Every summer,a theory comes up that Bob Dylan is going to open up the vaults of his head and heart again. But each time,the reclusive musician, whose voice is easily the most notorious rasp in the history of music,turns the theory on its head and throws things out there to communicate with his audience. In his 35th studio album,the 10-track Tempest,the ragged voice does seem like an effort to not be consigned to oblivion.
Quaggy clichés such as you burn so bright in Roll on John (a tribute to the assassinated Beatle) dont help either. At 71,his voice may be jagged,but what hasnt changed is the rollicking bluesy riff and we salute him for the spirit of creating this one,an album darker than some of his recent ones.
Dylan opens this album with the breezy train song Duquesne whistle. The tweedling steel guitars in the song,paired with an accordion and a fiddle,work well. But it is a number Dylan can sing in his sleep. We want more.
And we do get it,in the warm and lovely Soon after midnight,a waltz that one can slow-dance to. Scarlet town is a good take on the idea that religion and politics dont matter. But the credit goes to the wonderful musical arrangements in the track.
The album does come with some charms. Narrow way has a great hook from the start,Dylans typical Chicago blues riff,and the sneering. And then he bellows O baby. Even after years,that sneer still makes the heart go lub-dub with its rusty effect.
I cant help myself but commit the ultimate Dylan sin treating the musician like a poet and concentrating on the words he creates (afterall,he was nominated for Nobel Prize for literature). In the grim Pay in blood,Dylan croons these brilliant lyrics,Night after night/they strip your useless hopes away/ The more I take/ the more I give/ The more I die/ the more I live. In the next tracks the love triangle Tin angel or the carnage in Early Roman kings Dylan creates his own world,fitting nuggets from the past in it.
This is followed by the title song the 14-minute 45-verse track that rues over Titanic and the lives lost. He brings the Woody Guthrie influence and a story from the moth-eaten clan of sad sea stories. He even refers to Leonardo DiCaprio: Leo took his sketchbook/ He was so inclined/ He closed his eyes and painted/ The scenery in his mind. It is a contemplation,yes,but why does Dylan re-visit it,I wonder.
The real test of a Dylan album is to consider the album outside the context of the legends magnanimous career. For now,he does not match the standards he gave us
in Like a rolling stone or Blood on the Tracks.
But then he is Dylan. He is allowed to have his whims and is obligated to only himself. Thats what makes him a legend.