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  • A 'Tempest' blows away iTunes

    Bob Dylan's newest is his recent greatest
  • If you've come here to read something snarky or ironic about Bob Dylan, then, my fellow Southern Oregonians, you've come to the wrong page of Tempo.
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  • If you've come here to read something snarky or ironic about Bob Dylan, then, my fellow Southern Oregonians, you've come to the wrong page of Tempo.
    I just spent the past one hour and eight minutes absorbing Dylan's latest, the aptly named "Tempest." The album is Dylan's 35th and is streaming for free on iTunes for a limited time before it drops early next week.
    I suggest you stop reading this and go listen to it. Right now. I'll wait.
    (One hour and eight minutes later "… )
    OK, you're back. What did you think?
    Yeah, I wasn't expecting that, either. It takes brass to cap a late-in-life career renaissance with an album whose sound I can only describe as Celtic-carnival-honky-tonk-murder ballads.
    The work it most resembles thematically is "John Wesley Hardin," but on "Tempest" Dylan has dialed up the bloodshed and gallows humor to 12 and snapped off the knob with a bloody screwdriver.
    The album launches on a twang-country note with "Duquesne Whistle," Dylan's damaged croon dipping in and around a collection of string flourishes. Dylan touches on the album's themes midway through "Duquesne Whistle" with the line, "You think I'm a pimp and a gambler, but I'm neither one."
    The characters moving about "Tempest" might not be pimps and gamblers, but they do plenty of both when they're not robbing, stealing, lying and hiding from the law.
    In some ways, it's an odd and fitting choice to start because what follows is Dylan's version of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."
    He describes a world of lone killers and dark alleys slithering with "junkie whores." People are dismembered in basements and strangled until their eyes bulge out of their sockets.
    The second track moves into Merle Haggard territory with more California country-inspired picking and outlaw ethos.
    "Soon After Midnight" doesn't have a body count, but its tired narrator lets us know that he's seen things best not described.
    "My heart is cheerful, it is not fearful. I've been on the killing floors," he says by way of warning and welcome.
    And in a 15-minute epic that might be Dylan's most audacious piece of writing since his unreadable French Revolution novel, "Tarantula," we get a 50-verse retelling of the sinking of the Titanic.
    "They battened down the hatches, but the hatches wouldn't hold," Dylan sings in the album's eponymous track. The doomed struggle for survival as the Titanic sinks "to its knees" is visceral and chilling.
    "When the reaper's task had ended, 1,600 had gone to rest," Dylan sings. "The good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the loveliest and the best. They waited at the landing and tried to understand, but there is no understanding the judgment of God's hand."
    There are not nearly enough songs written these days about 100-year-old nautical disasters.
    This is grim stuff, and Dylan is using his battered voice, a weary asset on his recent albums that deal mostly with relationship woes and his unease with the modern world, to sinister effect.
    "Tempest" also is one of Dylan's funniest albums.
    He's always been master of the one-liner, and age hasn't chipped away his ability to make your head snap toward your iPod, saying, "Did that lyric really come out of this little, plastic box?"
    "The Narrow Road" is a drifter song, unapologetic and well-told. As he recounts his many loves left behind and the people who try to contain him, Dylan blows them all off with the perfect lone-wolf rejoinder, "If I can't work up to you, you'll surely have to work down to me someday."
    "Tempest" culminates with the retelling of the death of John Lennon. Dylan has the stones to include the line, "I heard the news today, oh boy" as he describes that fateful meeting between Lennon and Mark David Chapman, may he burn in hell.
    After "Tempest," you wonder where Dylan is going next. He's not slowing down as he enters his seventh decade.
    Let's not forget, two albums ago he was recording Christmas songs featuring Castro as a main character.
    As I said, "Tempest" is streaming for free on iTunes. Go listen to it.
    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.
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