Bob Dylan is 71. Always-strong critical showings from such septuagenarian contemporaries as Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, and Tom Zé still don't even come close to his towering impact. After all, they weren't presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He's probably the only musician in America from whom people await yet another classic at such an age. From no less an authority than Rolling Stone, the early buzz on Tempest is that it's his first masterpiece since Love and Theft — which was an unfathomable 11 years ago. Let's see if they're right.
Tempest's first single has already been compared to Louis Armstrong — maybe because Dylan spends so much time talking about blowing (and don't think he's not flaunting the entendre possibilities: “Blowing like she's at my chamber door”). But also his voice, which David Bowie once likened to “sand and glue,” sounds like gravel and cement. Nonetheless, this is his happiest-sounding melody in years — only Love & Theft's “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum” matches it for sheer gallop, combined with the gorgeous ragtime chords of Modern Times. Huge starting point. And huh, it's pronounced “du-cane.”