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Tempest, Bob Dylan

Columbia, September 11, 2012

Track Listing: 1. Duquesne Whistle, 2. Soon After Midnight, 3. Narrow Way, 4. Long and Wasted Years, 5. Pay in Blood, 6. Scarlet Town, 7. Early Roman Kings, 8. Tin Angel, 9. Tempest, 10. Roll On John

“I’m searching for phrases
To sing your praises
I need to tell someone”

-fromSoon After Midnight

Today or tomorrow, tickets go on sale for some reunion tour or another, bringing back a band or solo act from a time gone by. Fans will be excited and probably not the least bit disappointed when the show falls woefully short from how they remembered their idols. A few band members may even be missing from the current lineup, deceased or else not wanting to saddle it up anymore, but even that will somehow manage to be okay.

They come and go, come and go. On a night we were attending our first Crazy Horse show in over a decade, I was reminiscing about those incredible back-to-back Neil Young shows at Chicago Theater oh so many harvest moons ago. Like it was only yesterday, I can still hear a melodic but sad lament about lovers drifting apart after years together, lovers that had been side by side “From Hank to Hendrix,” from Marilyn to Madonna. Like the fate of the ill-fated lovers, the memory of those shows is in similar peril, today burning bright but tomorrow heading toward the fading light as nostalgia’s wistful lineage can only be written.

“I ain’t dead yet
My bell still rings”

-fromEarly Roman Kings

Then there is Dylan. He has never been anywhere else but here. Always, right here. Through the years, the players change with a depressingly inevitable frequency, and yet Dylan has never left us at all. How can that be? He just keeps traveling on from town to town, stage to stage, a new suitcase of songs in tow, same as it ever was, same as it ever it was.

“Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing through another no good town”

-fromDuquesne Whistle

All proof to the contrary be damned, skepticism somehow manages to get the best of you. Old habits die hard, which is to say they don’t die at all. With each passing release, against a recurring riptide of similar worries that are repeatedly debunked, you still wonder whether this will be the one that finally marks the end, or at a minimum, the beginning of the end.

“Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like she ain’t gonna blow no more”

-fromDuquesne Whistle

You even wonder if you will even like the new one at all. After all, he’s way overdue for a dud. Or you’ll like it just fine all the while knowing the problem here is that fine isn’t nearly good enough when it comes to Bob Dylan. Fine may be good enough for the latest Paul McCartney album or a new one by The Stones, but Dylan’s fans and surely his critics will not let him off the hook so easy. This latest just isn’t nearly on the level of (insert favorite from a library of riches).

“You got something to tell me
Tell it to me, man
Come to the point
As straight as you can”

-fromTin Angel

And so it starts, following a familiar routine. An initial listen triggers illogical surprise. You listen again. And then, back to the beginning, always back to the beginning.

Another instant classic. But for good measure, to temper that enthusiasm, there needs to follow a tidy conclusion to douse the flames: Tempest was always destined to be the final chapter. You will be able to say that you knew it all along. You do not doubt that he’ll hang around, releasing others, but years from now you’ll point back to Tempest as the last of the essentials.

I guess it is true: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Rather, you can’t teach all old dogs, anyway. The hound dog, for example is as smart a breed of dog as you are likely to ever come across. You can teach a hound dog at any age. That is, if he isn’t already off into the woods, following a scent you cannot detect.

“One day
You will ask for me
There’ll be no one else
That you’ll wanna see
Bring down my fiddle
Tune up my strings
I’m gonna break it wide open”

-fromEarly Roman Kings