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180 of 196 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dylan's roadhouse blues--dark, rowdy, haunting, and among his latter-day best, September 11, 2012
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This review is from: Tempest (Audio CD)
There's been no singer-songwriter in the near 60-year history of rock music who's a better storyteller than Bob Dylan. He proved it with his (now legendary) humble folk beginnings, and he continues to prove it today, as evidenced by the very dark, very epic 'Tempest,' an album that can proudly stand next to the best of his post-'Blood on the Tracks' repertoire.

After a somewhat lean 1980's and even leaner early-mid 90's as far as quality output from Dylan, he's now in the midst of a pretty remarkable 15-year renaissance beginning with 1997's near-perfect 'Time Out of Mind.' Every album in that span has been extremely well-received and critically-acclaimed--with only '09's 'Together Through Life' receiving even the mildest of criticisms--and I have a pretty strong feeling this trend will continue with his latest. As someone who's been slightly burnt-out on Dylan over the past few years, I think it's safe to say he won't be coming out of my rotation anytime in the foreseeable future.

Right out of the gate his larynx sounds utterly destroyed on the swingin,' country-jukebox dance-floor number, "Duquesne Whistle," but that doesn't take anything away from the song. In fact, it adds a certain kind of charm, giving Dylan a swagger that's been wholly earned through his 50 years of musical storytelling and lessons. His voice is one that demands to be listened to--now as much as ever. And I dare you to stay still in your seat during this track.

After bringing it down a notch with the tender ballad, "Soon After Midnight," Dylan kicks it back into first with the rowdy Chicago blues stomp of "Narrow Way," and when his weary, gravelly voice spouts "It's a long road, it's a long and narrow way," you believe him wholeheartedly. And later, when he sings "I pay in blood, but not my own" on "Pay in Blood," you almost wish you didn't believe, so convincing are his words. "Scarlet Town" is one of Dylan's most haunting, most beautifully hypnotic songs of his career, and even at seven-plus minutes, it feels too short.

"Early Roman Kings" is another blues number, copping the oft-used and instantly recognizable "Mannish Boy" riff that Muddy Waters made famous six decades ago, and to good effect, but the centerpiece of the album is undoubtedly the 14-minute title track, a 45-verse waltz recounting, in Dylan's inimitable way, the Titanic disaster of 1912. He does justice to the victims of that tragedy, putting his heart and soul into each and every verse, even while slyly dropping "Leo" and "Rose" into the song, obvious references to James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster. The first time I heard it, I thought it ran a bit long, and had to control my urge to skip ahead. The next time I just drifted off and let Dylan bring me into his world, into HIS version of the event, and the result was powerful--even moving.

The album, while mostly filled with revenge and redemption-themed songs, closes on a much prettier note with "Roll On John," a loving tribute to John Lennon. Being the last of three straight epic, somewhat meandering tracks, one would think the listener would grow weary by this point, but that could not be further from the truth. This was another one that had to grow on me--as it initially seemed directionless and weirdly sung--but I soon viewed it to be one of the most beautiful, touching moments of Dylan's entire oeuvre, even quoting Lennon himself with "I heard the news today, oh boy," referring to his 1980 assassination.

It's a fitting, perfect end to what could be argued is his most impressive and consistent effort since 2001's 'Love and Theft,' possibly even since 'Time Out of Mind' from four years prior, though not quite on the level of that, or his 60's and 70's classics, imo. But that would be asking too much. There aren't many artists who've remained as relevant as he has for fifty years and thirty-five albums, while at the same time continually putting out such strikingly original work.

My hope is that he'll continue to do so for another decade, at least. But I count myself--and the world at large--as fortunate to have had him around for any length of time at all.

4.5 out of 5
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 13, 2012 7:59:46 PM PDT
frenchgirl says:
Tempest
Bob is in his prime. his intreviews , concerts and musical releases are of a superior, ethereal quality.
the tempest is brilliant. buy it!

