Friday, 27 July 2018

Bob Dylan - Tempest (2012)



  

Released September 2012

Recorded at Groove Masters Studios, Santa Monica, California

Like most of Bob Dylan’s “later period” albums - “Time Out Of Mind”, “Love And Theft”, “Modern Times” and “Together Through Life”, “Tempest” is very much and album chock full of Americana - folky blues, railroad blues, country, folk, rockabilly and bluegrass influences and the usual perplexing lyrics often dark, sometimes mournful, mischievous and disarmingly tender at times. Basically, it is 21st century Bob Dylan.

Something that is constant with these five albums is that Dylan seems to have found musicians he is happy with, whom he can go into a studio with, and quickly thrash out this music, played to an extremely high standard. He draws, like he does in his “Radio Hour” show, on the American folk music of his youth and constructs songs in that style but played to contemporary standards.
I am certainly no Dylanologist, so I do not spend hours poring over his lyrics trying to decipher Biblical or Shakespearean oblique references, neither do I hail every album he contemporarily puts out as a “return to form”. I listen to it, and I decide whether I like the sound of it or not. It is that simple. I don’t compare it to “Blonde On Blonde” or “Blood On The Tracks”. I just take it at face value. It sounds like a good album of songs to me.

TRACK LISTING

1. Duquesne Whistle
2. Soon After Midnight
3. Narrow Way
4. Long And Wasted Years
5. Pay In Blood
6. Scarlet Town
7. Early Roman Kings
8. Tin Angel
9. Tempest
10. Roll On John

“Duquesne Whistle” is an infectious, slightly rockabilly, lively country-style opener. It has a captivating “brush” drum sound and Dylan’s old man’s throaty voice is so vibrant, so vivid. It gives great gravitas to the song, like an old bluesman would. It also has that rubber band, jazzy bass sound. I love this track. The sound quality on this, and all the tracks, is excellent and the band are top notch, as always. “Soon After Midnight” is a gentle, reflective, almost walking beat sad ballad with a steel guitar quietly sounding away in the background. “Narrow Way” has an archetypal blues harmonica repetitive rhythm that stays at the same pace throughout while Dylan confidently delivers his words of warning. “Even Death has washed its hands of you”, bemoans Dylan, portentously. Only Dylan comes up with this sort of stuff, even now. “I got a heavy stacked woman, with a smile on her face…”.

“Long And Wasted Years” has another constant musical refrain, a melodious tune and another excellent vocal. “Pay In Blood” has Dylan railing and growling about paying in blood, but not his own, over a truly gorgeous bass line. “I’ll give you justice…” croaks an angry Dylan. He sounds as if he means it. “Scarlet Town” is a slow burning, solid piece of country rock, with a slow banjo accompaniment. “Early Roman Kings” revisits that “da-dah da-dah” repeated harmonica riff again, and Dylan’s lyrics are a stream of invective. “I ain’t dead yet….my bell still rings…I keep my fingers crossed… like the early Roman Kings….”. There is some really dark, “house of death” imagery on this one, it is full of it. Dylan cuts a frustrated, world-weary figure as indeed he does on the somnolent, chugging “Tin Angel”. Insistent and potent, this is one of my favourite songs on the album.

“Tempest”, the fourteen minute song about the sinking of The Titanic has been derided by many. I don’t really understand why. Myself, I love these long Dylan narratives - “Lily, Rosemary & The Jack Of Hearts”, “Joey”, “Brownsville Girl” - they are superb story songs and nobody tells them better than Dylan. “Tempest” is my favourite song on the album. It is full to the brim with marvellous characterisation, narrative and imagery. Nobody does this sort of thing better than Dylan. If people don’t like this, then what attracted them to Bob Dylan in the first place?

The John Lennon tribute, "Roll On John", is also very evocative and atmospheric and displays a real sensitivity and tenderness towards Lennon. It is almost surprising to hear Dylan so personal in his tribute.
So, there you go. No real analysis or gushing “return to form” stuff. I enjoy this album every time I listen to it, and that is good enough for me.

B+


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