Wielding words like the finest of medieval weapons, Bob Dylan returns with his 35th studio album in 50 years.
"Tempest," which Columbia released Tuesday, is a statement by a man who has been wronged by entire armies. But it's a deft, focused act of vengeance. These songs are a brilliant, biting repudiation of all the mendacity and madness that pollutes eyes, ears, minds and souls. And the places people don't like to discuss.
Dylan, with his persuasively craggy croon and delightfully dusty melodies, has something to say. And he says it well. Which is amazing when you consider what his contemporaries are doing these days.
What does the man have to prove? Evidently, he just wants to burn, burn, burn. His final act shaping up to be just as rewarding as his historic first.
Dylan's got a collection of songs soaked in blood, mud and icy waters filled with lifeless bodies. The master storyteller takes his sweet time telling each dark, peculiar tale. It's a striking, twisted journey through a cryptic past that reflects the slippery present, and hints at a future no one wants to see come forth.
But old man Dylan will make ya laugh, too. Those throwaway lines are fun, especially if you can appreciate Leo DiCaprio making an appearance in the epic title track about the sinking of the Titanic; or enjoy smiling at Dylan the lover man searching for phrases to sing some gal's praises.
Then, at the end, there's "Roll On John," a tribute to another 1960s icon with which a young, wild Dylan used to compete. Is Dylan making peace with John Lennon? Or just waiting on a friend? It doesn't matter. It's beautiful.
"Tempest" is Dylan building with vintage Americana sounds and subject matter better than he, or anyone else, has done this century. It's popular music's reigning poet laureate riding high above the banality of modernity. It's Dylan still surveying the lowlands and making sense, or at least stories, of it all.
It's Dylan delivering another masterwork.
Wade Tatangelo, features writer and columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on Twitter@wtatangelo.