ALBUM REVIEW: Bob Dylan's 'The Tempest' puts lyrics, poetry at the fore
Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s new studio album, "The Tempest," released Sept. 7, is his latest in a long line of work since his eponymous 1962 debut.
It's also his first album since being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in May.
The album is best described as mild blues-infused rock, drawing strongly on textures and riffs characteristic of early 1950s electric guitar, the up-tempo blues of Eric Clapton’s Cream, and the gravelly vocals of ZZ Top.
"The Tempest" wastes no time establishing these ideas, opening with the upbeat and mild “Duquesne Whistle," a steel-guitar laden blues-rock piece with a steady and acoustic locomotive beat.
Dylan’s gravelly voice makes for a bizarre contrast in some of these moments; it’s almost a mash-up of Louis Armstrong and blues-rock ideas from 30 years after his day.
The blues theme continues on the upbeat and electric guitar-driven “Narrow Way," while if the groove on “Pay in Blood” isn’t quite ZZ Top, it’s at the very least, a close relative. On “Early Roman Kings," Dylan unleashes his inner blues man with the same riff as Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy.”
Other tracks are softer. The melancholy “Scarlet Town” is threaded through with banjo, piano, and violin. “Long and Wasted Years” has similar country ideas, but it’s more contemporary, with a multiple clean-toned electric guitar and a stronger ballad feel.
And yet, for all its blues-rock texturing, "The Tempest" is an experience in Dylan’s voice, which does the brunt of the work over the album’s 10 tracks. If you’re a fan of his poetry, this is a good thing.
On the other hand, it can become tiresome. Verse after verse is packed into songs, oftentimes taking the place of solos, choruses and even general musical dynamics. An example: The title track is nearly fourteen minutes long, has no chorus, has no solo, and has no considerable deviation from the main riff. Regardless of the lyrics, it gets old pretty fast.
If you’re a long-time Dylan fan, this is not a reason to miss the album.
His latest work is a great pick for those still hungry for more of his music, and offers up good, bluesy mood pieces. Even if it leaves some musicality to be desired, it’s a chance to experience the work of an American icon, one whose studio albums won’t be in the “new releases” section for much longer.