No rock veteran has aged more spectacularly than Bob Dylan
; he's neither embarrassed himself by trying to defy his 71 years nor turned into a feeble old man. His latest album, Tempest
(Columbia), doesn't have the visceral power of late-career masterpieces such as Love and Theft
or Modern Times
, but Dylan's intellectual gamesmanship makes it fascinating and magnetic—he assembles literary, musical, and cultural references and quotations, in the process teaching a master class on fair use, appropriation, and recontextualization. But just as or more important is his singing. His voice has never sounded more ragged and croaky—on "Duquesne Whistle
" he sounds as if he's been inhaling coal smoke his whole life—but his phrasing is more sophisticated than it's ever been, sometimes on par with Frank Sinatra or George Jones. In "Roll On, John" he eulogizes John Lennon while also seeming to be singing about himself, and as he delivers the final line in the chorus ("Roll on, John"), his voice suddenly diminishes, as if fading away. Dylan's mastery of America's musical history is so total that he doesn't have to look like he's trying if he doesn't want to: western swing flavors "Duquesne Whistle," the lick from Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man" forms the basis of "Early Roman Kings," and the epic title track (about the sinking of the Titanic
) uses a hybrid of early American parlor music and Irish folk for all 45 of its verses. —Peter Margasak Mark Knopfler opens.