Bob Dylan – [Album]

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Since Bob Dylan made his fantastic (second? third?) return with Love And Theft in 2001, the singer's fans have seemed to split into two communities: those who are great big fans and those who are great big critics. Those communities are so opposed in structure that it's almost comical; the fan community is only too happy to take any old thing that Dylan releases and tout it as the new gospel without question, while the “Critics” strike a dubiously high-minded pose with unrealistically high expectations. Simply said, one group of fans is willing to take too much and the other too little, and that leaves the quality of the albums which have been released since Love And Theft – be they excellent (see Together Through Life), perfectly average (Modern Times) or laughably weak (that Christmas album which came out in 2009) – as being remarkably skewed. Such erroneous public perception is frustrating, certainly; but happily Tempest appears eleven years-to-the-day after Love And Theft with a new sound (again) and a set of songs which will both thrill the devout and win the critical.

“Duquesne Whistle” opens Tempest and will cause both fans and critics to quickly do a double-take at what they're hearing. Here, amid a very tight and tidy country ensemble (which includes players from the Love And Theft sessions as well as players from Modern Times and Together Through Life), Bob Dylan will leave fans absolutely gob-smacked as he rolls out one of his most melodic and lucid vocal performances ever (read: every word registers here most clearly) and sets the bar incredibly high for everything that follows.

There are no breaks applied after that first success, and the band just keeps on chugging as Dylan seems to revel in the lighter, tone that “Duquesne Whistle” sets; songs like “Narrow Way,” “Pay In Blood,” “Early Roman Kings” and the title track all keep that upbeat tone afloat and are contrasted perfectly by the more intimate moments which fall between them like the soulful “Scarlet Town,” the loverly balladry of “Soon After Midnight” (the line “I'm searching for phrases to sing your praises” is a personal favorite) and the great 'end of the road' rumination “Long And Wasted Years.” The balance between those two viewpoints is shockingly even for a Dylan record (the singer has usually fallen hard one extreme or the other before – he seldom dabbles in both at once) and, by the time he actually does reach the end of the road with “Roll On John” (which follows Dylan's closest approach to a Crazy Horse jam in the form of the album's title track) listeners will find themselves resting easily; satiated by the experience.

In that end, listeners will find that they're forced to understand the differences in the style, form and quality of what Bob Dylan has released over the last decade, compared with this new album. The only comparison between those other albums and this one is that there is no comparison to make; like Love And Theft before it, Tempest marks either the end of an era for Bob Dylan, or the beginning of a new one. We won't know which until the singer releases another record, but Tempest will be an enduring reward that fans can use to enjoy the wait.



is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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