Music Review: Bob Dylan's Tempest

By Vanessa Butler

There’s no denying that Tempest is Dylan’s darkest piece yet, and for a man of god, he plays a damn good devil.

With no relation to Shakespeare’s final play The Tempest, Bob Dylan’s 35th album Tempest is giving fellow 70-something Leonard Cohen a run for his money for best record penned by an old guy. There’s no denying that Tempest is Dylan’s darkest piece yet, and for a man of god, he plays a damn good devil.

“Pay in Blood,” Tempest’s most menacing track, has Dylan singing ominously against an up-tempo guitar and piano: “The more I take the more I give/ The more I die the more I live… I’ll pay in blood, but not my own.” The first single, “Soon After Midnight,” paints the wickedly sweet endings of harlots, with lyrics that at first seem lovey-dovey but then turn almost into the words of a maniac à la Jack the Ripper. Is the song meant to entice women to think it’s an alluring piece of music? Listening to the track throws one’s mind into a tailspin, attempting to crack whether Dylan is playing the role of the pied piper or the sweet old man who catcalls you next door.

It’s not a surprise that Dylan answers to no one but himself lyrically; the voice changes almost manically from one line to the next. You’re never really sure if what is being sung is divination, history, sarcasm, truth or confession. The love ballad “Long and Wasted Years” has one verse that suggests a more personal subject than most of Dylan’s work: “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes/There are secrets in them that I can’t disguise.”   

Dylan is known for playing alongside the greatest musicians, and Tempest  is no exception. Produced under his alter ego Jack Frost, Dylan had the pick of the litter, equipping the album with his longtime tourmates David Hidalgo, Stu Kimball and Charlie Sexton to clang on their guitars. The bright pedal steel guitar on the first track “Duquesne Whistle” basically sets up what to expect from the rest: good old-fashioned musicianship stripped of any cockiness — not that you would be able to outshine Dylan’s 71-year-old cracking vocals.

My first Bob Dylan concert was in 1998, and luckily since then I have had my fair share of front row seats to Dylan’s Never Ending Tour. It’s truly remarkable to think that for the past 50 years people have been able to walk out of a Dylan concert feeling like they’ve been born again. Just as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road changed Dylan’s life, Dylan’s music has been shaping ours. Here’s to you, Dylan, for your incredible 50 years in music.


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