Album: Bob Dylan, Tempest (Columbia)

Bob's glowing in the wind with brusque blues grooves

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The Independent Culture

Issued on the 50th anniversary of the release of Dylan's debut album, Tempest is a typical celebration of storytelling and blues, in roughly equal proportions. On the one hand, you have lengthy ballads like the 14-minute title-track, a rolling waltz relating the sinking of the Titanic, but with extra layers of fictive fabrication overlaid upon the real-life event .

Each verse is just another opportunity for Dylan's yarn-spinning creativity, spiked here and there with timely aphoristic declamations, such as "There is no understanding for the judgement of God's hand". 

On the other hand, you have more tart, brusque but slippery blues grooves in the vein of those on Together Through Life – as on that album, Dylan's road band is bolstered by the presence of David Hidalgo on accordion, fiddle and guitar. "Narrow Way" is a first cousin to "It's All Good", chugging along relentlessly as Bob plays the broken-hearted wretch with his usual panache: "I can't work up to you/You're surely gonna have to work down to me someday".

The dismissive nonchalance extends to "Pay in Blood", in backhanded compliments like "You've got the same eyes that your mother does/If only you could prove who your father was". But he can be sweet-hearted too: album closer "Roll On John" is a touching tribute to Dylan's old bantering chum John Lennon, fondly employing some Lennon lines en route to the refrain "Move it on, you burn so bright/Roll on, John". 

Elsewhere, "Tin Angel" is a tale of cuckoldry and vengeance in traditional folk-tale manner; bouncy Fifties swing and shuffle carry the lovely "Duquesne Whistle", a clarion of freedom and lightness of spirit; and "Scarlet Town" reprises the fatalistic gait of "Ain't Talkin'" to underscore the romantic desolation of "the town where I was born".

But it's on "Early Roman Kings" that the various strains come together most effectively, with Hidalgo's organ added to another Muddy Waters blues-stomp groove, and Dylan blurring history again in his depiction of the titular Romans "in their sharkskin suits, bowties and buttons, with their high-top shoes" – neatly underlining the gangsterism of imperial invaders of all eras.

Download: Duquesne Whistle; Early Roman Kings; Narrow Way; Scarlet Town