Bob Dylan: Tempest (Columbia)
It has been an amazing late career rally for Bob Dylan in the last 10 years or so with fabulous albums like Love And Theft and Modern Times, although this new album comes six years after the latter.
In the interim, the 71-year-old Dylan released a so-so Christmas album, a soundtrack, and some live archival material but his studio output is still remarkably strong given that Tempest is his 35th studio album.
It is a very good release but not quite up to the stuff of the two above mostly because of the final couple of tracks but more on these later.
Tempest starts off with the terrific Duquesne Whistle and its rockabilly-lite shuffle where the video caused a minor controversy for its extreme violence.
His voice is really showing its age but then again, like Clint Eastwood who seems to cop stranger and stranger voices with each movie in his dotage, maybe Dylan is also parlaying his voice for dramatic effect.
Here he sounds like a parched cross between Jimmy Durante, Satchmo and Tom Waits but this is particularly effective on the blues numbers like Early Roman Kings where Dylan borrows heavily from Muddy Waters’ Rollin’ And Tumblin’ evergreen.
My fave rocker has a Rolling Stones-like rootsy swagger on Pay In Blood while Dylan may be getting a tad topical on the ominous up-tempo Narrow Road with its White House that is on fire and lyrics about trickle-down economics and the warning “if I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday.”
There are a couple of solid relationship ballads here but there is an uneasy undercurrent of violence on several of these 10 songs especially with the moody Scarlet Town where the protagonist is living the low life with his “flat chested junkie whore.”
Tempest is a long album at nearly 70 minutes so the lead off eight tunes are all solid. The title track is a centenary homage to the sinking of the Titanic that has over 40 verses and clocks in at 14 minutes and is probably the longest song of Dylan’s prodigious catalogue.
His next longest song is Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands off Blonde On Blonde—that song took up a whole side of a double vinyl album that few bothered to listen to a second time.
The final cut is an homage to his good friend Roll On John (Lennon) that cleverly uses many of Lennon’s lyrics and titles in the text but this comes off as something of a novelty song.
Art Garfunkel : The Singer (Sony Legacy)
Last year Paul Simon released a two-album collection of personally handpicked songs from his large catalogue titled Songwriter.
His long time singing buddy Garfunkel has also released a handpicked two-CD set but because he wasn’t much of a songwriter, his collection is dubbed The Singer.
There are plenty of Simon And Garfunkel greatest hits collections already on the market so The Singer has only a half dozen S&G hits with the seminal folk pop songs Bridge Over Troubled Water, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Kathy’s Song, The Sound Of Silence, and April Come She Will. These are enough to set the scene where Garfunkel can spruce up his resumé because his best work and best songs were mostly recorded with Simon.
Garfunkel does admittedly have a beautiful and expressive voice but as a young lout I always thought Art G. was a tad too precious and mawkish especially on golden oldies like I Only Have Eyes For You, Some Enchanted Evening and I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face.
Garfunkel’s biggest solo hit was actually a duet with James Taylor on the teen ballad and The Everly Brothers’ classic Crying In The Rain that is nowhere near as good as the original.
But oddly, where Garfunkel seems at his best—as I listen to this retrospective set with perfect hindsight—is on the dream pop ballads like 99 Miles From L.A. (with superb lyrics from the recently departed Hal David) and on the near-angelic Two Sleepy People (as written by Hoagy Carmichael).
Garfunkel also offers a handsome and breathy take of Jobim’s Brazilian classic Waters Of March while the delicate reading of Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman is far better now than I remembered it way back when.
There are a couple of meh new songs for the committed fan while Garfunkel adds very personalized and sometimes poetic notes to each song.
At 34 songs, this is all the Art Garfunkel you will ever need, especially from his solo efforts, in your listening life.
The Vaccines: Come Of Age (Columbia)
This is the sophomore album from London’s young pop-rock band The Vaccines.
Their debut release got some fairly solid notices and I sorta remember hearing it but don’t remember much about it so it didn’t make much of an impact to my ears.
But now I gotta go back and re-listen to their debut because I find this new album a solid delight and in spite of the band’s name, their music is as infectious as catnip (no bugs).
Sharp hooks and ear worms are all over The Vaccines power pop and folk pop where I hear a touch of Ray Davies (The Kinks) on Aftershave Ocean and Lonely World while a young ’60s Dylan comes to mind on the opening No Hope.
The song I Always Knew sounds like a whip smart but unlikely pairing of Buddy Holly with Ian Curtis of Joy Division while there is some hooky Halloween psychobilly on the splendid Ghost Town.
Most of these songs would probably be considered a bit lightweight lyrically but there is a dash of humour and a pinch of youthful disaffection that gives this band some traction.
Fans will want to know that The Vaccines have been compared favourably to a cross between The Strokes and The Ramones while they recently opened for The Stone Roses.
A nice little discovery.