Anyone who’s known me personally for more than five minutes, will know that i’m a huge Bob Dylan fan, at times have even been fanatical about him and his work, and have had periods where simply nothing else will do when the time comes to throw some music on. So, I apologise in advance if this review comes off a little self indulgent. Unfortunately the way it’s worked out over the past ten years for me, is that when Dylan releases new material at this stage in his life and career, there is always a feeling of trepidation, due to his rough vocals and inability to do anything original, and it takes a lot to push myself into giving his new material a chance in case his recent effort puts me off him entirely, and it was absolutely no different where his latest work, 2012’s ‘Tempest’, is concerned. But, as always, a dive back into his old material, and another retrospective journey through classic albums like ‘Nashville Skyline’, ‘Blood On The Tracks’ & ‘Blonde on Blonde’ inspired me to take the plunge, purchase the album and give it a tentative first listen, and as usual, but surprisingly quickly, it was a surprising triumph as far as I’m concerned.
The album kicks off with the first single release from the album, ‘Duquesne Whistle’, and begins with an interesting, monotone introduction, that reminded me of a Sunday afternoon in the Tap & Spile in Lincoln, when the older gentlemen pull out their guitars and jam all day. An interesting intro, but one that doesn’t immediately answer any questions. Until, the drums kick in, and the band behind Dylan drives into the first song on the album, where we find a catchy riff, intelligent and witty lyrics, and an image of a warm summers day is conjured up, which in the dead of winter became an instant mood changer, and straight away, my ears are on board for this, and eager to see where we go with this. It should also be noted that a music video for ‘Duquesne whistle’, and it’s one of my favourite i’ve ever seen, especially due to Bob’s appearances throughout.The album continues onwards to ‘Soon after midnight’, which see’s the tempo drop slightly, while the scene is set for a more sentimental, hopeless love song. Not quite the injection of sentimentality that we saw on the frequently covered ‘Make you feel my love’ (you know, that Adele cover…) but instead this time we see Dylan, still able to strip back his age and reputation, and show the world he’s still a romantic sod, still begging for the love of a good woman.
It becomes clear following the second track on the LP that you’ve been on a musical rollercoaster for the past ten minutes, as again the tempo shoots into the opposite direction, and you’re back on that dance floor in your head as ‘Narrow Way’ introduces a heavy, deep harmonica riff that remains consistent throughout. It’s very blues orientated and it’s got a great feel. It’s at this point I realise that the intro at the beginning of the album was a sign of things to come, and in fact, we never left the pub. It sounds a lot like a group of fellas, sat around just playing and jamming, through material inspired by the blues, and country, which for a huge name like Bob Dylan evokes a feeling of intimacy and normality from an icon I’d have assumed was too big to consider letting anybody get that close, especially for £7.99 off iTunes.
The album continues in a similar trend throughout, track 4 ‘Long and Wasted Years’ drops tempo again, while the following track ‘Pay in Blood’ picks up again slightly. But more important is the way each song has a catchy and clever riff to accompany insightful and interesting lyrics throughout. In fact ‘Pay in Blood’ introduces one of my favourite Dylan lyrics of all time, which any fan of the man himself will know is a big deal. But when he proclaims ‘I’ll pay in blood, but not my own’, it’s a moment where you realise this album has taken time, effort and the same level of talent that all his albums over the past 15 years or so have required. Dylan isn’t coasting, and although these later albums don’t always match up to his early work in the 60’s, they’re still great and it’s no accident, he appears to be really working for this. In my opinion it’s paid off too.
‘Early Roman Kings’ see’s a re-working of the Muddy Waters classic, and blues standard ‘Mannish boy. Introducing new lyrics and a new feel, provided by a background accordion, he takes a classic and makes it his own (not in an X-Factor sense). But though its an interesting reach into taking something shamelessly inspirational to himself assumedly, and all blues to follow the work of Muddy Waters, it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a stand out track on the album. Also as we head towards the end of ‘Tempest’, the 14 minute title track makes its arrival, and although it isn’t bad song at all, there appears to be no justification at all for its epic length, and makes the climb towards the end of the album, and especially the following track, ‘Roll on John’, a very tough one. Still, the end of the album may become a struggle at times, but I’m sure it has it’s place, and in the right setting or situation, could grow on the listener, and become as vital as the tracks at the beginning.
‘Tempest’ is a journey through Dylan’s current creative mind-set, and also a continued journey through his career, and after finally giving it the chance it deserves, it’s apparent that the bumps in the road for Dylan’s work are small, if not completely non-existent. He’s still the man.
Except that Christmas album he did, what happened there?!
Words by Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)