First Listen: Bob Dylan's Dark 'Tempest'

Bob Dylan, 'Tempest': Track-By-Track Review

Death, whether it be the legacy of John Lennon, the sinking of the Titanic or a trio of cheating lovers, is a dominant subject on "Tempest," Bob Dylan's 35th studio album that is scheduled for release on Sept. 11.

The album marks a return to straight-forward, story-driven songwriting for Dylan. The 10 tracks are more in line with 1997's "Time Out of Mind," '76's "Desire" and '64's "Another Side of Bob Dylan"; a darkness has replaced the instrumental interludes, buoyancy and lightness of his last three albums.

"Early Roman Kings," a 12-bar blues that features David Hidalgo of Los Lobos on accordion, is featured in a music video that HBO and Cinemax began airing today (Aug. 2) in conjunction will the Cinemax series "Strike Back." Another song from the new album, "Scarlet Town" will play over the end credits of the first two episodes, which air Aug. 17. "Scarlet Town," rooted in English folk with banjo, acoustic guitar, fiddle and drums providing the accompaniment, plays out as a tale of doom, fate and potential redemption.

The song that will get the most attention though is the nearly 14-minute title track track. "Tempest," 45 verses written in accentual-syllabic verse with no chorus, is set aboard the Titanic, with characters ranging from an artist named Leo -- DiCaprio, one might assume -- to Jim Dandy, who hands over a chance at survival to youngster.

Besides Hidalgo, Dylan is backed by his touring band of guitarists Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball, steel guitarist Donnie Herron, bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George G. Receli. Song structures are largely rooted in folk styles, though a few tunes veer into other rootsy areas.

"Soon After Midnight" is a bluesy doo-wop that echoes the Rays' "Silhouettes" and a bit of Santo & Johnny's "Sleepwalk" in an instrumental break; "Narrow Way" is a seven and a half minute riff-driven tune that straddles country and blues; and the bite of Warren Zevon comes out in "Pay in Blood," the chorus of which ends with the gripping line "I pay in blood/but not my own."

The album's final track is a tribute to John Lennon, "Roll on John." In one verse Dylan references the Beatles songs "Come Together," Ballad of John and Yoko" and "Slow Down"; elsewhere on the ballad he combines the metaphysical with the historical.

"Tempest" Tracks:

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"