by Sheldon Birnie
Love him or loathe him, it’s impossible to argue the influence ol’ Bobby Dylan has played not only on those who travel the Hillbilly Highway, but how we, as listeners, view the Highway itself. From his galvanizing early work, to his genre defying output on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, the new pastoralism of The Basement Tapes and John Wesley Harding, through all the ups and downs from Planet Waves to Street Legal, Infidels through Oh Mercy and beyond, Dylan’s output alone is staggering. The fact that the lion’s share is gold is enough to humble – or shame – any would be songwriter.Next week, Dylan’s drops his newest release, Tempest. His 35th album in 50 years (!!!), Tempest finds Bobby exploring musical terrain he’s been toying with since at least 1969’s Nashville Skyline, and more recently on 2001’s Love & Theft and 2009’s Together Through Life. On this bad boy, Dylan teams up again with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, with whom he collaborated heavily on Together Through Life, and has been working on and off with since their work together in the 80s.
The first single, “Duquesne Wind,” was released earlier this week on NPR, and a video has since surfaced featuring a happy-go-lucky-stalker type who can cut a mean rug to the Dixie land swing Dylan and the boys are pumping out. Dylan’s own appearance in the video, at the head of a rag-tag crew of street hustlers, gangbangers, and KISS fanatics, asserts his position as Coolest Dude Around, something that has rarely been contested out on the Highway.
“Early Morning Kings,” bizarrely previewed in a trailer for HBO series Strike Back, revisits the classic blues structure and vibe present through much of Dylan’s recent work, conjuring up Old Testament images. The other tunes I’ve yet to hear, but the buzz for the past few months has been on the title track, a 14-minute tune about the sinking of the Titanic, with the melody based on the old Carter Family tune about the tragic wreck at sea.
How the album will stack up against Dylan’s back catalogue is a mystery at this point. While I’ve enjoyed Modern Times and Together Through Life, nothing he’s done in the last 20 years has stood the test of time like 1997’s Time Out of Mind. Regardless, I’m looking forward to spinning Tempest a few times and try out my rug cutting skills in anticipation of Dylan’s October 5th visit to MTS Centre, where his old buddy Mark Knoepfler will also be in the house. If I hear “Sweetheart Like You” that night, boy, that’ll be something…