Tempest – Bob Dylan’s latest recording

Bob Dylan in concert in Spain, 2010, CC-by-2.0

Fifty years after his first album, Bob Dylan, 71, has released Tempest, his 35th studio album, to critical acclaim.  Over half a century, Dylan has never repeated himself.

Randal Roberts of The LA Times says,  “Dylan lives in every molecule of our being, has taught us about lyrical possibility, has reveled in the joy of words and the power and glory of making things up from scratch. To learn that a new Dylan project is in the works is to know that there’s a good chance your brain will be forever changed by at least one new rhyming couplet, snarling oath or graceful guitar line. On “Tempest,”…there are many such moments.”

The songs range from light to dark, from blues to ballad, from topical references to phrases borrowed from Child ballads, all resonating to Dylan’s unique and raspy voice.

“Scarlet Town,” echoes the “Barbara Allen,” where Sweet William on his deathbed lies, but veers away from easy interpretation, much like the inviting but ultimately opaque American folklore references in Dylan’s much earlier, John Wesley Harding, 1967.  Then and now, the poetry is Dylan’s own:

Scarlet Town, in the hot noon hours,
There’s palm-leaf shadows and scattered flowers
Beggars crouching at the gate
Help comes, but it comes too late
By marble slabs and in fields of stone
You make your humble wishes known
I touched the garment, but the hem was torn
In Scarlet Town, where I was born

The title song, “Tempest,” is a 14 minute ballad about Titanic, phrased as a waltz that echoes the rolling of waves as it borrows The Carter Family’s “Titanic.”

The night was black with starlight
The seas were sharp and clear
Moving through the shadows
The promised hour was near

Lights were holding steady
Gliding over the foam
All the lords and ladies
Heading for their eternal home

Tempest opens with a blues number, “Duquesne Whistle,” written with Robert Hunter, The Grateful Dead lyricist.  It’s followed by the angry and topical “Early Roman Kings.”  There is “Roll on John,” a tribute to John Lennon, “Tin Angel,” a song of murder and suicide, and it ends with “Soon After Midnight,” which sounds like a slow song at the end of a high school dance.

If you’ve ever enjoyed Dylan’s music; if like Randal Roberts it has “forever changed your brain,” I urge you to check out the songs online. I bet you’ll download some or all of cuts, and marvel at the phenomenon of an artist who has continued to grow over fifty years.

2 thoughts on “Tempest – Bob Dylan’s latest recording

  1. More years ago than I care to remember, I worked part-time waiting tables in a coffeehouse near the University of Minnesota called the Ten O’Clock Scholar. They hired a young guy to entertain from the Iron Range named Bobby Zimmerman. I believe they fired him the first night because he couldn’t sing. Well, he still isn’t much of a singer, but he sure is a poet. Great stuff.


    • What a great story! Thanks. When I was younger, I favored some of the covers of his songs by people like Joan Baez and Judy Collins, but I’ve always thought that some his iconic songs – “Like a Rolling Stone,” for instance, depend on his voice. “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” too, in my opinion.

      This reminds me too of other musicians he influenced. I remember seeing an interview in which Springsteen related the moment, driving with his mother, when “Like a Rolling Stone” came on the radio. “My mother said, ‘That man can’t sing,'” he recalled. “And I knew what I wanted to do with my life.”


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