Thursday, September 27, 2012


Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota, but he is better known to the masses as Bob Dylan. His first studio album was self-titled and came out in 1962. For what it’s worth, my favourite Dylan albums are his three gospel records, SLOW TRAIN COMING (1979), SAVED (1980), and SHOT OF LOVE (1981), plus MTV UNPLUGGED (1995), TIME OUT OF MIND (1997), AND CHRISTMAS IN THE HEART (2009). His early songs such as ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘The Times they are a-Changin’’ became anthems for the U.S. civil rights movement and anti-war movement. He’s been inspired by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson, and Elvis Presley. Among the musical styles he has experimented with over the years are: folk, blues, country, gospel, rock and roll, swing, and jazz. In May of this year he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. His thirty-fifth studio album TEMPEST (Columbia Records) released on September 10, 2012 in the U.K. and on September 11, 2012 in the U.S.

A single from the record, ‘Duquesne Whistle’ was co-written with Robert Hunter, and starts things off with an instrumental bit that makes me think of a gal playing the piano in a saloon. It features these playful lyrics: “Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing/Blowing like it’s gon’ blow my blues away/You old rascal, I know exactly where you’re going/I’ll lead you there myself at the break of day/I wake up every morning with that woman in my bed/Everybody telling me, she’s gone to my head.” ‘Soon After Midnight’ is a terrific ballad that finds Dylan fairly optimistic: “I’m searching for phrases/To sing your praises/I need to tell someone/It’s soon after midnight/And my day has just begun…My heart is cheerful/It’s never fearful/I’ve been down on the killing floors/I’m in no great hurry/I’m not afraid of your fury/I’ve faced stronger walls than yours.” ‘Narrow Way’ is a rollicking country song where one finds themselves in a real pressure cooker: “This is hard country to stay alive in/Blades are everywhere and they’re breaking my skin/I’m armed to the hilt and I’m struggling hard/You won’t get out of here unscarred/It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way/If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday.”

‘Long and Wasted Years’ is musically innovative. I have to wonder here if Dylan’s lyrics are autobiographical: “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes/There are secrets in ‘em that I can’t disguise/Come back baby/If I hurt your feelings, I apologize…We cried on a cold and frosty morn/We cried because our souls were torn/So much for tears/So much for these long and wasted years.” ‘Pay in Blood’ according to one internet interpretation, draws from Ezekiel 3:9. In Ezekiel 3, the prophet is told by God to go to the house of Israel, a hard-headed people. God tells Ezekiel He’ll make him just as hard-headed. Ezekiel is made a watchman by God. He’s to warn the people of impending disaster. If they do not listen, the blood is on their own heads. If Ezekiel does not warn the people, the blood will be on his own head. Christ’s blood covers Bob, but he’s still trying to warn people of disaster to come. Here are some of the lyrics: “Low cards are what I’ve got/But I’ll play this hand whether I like it or not/I’m sworn to uphold the laws of God/You can put me out in front of a firing squad/I’ve been out and around with the rowdy men/Just like you, my handsome friend/My head’s so hard/Must be made of stone/I pay in blood but not my own.” ‘Scarlet Town’ is a weak, boring composition. It does, however, make a plea for racial equality and understanding: “If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime/All things are beautiful in their time/The black and the white, the yellow and the brown/It’s all right there in front of you in Scarlet Town.”

‘Early Roman Kings’ has a slow blues groove to it and contains these dark lyrics: “I was up on Black Mountain the day Detroit fell/They killed them all off and they sent them to hell/Ding-dong Daddy, you’re coming up short/Gon’ put you on trial in a Sicilian court/I’ve had my fun, I’ve had my flings/Gon’ shake ‘em on down like the early Roman kings.” ‘Tin Angel’ is sparse when it comes to instruments. It is a story song, over nine minutes long, that is based around a traditional folk song performed by Woody Guthrie, called ‘Gypsy Davy.’ In this song of Dylan’s a man confronts his lover right while she’s cheating on him: “She turned, she was startled with a look of surprise/With a hatred that could hit the skies/’You’re a reckless fool, I could see it in your eyes/To come this way was by no means wise’\’Get up, stand up, you greedy lipped wench/And cover your face or suffer the consequence/You are making my heart feel sick/Put your clothes back on, double quick.’” The tale ends tragically, with all three parties dead: “All three lovers together in a heap/Thrown into the grave, forever to sleep/Funeral torches blazed away/Through the towns and the villages all night and all day.”The title track, ‘Tempest’, is a gem of a song, one of Dylan’s best ever. It has an astonishing forty-five verses with no chorus and clocks in at 13:55! That’s even longer than a Hillsong hit! ‘Tempest’ is a musical film if you will, about the sinking of the RMS TITANIC, a British passenger liner in April 1912. The song is good to slow dance to. Here are select lyrics: “T’was the fourteenth day of April/Over the waves she rode/Sailing into tomorrow/To a golden age foretold…/Lights were holding steady/Gliding over the foam/All the lords and ladies/Heading for their eternal home…/The ship was going under/The universe had opened wide/The roll was called up yonder/The angels turned aside…/They battened down the hatches/But the hatches wouldn’t hold/They drowned upon the staircase/Of brass and polished gold…/When the Reaper’s task had ended/Sixteen hundred had gone to rest/The good, the bad, the rich, the poor/The loveliest and the best.” The album ends with ‘Roll on John’, a strong, fitting tribute to the late great John Lennon, who was shot to death by Mark David Chapman on December 8, 1980. Here are some of the lyrics: “Shine your light/Movin’ on/You burned so bright/Roll on, John…/I heard the news today, oh boy/They hauled your ship up on the shore/Now the city gone dark, there is no more joy/They tore the heart right out and cut him to the core.”

On TEMPEST Bob Dylan’s voice sounds more gravelly and ragged than I’ve ever heard from him before, if that’s even possible. There is no doubt that this effort is on the more somber, slower side overall musically. One of its weaknesses is that some of the tracks sound like Dylan is reciting poetry and that the background music is just an afterthought. That being said, there are enough solid songs here that only an artist of Dylan’s longevity could deliver as well as he does. I recommend TEMPEST to fans of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, and Phil Driscoll. I’m rating it 84%. For more info visit