Bob Dylan’s new album, “Tempest,” delivers his rumbling shift in voice with the same mighty force he showed on “Modern Times” in 2006. The first song on the new album is about a steam-train whistle “blowing like she’s never blowed before,” but the sound grumbles with low fearsome frequency. It seems as if Dylan’s voice is still making tonal shifts at the age of 71. In this album he oscillates between the voice Tom Waits, and a man with a thousand razor blades in his throat. However, the roots of his band have the same tight, jazz-styled blues Dylan so loves.
Dylan’s lyrics are draped in history more than ever before. It seems age has not withered or staled his love for the meaning of song, if anything it has embellished. He sings about the War of 1812, the wreck of the titanic, and the murder of John Lennon. He lifts quotes from the ancestry of musical career, past his success of the sixties, all the way back to folk, gospel, blues and country song. Dylan seems to be ‘the keeper of American musical memory’, as Ben Greenman puts it in a review in The New Yorker.
The “Tempest” reminds us what flare can be found in Dylan’s ‘jazzman’ voice. Moving from behind the beat, then rushing ahead of it, bending it and cutting it. There are points on the album, “Long and Wasted Years,” where he talk-sings in a most taunting tone, all over a cascading guitar line. The habit of making music conversational has always been a focal point of his music. Commanding listeners through the wisdom of words.
However, even though the album compounds word and sound, the later is too often overlooked when listening to Dylan. At times, his musical flare places him next to the sounds of Sinatra and Billie Holiday. We must remember the man is not just a poet but a musician of extreme versatility.
Long live Bob.