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By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 14, 2012 - 20:37

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Bob Dylan’s ‘Tempest’ one of year’s best

Bob Dylan
“Tempest”
(Columbia)

“Tempest” is no doubt the best album you’ll ever hear from a 71-year-old.

If that sounds like damning Bob Dylan with faint praise, rest assured this is one of the best discs you’ll hear by anyone this year, at any age. Rather, the point is made to marvel at the vitality of a man who’s been making albums for 50 years and still manages to be relevant.

Bob Dylan has led his fans, and the entire music community, on many journeys over a half century, even a few dead ends. After a detour with 2009’s largely unsatisfying “Together Through Life,” the new “Tempest” continues the improbable late-career renaissance of America’s greatest living songwriter.

The title cut is the centerpiece, a Celtic-flavored telling of the Titanic story, both historically accurate and fanciful. Its 45 verses -- no chorus, no bridge -- even reference Leonardo DiCaprio. The cinematic look at all manners of behavior in the face of impending doom stretches on for 14 minutes. A watchman who missed the trouble ahead is an indelible, recurring character.

“Tempest” is not even the first epic on the record. “Tin Angel” is an old-fashioned murder ballad, a bloody tale of a tragic love triangle that advances on a rubbery and ominous bass line by Tony Garnier, Dylan’s bass player for more than 20 years and 2,000 concerts.

That bass line is an example of the musical signature of the disc -- arrangements that create momentum through repetition. On “Long and Wasted Years,” it’s a descending guitar lick. The hook on “Narrow Way” rocks hard. The pedestrian blues of “Early Roman Kings” shows that approach doesn’t work every time but otherwise, the effect is mesmerizing and directs attention straight to the lyrics. Dylan’s voice is a guttural growl now, that’s no secret, but he knows how to enunciate and sing. None of the words pass by unnoticed.

There’s plenty to be engrossed by. Serious study would take a New Yorker-length article, when one song alone has more verses than most modern albums. Dylan shows quite a violent streak, with one song’s key line being “I pay in blood, but not my own.” The lovely tribute to John Lennon begins with his murder.

Yet the parsing of lyrical clues to discern What Dylan is Thinking is a fool’s errand. Better just to enjoy the story-telling and hidden delights. A phrase like “you’re like a time bomb in my heart” sneaks up and detonates. Dylan’s humor is sly and often overlooked, like on this couplet: “Last night I heard you talking in your sleep, saying things you shouldn’t say. Oh, baby, you just might have to go to jail someday.”

Dylan is an American musicologist, and the variety of styles on “Tempest” adds to the enjoyment. The opening “Duquesne Whistle” swings. “Soon After Midnight” is a love song led by pedal steel guitar. “Pay in Blood” mixes the pedal steel with a soulful backbeat and “Roll on John” has a stately, weary gait that matches the subject matter.

Decades ago, Dylan’s characters, allusions and turns of phrases were the subject of academic study. That this inscrutable lyricist can continue to amaze, amuse, befuddle and bedazzle past retirement age is something to behold.

Nobody makes discs like this anymore.

(AP)


Little Big Town turns in up on ‘Tornado’

Little Big Town

“Tornado”

(Capitol Nashville)

By the first chorus of opening song “Pavement Ends,” Little Big Town makes it obvious they are taking a more modern, more adventurous approach on their fifth album, “Tornado.”

One of country music’s most rousing live acts, the vocal group hasn’t achieved the success at country radio that its reputation suggests. “Little White Church,” from their 2010 album “The Reason Why,” was only their third Top 10 hit, and the next two releases didn’t crack the Top 40.

So the four vocalists -- Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Philip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook -- switched producers to Jay Joyce, who has guided the albums of Capitol label mate Eric Church. 

The change works wonders: The band’s recent single “Pontoon” has become the first No. 1 hit in the group’s 10-year history. The musical sound is decidedly more modern. “Leavin’ In Your Eyes” employs a rhythm-machine beat and swirling keyboards, which brings more focus to the warmth and emotion of Little Big Town’s vocal arrangement.

Whatever the motivation -- desperation for a hit or simply wanting to try something new -- the changes on “Tornado” blow fresh energy into Little Big Town.

(AP)