Monday, February 18, 2013

Tempest (2012)

I was talking just the other day about the tempestuous relationship so many of his fans have had with Bob Dylan. I followed a fairly familiar path, connecting with most of his best '60s albums slightly after the fact, as a teen in high school in the early '70s, then losing him across the course of the '70s until the Jesus period, when I checked out completely until Oh Mercy, coming back all the way with Time Out of Mind. He's just one of my favorites now, there I said it, it's a cliché, I accept that. He is willfully obtuse, a scoundrel and rascal, can't sing very well (and now his voice is shot), can't play guitar either, isn't a nice guy, and yeah, probably laughing at me. I don't know what the songs mean, or in this context, even exactly what the meaning of songs means. He's not exactly comfortable, I know that, and often annoying as hell. But almost always interesting, in a way that is notably difficult to describe. More on this later. In the new century, "Love and Theft" set the terms of the current state of the crisscrossing blues rock 'n' roll roots forms with rambling talk songs, well and truly introducing the expedient of absolutely first-rate bands producing unpretentiously amazing grooves. It was best on that album, from 2001, a little bit off on Modern Times, from 2006, and now a little bit further off here. He seems content to work out batches of songs like this every few years and I'm content to enjoy them for a few weeks. The song lengths here start at three and a half minutes and range on up to nearly 14 minutes for the title song, which, it must be said, doesn't deserve such breadth, but at least is unassuming about it. My favorites tend to take it up a little notch—thinking of "Narrow Way," for example (7:28), or "Early Roman Kings" (5:14), maybe the best thing here. Yes, "Roll On John" is extremely unfortunate. More broadly the tell, as always, is the humor, and the fact is that the jokes mostly aren't that funny on Tempest. But all right. Larger truth still in place. He has aged well. It is more and more looking like a life well lived, which seemed impossible at multiple points since 1962. Somehow the stakes still seem to matter, although there's a good chance that's just me.

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