There is a lovely little instrumental passage that opens up Tempest, the new studio album from Bob Dylan. It’s completely unassuming and charming, something that might accompany a beautiful sunset or moonlight glancing off a tranquil ocean. It in no way prepares the listener for the grit and tumult that lies ahead.
The beginning of “Duquesne Whistle” turns out to be a perfect opening to this album of sudden juxtapositions and mood shifts that occur not just within songs but sometimes within verses. Those looking for a smooth ride in one direction should look elsewhere, but people who jump on board the train with the world’s most decorated songwriter will find humanity, in all of its flawed glory, at every turn and enjoy a ride equal parts invigorating and moving.
Whereas Dylan’s previous album, 2009’s Together Through Life, was a pleasant ramble that lacked a bit of substance, Tempest is the kind of meaty offering that his most ardent fans desire most. A large percentage of the ten songs clock in at over five minutes, there are plenty of allusions to be uncovered, and quotable lines pop up constantly.
Unlike the Titanic watchman fast asleep at his post, Bob Dylan’s eyes are as wide open as ever, even when he’s looking back. On this album, he depicts all he sees with his typical insight, dexterity, and honesty, yet he still has ways of doing so that upend all expectations. Tempest is fantastic, but being impressed by Dylan is old hat. That he still finds ways to surprise us is an achievement beyond all comprehension. — American Songwriter