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Bob Dylan - 'Tempest'

Released Sep. 11, 2012, on Sony/Columbia Records

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Bob Dylan - Tempest

Bob Dylan - Tempest

© Sony/Columbia
Above all other things, Bob Dylan is a poet. His attention to the detail of the images he creates in his music, is impeccable. That's been a time-tested truth which does not seem to have faded, even now, 35 studio albums into his recording career. He's also an artist who is well aware that one doesn't just release an album to release something. Not all of his 35 recordings have been perfect, of course, but they've never been anything less than well-considered, thought-through artistic statements. Tempest is no exception to this rule.

Shakespeare, Angst, and the Blues

A tempest, of course, is a storm - a violent, windy disturbance whose intention is to blow things apart. In literature, The Tempest is widely considered to be the last play William Shakespeare ever wrote by himself. It's a story about empirical injustice and the misuse of power. It's a whirlwind of a story, full of mystical imagery and a particularly magical storm.

Though there is no explicit parallel to the Shakespearean tale, Dylan's lyrics frequently refer to the various themes of injustice, unfairness, corruption, and otherwise deplorable circumstances. Considering its myriad violent imagery and ideas stemming from corrupt circumstances, it's hard to ignore the disc was released on 9/11. Violence aside, though (it never becomes gratuitous, though it flirts with that line), Dylan dabbles in fantasy here, even calling to play some "Early Roman Kings" (purchase/download). His tactic is, for the most part, the blues. But here and there we hear inklings of contemporary folk and pop. There are plenty of synthesized keyboard parts backing Dylan's remarkably adept blues guitar.

And yet, for all the instrumentation, the music itself is kept quite simple, erring largely on the side of less-is-more. Considering his mastery of guitar and his past allegiance to excitingly composed music that is, well, musical (he certainly doesn't have a lot of music innately caged within his vocals), the hypnotic repetition seems a little unimaginative at first. Then again, this is Bob Dylan. It's hard to assume the accompaniment was actually phoned-in. Perhaps the hypnotic redundancy is part of the Shakespearean mystique. Perhaps it's something else altogether, which will reveal itself duly after dozens more listens. Indeed this, like any Dylan album, is worth allowing more time to grow on you.

Shining Moments

"Tin Angel" (purchase/download) seems to be the real runaway hit on this record, tackling stolen love and heartbreak and betrayal on the surface. But, delve deeper, and there's plenty to be found. The tempo of this epic tale is so rhythmic it pulls against tradition, like the old 20-versed story-songs so characteristic of English and Irish folk music history. It harkens again to the Shakespearean reference, imagines a few kinds of love worth dying for, and sings all the way through in that hypnotic sort of melody mentioned above.

Dylan, for his part, sounds like a growling, angry man stricken truly by complex desires. That would be one strongly unifying element played throughout this album - an element which adds a certain darkness even to the more upbeat, carefree-sounding tunes like "Duquesne Whistle" (this disc's first radio single, which was accompanied by a rather violent video). The focus on violence in this disc makes sense with the tempest theme and is difficult to ignore. Whether Mr. Zimmerman is making a statement about the central focus of violence in our society, or simply meeting his audience where they are (or a little bit of both?) is hard to tell.

At any rate, the disc stirs up the storm it promises. Fans would be well-advised to pour themselves into it entirely, weathering the gales as long as it takes to extrapolate some beauty. Rest assured the old guy hasn't lost his touch quite yet.

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