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The album ends curiously, with “Roll on, John,” Dylan’s wan tribute to John Lennon. It recalls “Shooting Star,” from “Oh, Mercy,” in its simplistic word play, referencing everything from the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel to “Home on the Range,” and it ends the album with the feeling that Dylan is talking not just about Lennon, but also about music as we know it.
Or perhaps it’s Dylan’s music as he knows it. Dylan won’t be here forever — and he has reminded us of that ever since his motorcycle accident in 1966. To his credit, Dylan, the Joyce Carol Oates of the music world, is still making powerful and important work, and he hasn’t stopped touring since the ’80s. While furious and deadly, perhaps beautiful, a tempest is a storm conjured. And “Tempest,” even with its snarling lyrics, its appreciation for the American songbook, the voice stripped and lived in, is in most parts a re-creation. It does the job, but don’t let it be your first Dylan album. And for those out there looking at their watches, it won’t be Dylan’s last, either.
Jennifer Gilmore is the author of the novel “Something Red” (Scribner, 2010). In April 2013, Scribner will publisher her third novel, “The Mothers.”