This week I review Bob Dylan's 35th studio album "Tempest" along with a re-issue of Judas Priest's heavy metal classic "Screaming for Vengeance."
"Tempest" - Bob Dylan, Columbia Records
There's not too much about Bob Dylan that most people don't already know, except for maybe this - Dylan's enjoyed a creative resurgence since the 1997 release of "Time Out of Mind" that hasn't abated one bit, and "Tempest," released last week by Columbia, may be his best album since the "second coming" of the Bobster.
"Tempest" is available as a digital download, a special CD edition featuring some old photos of Dylan and a double LP that also conveniently comes with the album on CD.
"Tempest" pretty much follows the "character" Dylan has re-invented himself as since the release of the amazing "Love and Theft" in 2001 - a hipster, carny barker with a crack band of exemplary players borrowing from older music styles ranging from Tin Pan Alley to old folk, country and blues, coupled with Dylan's still-surreal lyrics and "tubercular" vocal delivery. The album is once again produced by Dylan himself under his pseudonym, "Jack Frost."
Dylan's Americana also is steeped with plenty of rock and roll, and his current band is the best he's ever had at expressing his unique vision. Dylan's "Tempest" is probably his most passionate album in a very long time, as his apocalyptic and biblical vision of a world gone mad is expressed in verse after verse, with Dylan expressing his rage with a weary and knowing eye. Blood is a constant theme, popping up again and again as Dylan rails against the establishment with a vengeance I haven't heard since his early 1960s material.
Dylan's got a lot to say this time around, with many of the songs breaking the six- or seven-minute mark. The title cut is a 14-minute rambling and eerie account of the sinking of the Titanic in great detail that even name checks Leonardo DiCaprio. "Tempest" is a an old-school folk song, with each verse more harrowing and tragic than the previous, describing the confusion, panic, and yes, blood, of those trapped on the ill-fated vessel.
This is the kind of folksie stuff Dylan made his name with in the early 1960s, and it does sound like a return to his roots.
Even better is the leadoff track, "Duquesne Whistle," which starts out sounding like a country band at a 1930s barn dance before it kicks into high gear. The haunting, roadhouse blues vibe continues with "Early Roman Kings," which could be on the soundtrack for the End of Days. Dylan's shamelessly cadged the riff to Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" for this one, and he freely quotes and begs, borrows and steals from musical and literary sources throughout the record. Dylan has been accused of plagiarism by some for his frequent quoting, which continues through "Roll on John," an earnest song dedicated to John Lennon that quotes Beatles' tunes on several lines.
Dylan's critics are missing the point, as the music Dylan currently draws from was written in the 1800s to the 1930s, where everyone stole from everyone, regardless of musical styles. The folk music tradition includes borrowing of melodies that have been around forever, while quoting from other tunes is a time-honored tradition in jazz.
Dylan had some rather pointed words for his critics in the recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, where he referred to his naysayers as "evil m***********s." Ouch.
Dylan's voice is a magnificently damaged instrument, which only adds to his ability to create drama. Yea, Dylan may "wheeze," but he wheezes in tune! I think Dylan's phrasing is similar to that of Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra later in their careers, and Dylan's only gotten better at it in the last 15 years.
I only hope I'm half as creative and adventurous as Dylan when I'm 71. Soaked in blood, sweat, irony and tears, "Tempest" is a winner.
"Screaming for Vengeance - 30th Anniversary Edition," Sony/Legacy
I suppose what goes around comes around, and it's hard for me to believe it's been 30 years since Judas Priest's seminal metal Rosetta Stone "Screaming for Vengeance" was released in 1982. I remember hearing the songs "You've Got Another Thing Coming" and "Electric Eye" as a young man and thinking they were the heaviest rock tunes on the radio.
I also had another vision of Judas Priest after seeing "Spinal Tap," the lampoonish and comic "documentary" of a clueless and fictitious heavy metal band, as it was obviously modeled after Judas Priest, with their love of leather and leather-lunged riffs along with, to quote the movie, "armadillos in our trousers." It was very difficult for me to take Judas Priest seriously as a band after seeing "Spinal Tap."
In hindsight I should have been kinder, as the music on the reissue of "Screaming for Vengeance" stands up quite nicely after 30 years, especially considering the direction modern metal has taken in the last decade - the songs are catchy and wonderfully performed with an obvious ear toward hooks.
But what's most impressive is the dual guitar attack of Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing. Both of these guys trade mind-bending solos all over the record, and by the time of the release of "Vengeance" these two were experts in the art of blistering heavy metal guitar solos. The band also became a jaggernaut live, a "must-see" experience, with lead singer Rob Halford's trademark of riding a Harley-Davidson onstage. I did, in fact, see the band live at Star Lake several years ago, and the old boys still knew how to put on a great show, even if the leather did sag a bit here and there.
The package also comes with a smoking live DVD of the band performing live in 1983, with all the bombastic metal pomp and circumstance one would expect.
There are worse things in the world than trying to be the best at your craft, and Judas Priest, which is still together today, proved they could deliver the radio-ready goods with "Screaming for Vengeance." What else can one say except "Party, on, Garth?"