The Six String Bard Strikes Again
The core of inspiration in my world rests in the hands of a group of artists, people who have inspired me in all walks of life and not just artistic endeavors. Experiencing their work pushes me to create, pushes me out the door in the morning, pushes me to embrace life to the fullest extent.
No one artist that I have encountered has set a higher bar for inspiration than Bob Dylan (which puts me in great company; this is the guru who inspired The Beatles, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, U2, etc., etc.). This is an artist whose career has had more comeback records than most bands have records; a man who practically defines artistic integrity; a musicologist whose knowledge of American music rivals his place in it; a visionary whose music continues to inspire across generations (indeed, my mom once said to me, “He was mine before he was yours!”).
I am prompted to write this dedication to the former Mr. Zimmerman due to the arrival of his latest effort, his thirty fifth album, aptly titled “Tempest”. Much has been made of the significance of the title; Shakespeare’s last work was named “The Tempest” and many have questioned whether, at 71, this will be Dylan’s last release. Pshaw, says Bobby. From a Rolling Stone piece: “Shakespeare’s last play was called The Tempest. It wasn’t called just plain “Tempest”. The name of my record is just plain Tempest. It’s two different titles.” That settles that.
This record is the kind of savory, flavor packed, overflowing banquet that Dylan fans dream about. There is so much to sink your teeth into, it’s almost too much. In the same way that the Black Crowes have become the grey bearded road kings they always aspired to be, Dylan has become the crusty, wizened folk troubadour he always pretended to be. Or has he? He always displayed caprice in leading fans toward fools gold, heaving red herrings throughout his wake. As true as his role is, or not, he clearly relishes it.
And what a role it is. This Dylan is a randy, feisty old goat, ready to fornicate or fight within a heartbeat. Sex and death permeate the album, boldly up front and center; seeping through its pores. People are shot, stabbed, bleed, drown, are torn apart, dragged dead through the mud. Every character, it seems, is a battle hardened, hard hearted cynic ready to duel unto dying. A broken heart is a light sentence. The males are pimps and blaggards. The females are worn out whores, or at the very least duplicitous. Everyone springs from dubious provenance. Meanwhile, Dylan slings sexual braggadocio to rival Muddy Waters.
“I got somethin’ in my pocket make your eyeballs swim/I got dogs could tear ya limb from limb/I’m circlin’ around the Southern Zone/I pay in blood, but not my own” – Pay in Blood
Okay, so what about his voice? Voice? What voice? Whatever voice he had, and whether you liked it or not, it’s pretty much all gone now. Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour” which has him on the road pretty much continuously, has left him singing with basically a throat. Funny thing is, it completely serves the material and delivery. Voice aside: Can anyone wrangle a lyric as well as Dylan? Certainly none better. His phrasing, his enunciation, stretching and clipping just the right amount, he wrings every last drop of nuance out of the lyric.
This record will leave fans reading tea leaves for decades. There is so much to analyze. Think old timey music meets Cormac McCarthy. Eviscerating financial industry gluttony? Check (“Early Roman Kings”). Spewing vitriol at politicians? Check (“Pay in Blood”). Eulogizing his dear friend John Lennon, the sixties, and possibly himself? Check (“Roll on John”). Glib forensics of a long dead marriage? Check (“Long and Wasted Years”). Epic nine minute love triangle story sung entirely in couplets and ending in a pile of corpses? Check (“Tin Angel”).
Most conversations about Mr. Dylan (even this post!) focus on his lyrics and his delivery, but not the music itself. Well my friends, the music here is glorious. Recorded with his road band, it is smooth as silk, as sweet as the opening guitar melody of “Duquesne Whistle” and as hard hitting as the roadhouse stomp of “Narrow Way”. It’s nothing short of a brilliant band.
“I ain’t dead yet my bell still rings/I keep my fingers crossed like the early Roman kings” - Early Roman Kings
You’re damn skippy his bell still rings. This is one of the most vital, and certainly the darkest, of all the records in Bobby’s catalog.
Mr. Dylan! What can I say: The Six String Bard delivers inspiration by the truckload.