On his 35th studio album, Tempest, there are times when Bob Dylan still has his storytelling style going strong but also moments when he sounds like a frail parody of himself. Most lyrics are commendable for their open-ended complexity (“If I can’t work up to you/ you’ll surely have to work down to me someday”), while a few strays convey a cringe-worthy lack of effort (“My heart is cheerful/ it’s never fearful”). One constant throughout Tempest, aside from the mortality motif, is the rootsy instrumentation from Dylan’s guitarists Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball, bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George G. Receli, string player Donnie Herron, with Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo on accordion.
Dylan’s early influences, such as British folk and '50s rock, appear throughout the record. “Scarlet Town” is classic Dylan, with stark three-dimensional parables unfolding over the track’s banjo and fiddle foundation. The 12-bar blues of “Early Roman Kings” further exemplifies the varied palette the troubadour is drawing from, with a strained growl ravaged by time and 9000 cigarettes.
Clocking in at nearly 14 minutes and boasting about 50 verses, title track “Tempest” chronicles a host of fictionalized characters aboard the sinking Titanic. The song is followed by album-closing “Roll on John,” a heartfelt tribute to John Lennon that isn’t quite on par with the overall sonic quality of Tempest, a powerful comeback record for Dylan in the wake of 2009’s cold Christmas in the Heart.
- Album: Tempest
- Artist: Bob Dylan
- Label: Colombia Records
- Songs: (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