Tempest – Bob Dylan


Bob Dylan

Once upon a time I would be able to tell you the street date of an upcoming Dylan release and would bet I would be the first of my friends to purchase it. But the 1990’s and 2000’s became spotty for Dylan releases, both quantitatively and qualitatively. For every one “Modern Times” and “Time Out of Mind” there were two “Oh Mercy’s” and “Good As I Been To You’s.” But a few months ago I heard rumblings that not only was Dylan releasing an album of fresh new music, but that it was to be his most “religious” album thematically since “Shot of Love.”

My interest was piqued.

This week Dylan released his 35th album, “Tempest,” and delivered an epic album an so many levels. It is both epic in length with only two of the ten songs coming in under four minutes and the inclusion of a 13-minute tour de force.

It is folky, sweet and swinging music filled with dark, somber and deeply moving lyrics. yes, it is Dylan’s most religiously tinged project since the trilogy (Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love), but no more so than the brilliant “Infidels.” In fact, it is the latter album that this current release reminds me the most of. Not so much musically as lyrically. There are clear evangelical imagery, mixed with human frailty and the darker sensibilities of Dylan’s best.

Most enjoyable is the interplay between human emotions, sexual tensions and spiritual phrasings. Initially some may find this merging confusing or uncomfortable, but it is what makes the album so intriguing and compelling. It does not drag you to the bedroom kicking and screaming, it dances with you slowly and leads to the bed. There is nothing commercial here and don’t expect to hear the album much on radio.

I do not want to spoil the wonderful wordplay here, I only suggest you pick it up and discover it for yourself. The true brilliance is the lack of context of common phrases. What I mean by that is Dylan’s penchant for using a common spiritual phrase to describe that which is carnal and using carnal phrases to describe that which is deeply, authentically spiritual.

The only song I want to bring up is the epic title track. At first one is wondering where the song is going, but by the end wishing it would continue. It is my favorite Dylan ballad since “Every Grain of Sand.” The song uses painful human experiences like the sinking of the Titanic to describe the human condition and need for hope, mercy and grace. Its brilliance is in the simplicity and the emotional impact more than crafty words.

This first review of the blogs new direction is a clear choice for an album that will appear in any upcoming, comparable list.

  1. DKDC
    September 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    I heard a sample on NPR and I agree with the NPR commentator – his voice is really bad now – but that was never an impediment for him anyway.

    YAY more reviews by low5point!

    • low5point
      September 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      There is only one cut in which the voice is just brutal…others become more palatable with repeated listening

  2. shawnuel
    September 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I came on here to comment on “that voice” as well. For me it really is an impediment, now. Of course, I spent 10+ years in vocal training so it would bug me more than others.

  3. Charles H
    September 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Never been much of a Dylan fan. (I know, I know… unpopular statement). I’ve tried to like his music. I’d have to say, the only Dylan songs I really care for are “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Ring Them Bells”. (two songs on opposite ends of the moral spectrum, maybe). I especially like “Ring Them Bells”. It’s just a great song. As always, tried to like this LP, since a lot of my friends do. Can’t get into it, though.

  4. October 8, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Narrow Way: “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”… “Look down angel, from the skies, help my weary soul to rise”… “I heard a voice at the dusk of day, saying ‘Be gentle, brother, be gentle and pray …”
    Pay in Blood: “I’ve sworn to uphold the laws of God, you can put me out in front of a firing squad … Man can’t live by bread alone, I pay in blood, but not my own …”
    “Dylan is communicating the fact that it is Christ’s blood that pays for the sins of the world, not the blood of any mortal man,” see ‘Dylan, Depression and Faith’

  5. Wolfgang
    October 17, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Yesterday I bought this album. After the second listen I have to say its a masterpiece. The perfect music for times like these. During the last fifty years Dylan wrote a lot of songs that were a perfect portrait of the spirit and the atmosphere of the time when they were released. Now he did it again. He is possibly the greatest american poet of all time. And on the picture the band looks really wild and mysterious – like some people that you didn’t want to meet in the middle of the night alone on the street.

  6. Tim
    December 6, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    What about a consideration of The Wallflowers’ latest album Glad All Over? From the first song “Hospital For Sinners” to “Have Mercy On Him Now”, there are manifestations of what would appear to be a holy faith in the songs on this album. Could Jakob be embracing his dad’s faith?

  7. January 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I totally agree with Charles H. A few songs I do like and my favourite is also “Ring Them Bells” but it is just not my music..

  8. Greg Whitehead
    February 1, 2016 at 6:58 am

    No offence but I really think you are “clutching at straws” on this one. It doesn’t come within coo-ee of “The Trilogy” and I can’t see one shred of evidence that it is in any way “religious”

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