Posted on Oct 3, 2012 10:15:07 PM PDT
Excellent Review. I was gonna add one but with 157...anyway, I bought the album from Amazon, burned it to my computer, made a dub and finally got around to listening to it in the car-captive audience. I was floored when i heard the final song, roll on John (Dylan has another song by that title that he didn't write from the 60's) 32 years after Lennon's slaying. Here's a link with the lyrics. http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/3530822107858845001/ I found his singing of the lyrics hard to understand so i thought I'd search them out. Enjoy....very poignant. bill in Sparks, NV

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 7:31:59 PM PDT
Jack Tripper says:
Thanks! I rode the fence between giving Tempest 4 or 5 stars for like half an hour, but in the end I couldn't bring myself to rate it the same as his 60s and 70s classics, even though it is better than most of the output by other artists these days. I like to compare albums to the artist's previous works, so in the end I clicked "4" but emphasized the extra half at the end of the review. I still think it's one of the best of his post-Blood on the Tracks/Desire catalog, so I still feel weird about the "4." But oh well.

And yeah, at first I thought "Roll on John" was an update of the old one, until I actually heard it, of course. The new one's one of my favorites on the album, but I actually didn't care for it at first. Maybe it just wasn't what I was expecting. Thanks again for the comment, and you should still write a review, even if it's just a few thoughts, as I'm sure some people (like myself) like to get a "newer" perspective every once in a while, from people who have let the album sink in a little, as opposed to the front-page, usually first-day-of-release reviews.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2012 8:45:10 PM PDT
Yeah, the sound of his voice at this stage in his career is 'grating' at times-like trying to sing with allergies. I think he gets it, though, because in the Duquesne Whistle song he says 'you Rascal you' which Satchmo-Louis Armstrong had a hit with. That's why I had to look up the lyrics to the Roll on John song. I appreciate you pointing it out. I figured if anyone knew anything about the song, an Amazon reviewer would. Heck, If it wasn't for Amazon and emusic, i wouldn't have known this was coming out-no radio play out here, and we have a fairly eclectic music station. I may just go ahead and write a review, thanks for the encouragement.

Posted on Dec 9, 2012 12:27:45 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 9, 2012 12:29:00 PM PST
This is a very helpful, thorough review. I'm a relative newcomer to Dylan's music, and intrigued by this new album. Your review is well-written, informative and helps whet my appetite for it.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 10, 2012 6:51:12 PM PST
Thank you for your comment. i appreciate it! bill

Posted on Dec 16, 2012 2:57:19 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 16, 2012 4:42:14 PM PST
If 'Shot of Love', 'Infidels', and 'O Mercy' are 'Lean', as you state, then I'll take mine without the fat, thank you.

Dylan was much better in the 80s, than the media, and the "I-said-it-so-it-must-be-true" stereotypes would have us believe. For every 'They Killed Him' there was a 'Blind Willie McTell.'

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 16, 2012 9:53:30 PM PST
I'm thinking that you may not be referring to my post, but Dylan had some very excellent releases in the 80's: Empire Burlesque, Oh Mercy. These 2 stand out as very, very good. I know the one version of Blind Willie McTell from the first Bootleg series and am not certain if Dylan did that on his 2 albums of other peoples songs released in the early 90's I think. Oh, here's something for you: there are 2 live concerts available from Dylan from the 60's on emusic. I don't find them anywhere else.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 3:23:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 17, 2012 4:52:12 AM PST
Great review, Bill.

I just cring everytime I hear about how bad Bob was in the 80s. You're bound to have some clinkers if you're as prolific as he is.

I would defend 'Slow Train Coming' and 'Saved' as well. Most critics hated Bob's religous records, mostly because he was seen as being too direct (from what I gather). It's true he's a poet, but he has never had a problem being direct either (I doubt anyone would wonder what 'Masters of War' is about). Both of those records rock hard, and how often do you get a gospel album released by a major artist that is as rough hewn as 'Saved' is.

I'm glad to hear you mention 'Empire Burlesque' I missed it the first time around and have just started to discover it.

Cheers. I'll look for those concerts.

Posted on Feb 5, 2013 11:55:51 AM PST
for a much more concise song about the titanic check out "down among the dead men" by flash and the pan.
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