Tempest is Bob Dylan’s 34th studio album. He has now been recording for half a century and if this album is an indication, he has no intention of slowing down. It is an album that is like everything he’s ever done and at the same time like nothing he’s ever done. It takes quite a bit of magic to pull that off, and Dylan is a magician and a trickster and it is this unpredictability that has kept his fans, no matter when they came in along the journey entranced. The nods to the past on this album are mostly musical and he continues his exploration of the various genres that make up American music, whether it’s blues, swing, rock and roll, country and folk music.
In the ’60s and the ’70s, once he started recording with other musicians, Dylan’s records were kind of inspired chaos. Musicians would gather in a studio, usually great ones, he’d start playing, the tapes would roll and whatever happened happened. And this went on with a couple of exceptions depending on who was producing for the next 30 years. This started to change with Time Out Of Mind and definitely with “Love And Theft”, an album that among many other things was also an exploration of musical styles and genres.
On Tempest, there is not a note out of place. Every arrangement, every instrument used, and how they were used and what is played has clearly been thought out. And this extends to how the album was recorded and mixed, the microphone placement and most importantly, how the songs would be sung.
And speaking of singing, Dylan hasn’t sounded this energized and committed in 11 years. His voice may be in shards and shreds, but the force is back. There are times when it’s astoundingly sweet and times when it’s right in your face and it’s not necessarily pleasant, and it’s not meant to be pleasant. The album The Times They Are A-Changin’ wasn’t supposed to be pleasant either.
For those who maybe were hoping for some kind of rallying cry on the raging American insanity and the apparent worldwide despair so prevalent in the 21st Century, look elsewhere. Ever since Dylan abandoned the topical song game two years into his career, he’s always gone for the bigger, deeper and broader picture. At the same time, this is not to say that connections cannot be made.
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