Artist: Bob Dylan
Genre: Bob Dylan
Let’s just put into context what a writer is up against when asked to break down the music of Bob Dylan. The album crooning through my Koss headphones will mark the 35th album released by the man. That’s 3 more albums than I have years of life. He has sold roughly sixty-million albums in his lifetime, give or take a bundle. If I handed a purchased album to every person in Italy, there would be albums left to give. Can a whole civilization be wrong about an artist? Additionally, a few months back, President Obama handed Dylan the highest civilian award achievable, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. So seriously, where does my opinion fit against that? If I man-up and point out the flaws of Dylan’s new album, Tempest, will I be charged with treason? Will I be made out as an example? It is an election year after all.
Thankfully, the album supplies no room to use my bark. Sure, I could be a naysayer and imply that The Tempest cannot be as flawless as Blonde on Blonde, but honestly, who really expects it to be? What’s closer to the truth is to praise both Dylan and Tempest for their consistency. With the same unique flair and signature approach to storytelling as he did on his 1962 self-titled debut, Dylan proves that fifty years of changes in society has managed to shift everything in the world except for him. The proof is right there in his catalog. He is as reliable as rain in Seattle and as constant as the Northern star. Bob Dylan will always sound like Bob Dylan.
“Duquesne Whistle,” the opening track from Tempest makes that perfectly clear. Dylan offers no fancy, updated sound like Johnny Cash did on his last few albums. He simply stays the course. With a grainy voice backed by jazz-tempo bass and guitar over time-piece drumming kept with brushes, Dylan belts sounds off in a style that would best be set in a smoky backroom bar. At 71, Dylan’s voice has dwindled a bit when it comes to holding onto notes, leaving him sounding like Tom Waits at times. However never one for perfection, the core of the Dylan-sound remains intact. “Soon After Midnight” for example, which possesses a strong alt. county presentation, very strongly resembles previous cuts like “To Make You Feel My Love” and “Forever Young.”
Yet maybe, if you look at it prospectively, that’s what separated Dylan from all the other has-beens clinging desperately to the better years of their careers. Their attempts to stay vital changed not only them, but adapted their sounds to whatever trend was popular at the time. Dylan however, staying true to himself, has managed to determine his career by who he was as opposed to letting his career determine who he was destined to be. That level of honesty is reflected in each of the ten tracks found on Tempest.
Frankly, I must confess a level of relief in listening to Tempest. While most albums possessing a dated throw-back sound get into the “for true fans only” category as quickly as they are released, this album manages to remain fresh and relevant regardless of its historic baggage. If asked, I would not only promote taking the album for a test drive on Spotify, but willingly purchase the album myself. It is twenty dollars well spent in the pocket of a man who deserves as much if not more than anyone in music.
God forbid that Tempest end up being Bob Dylan’s swan song. However, if life should choose to take Dylan from us, he will have gone out in style.
Review written by: Joshua Hammond