Which probably isn’t too different from what he did when the time came to cut Tempest.

There’ll be a couple more runs through the album once this review’s posted, but I’ve already discarded the title track and Roll On John isn't far off the same fate. Of the rest, Duquesne Whistle is a definite keeper, swinging along like it’s going out of fashion and it genuinely sounds like everyone on board is having a good dash of old-fashioned 100% fun. 

Soon After Midnight might be rather obvious when it comes to rhymes (money/honeyfearful/cheerfulharlot/scarlet), but there’s a band locked into a languid groove and there’s a healthy dose of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde on the rollicking Narrow Way. It’s not quite Rainy Day Women but it’s not far off. Seven minutes of experienced road warriors running through something they’ve just about got off by heart (the feel, rather than the actual tune, though it’s awful familiar, as are those guitar licks behind the vocal).

Long and Wasted Years maintains that groove, with the band playing something that’s deeply internalised they could do it in a coma. Four tracks, four keepers that won’t have the shuffle button being called into action on a regular basis.

You could say much the same about Pay In Blood, where the weatherbeaten voice is an ideal match for the lyrical content. Some dodgy rhymes, sure, but that’s hardly a new development where Dylan’s concerned.

Things drop back a notch for Scarlet Town, though the minimal riff is as persistent as its brothers have been throughout and the bleakness continues through the lyrics. Your mileage may vary as far as Early Roman Kings is concerned, particularly if you have a degree of difficulty aligning the title with the lyrical content, though you might also see the riff as being a little too closely related to Muddy Waters’ I’m a Man. I’m inclined to think we’re talking the Mafia or some similar organization for the lyrical content, though mileages will invariably vary.

For mine, the wheels start to fall off once Dylan moves from observation, allegory or whatever figurative tag you choose into narrative. There’s plenty of narrative in the sources from which Dylan draws his material, and the murder/revenge quest manhunt tracking down an abducted wife in Tin Angel works reasonably well. On the other hand, close to fourteen minutes of Tempest has been moved into shuffle forward territory. I’m not overly rapt in Roll On John which is probably skirting dangerously close to the same fate.

So where are we on studio album number thirty-five? 

Pretty much where we’ve been since the early days is my summation of the situation. A bloke who plays some guitar and a bit of piano, writes stuff and has a go at vocalising it. The voice might be close to shot, the writing may or may not be as good as it was (depending on how you define quality) but there’s no doubting the fact that the old buzzard has assembled a crackerjack band, and they slot into the material as well as any assemblage of musos he’s managed to round up in the past;

And, more significantly, he’s still going, and hasn’t, it seems, surrendered to the all-too-familiar urge to keep oneself going by regurgitating what we’ve done in our notional heyday.


Mojo: Bob Dylan's Tempest: First Listen

© Ian Hughes 2012