
When I downloaded “Tempest” I was naively expecting something similar to “The Times They Are a-Changin’” with political and cultural themes abound. However “Tempest” sounds like an album you’re more likely to hear being performed at a suave jazz bar rather than the front lines of the latest Occupy protest.
The album opens with “Duquesne Whistle,” an old-timey sounding diddy with a comfy walking bass that is great to kick off your shoes and relax to after a long day. Next, “Soon After Midnight” has the aura of Eric Clapton trying to sing “Wonderful Tonight” after chain-smoking a pack of Marlboros. “Early Roman Kings” has the classic blues riff that can be found in George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”. The eeriest on the album is “Scarlet Town,” a hometown related song about conflicted memories of work, love, and death. The title track of “Tempest” stretches thirteen minutes (45 versus, no chorus) and is an account of the Titanic sinking through the eyes of those on board.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Dylan is more famous for his poetic lyrics than his musicianship. In this regard, the album does not disappoint. The fact that Dylan is still able to tell such lyrical stories as he’s pushing 71 years is quite impressive. The song “Tempest” is a perfect example of his ability. Most artists would be hard pushed to write a thirteen minute song and have all the lyrics seem pertinent to the overall theme, but Dylan does it like it’s the most natural thing in the world to him.
The actual music of the album is nothing too crazy, no crazy blues solos or anything along those lines. It’s more like background noise for Dylan’s spoken word. That’s not to say it’s bad – in fact it compliments the lyrics quite well. However, there’s little doubt that old Bob is pulling the weight with words. It should also be mentioned that you are getting a lot of music with this purchase too. Although there’s a not-too-crazy eleven tracks, the album is over an hour long. That’s about 5:45 per song.
If you are a big Bob Dylan fan there’s no doubt that you already own this album and are loving it. But there are people like me that have spent their youth relatively Dylan-free and don’t find much reason to make that change. I say to those people, however, if you have any affinity for folk music in any form you should give this album a shot. I found it to be just as good as “The Times They Are a-Changin’” if not a little better. Dylan has had a few hundred more cartons of cigarettes since then, and I enjoy his raspier vocal tone which can surprisingly still carry a tune.