Dylan’s never-ending fistful of folk

Bob Dylan’s Tempest is one of his best yet

By Patrick Chessel
Photos by Xavier Badosa

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s self-titled debut album. This album introduced the world to a shaggy-haired troubadour who created thoughtful, introspective lyrics and performed them in a way that would move an entire generation.  The 71-year-old’s new release, Tempest, proves that he’s still got it. The album echoes Dylan’s three main song-writing influences: Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, and Robert Johnson. Although some of the tracks have a really bluesy feel, Tempest explores that genre to a lesser degree than his last few albums: Dylan incorporates more country, folk, and jazz sounds into this collection. As a lifelong fan of Dylan, I have enjoyed most of his work, but truly believe that this may be one of the finest albums he has produced.

The opening track, “Duquesne Whistle”, is a foot-stomping country blues song. “Narrow Way” shows us that Dylan can still turn a phrase, using lines like: “If I can’t look up to you, you’ll surely have to look down on me someday.” His Robert Johnson influences shine through on this track.

Dylan’s hefty repertoire of folk music dates back to his days of hanging out in Greenwich Village in the early 60s with other folkies like Pete Seeger, Odetta, and the Clancy Brothers. His old routine of reworking of existing folk songs comes through again on Tempest. “Scarlet Town”, a song driven by banjo and fiddle, is his re-imagining of the traditional Scotch song “Barbara Allen”. While some have criticized Dylan over the last few decades for borrowing from the folk tradition, he recently responded in Rolling Stone Magazine that, “In folk and jazz, quotation is a rich and enriching tradition.” He has proven himself to be an exceptional interpreter of the American folk catalogue.

The only complaint this writer has towards Tempest is the artwork on the front cover. At first glance, one might assume this is the soundtrack for an 80s romance movie; it would have been more suitable to have something that fit the theme of the album. Luckily, the brilliant writing and performances make up for this oddly chosen cover. But the album inside is full of catchy melodies, well-thought arrangements, and exceptional instrumentation.

Bob Dylan plays Rogers Arena on Oct. 12 along with Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler.