GRADE • A-
The whirlwind that is Bob Dylan gathers the stuff that comes out as song with an omnivore's delight.
The latest testament to that is "Tempest," where he goes a-chugging -- with a jazzy-bluesy grin -- straight into the swinging heart of the last century.
By verse and melody, here is revelry in inspired theft. There are echoes of old tunes, old poems, Scripture.
On "Roll on John," he fashions a tribute using lines Lennon made famous. On "Duquesne Whistle," he hangs on a note just long enough that a Louis Armstrong warble takes over.
Dylan's gift for conjuring vivid characters hasn't faded -- you'll find a harlot in scarlet and a two-timing Slim, you'll find an uncle Tom (still working for uncle Bill), and you'll find the Lord of Death just waiting for the kill.
In Dylan's world, anachronism is nothing to fear. (What you get is "Tin Angel," a medieval dirge where electrical wires appear.) In Dylan's world, fact and pop-fiction are one. (Yes, that's Leo starring in the title song -- a 13-minute, 45-stanza retelling of the sinking of the Titanic).
And, yes, he takes that bog of laid-up frogs in his throat and makes it sing. Listen closely to the emphasis on the final "t" in "Soon After Midnight." It is typical of Dylan's singular enunciation: deliberate, resonant, deeply expressive. He says it as if he invented the word.
"If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime. All things are beautiful in their time," he sings. "Tempest" is one such thing.