Three years after his last collection of original songs (2009’s “Together Through Life”), legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan returns with the stunning, violent “Tempest.”
Throughout “Tempest,” Dylan puffs out his chest and threatens freely, such as in “Tin Angel,” when he sings to his foe, “The Devil can have you / I’ll see to that.”
“Soon After Midnight” is sneakily sinister: Dylan sings, “I’ve been down on the killing floors,” and you believe him. Yet even while snarling about dragging corpses through the mud, the romantic in him shines through: “I don’t want nobody but you.”
Elsewhere on the album, it’s clear Dylan is still one of the sharpest wits to ever put pen to paper and still has the tongue to match. Sprightly word play abounds in “Long and Wasted Years,” in which he tells his naughty sleep-talking companion, “I heard you talkin’ in your sleep / Sayin’ things you shouldn’t say, oh baby / You just might have to go to jail someday.”
Songs such as “Narrow Way” continue the apocalyptic blues of “Together Through Life” and 2006’s “Modern Times.”
As with the rest of his modern output, the singer’s preoccupations remain the same: love, loss, religion and death. Dylan often returns to the same wells, which have served him more than his 50-year career, but is never content to repeat himself. He knows life’s too short for that, and too short for dewy-eyed nostalgia.
“So much for tears,” he sings early on in the album’s title track “Tempest,” “So much for these long and wasted years.”
There’s a popular story in Bob Dylan lore about the young musician visiting his idol, folk singer Woody Guthrie, in a New Jersey psychiatric hospital. Before he left, Dylan asked his hero if there was a message he wished to share with his fans. On a card, Guthrie scrawled four words: “I ain’t dead yet.” And with “Tempest,” Bob Dylan proves he ain’t either.