It seems to me that Dylan’s later works, which I’ll define as Love & Theft on, are seriously under-rated. Of course, they are no match for some of the early work, but I’d rate them on par with his seventies output, and clearly superior to everything in the eighties and nineties, with the lone exception of Time Out of Mind.
Tempest might be the best of them all. I suppose an argument could be made in favor of Love & Theft. But, at least to my ears, that record is slightly marred by the light-jazz/Western Swing sound that Dylan favored at that time. I find it a little grating, but maybe that’s just me. That style is mostly gone on Tempest, except for Duquesne Whistle.
On the other hand, Tempest I think would have been improved by subtraction. The title track, Roll On, John, and Tin Angel should have been left for some future Bootleg Series. But even with these less than stellar tracks stuck on at the end, Tempest is quite a good recording.
For me, the mark of a good song is the number of times I listen to it on repeat. Even after all these years, I can listen to Desolation Row on repeat for basically an almost unlimited time. Soon After Midnight, Narrow Way, Long and Wasted Years, Pay in Blood, and Early Roman Kings all stand up to the test of the repeat button.
Dylan’s voice, as we all know, ain’t what it used to be. That’s a shame, but he works with its limitations successfully. The old man croak fits the bluesy nature of many of the songs on the album.
The support musicians on the record aren’t exactly The Band or even Blonde on Blonde Nashville sidemen equivalents. However, while not exactly Bloomfield-like earth-shattering, the musicianship on Tempest is more than serviceable.
Excluding the boring Tin Angel, Roll On, John, and Tempest, Dylan’s writing is exceptionally clever, funny (I’m gonna have to take my head/And bury it between her breasts), and as lively as ever before. It’s full of unexpected twists and sly references to literature, blues, films. Yes, a few songs suffer from too obscure for their own good syndrome (i.e. Scarlett Town), but overall, great stuff.
Tempest is a seriously good recording, deserving a prominent position in the Dylan historical canon. Listen to it often. Listen on repeat.
The video below has some live performances of Tempest material, and some general information on the album.