The first words to escape Bob Dylan’s lips on his 35th studio album, “Tempest,” which hits the streets Sept. 11, are those of the rollicking opening track, “Duquesne Whistle.”
“Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowin’/Blowin’ like it’s gonna sweep my world away,” Dylan sings in a craggy voice that mirrors the lyric’s image of an aging locomotive belching black smoke full of pulverized coal particles as it burns down the tracks.
Music critics around the world are having a field day trolling for meaning as they pick through the lyrics of the album’s 10 new songs, but many are also stretching to communicate just how raspy the 71-year-old singer-songwriter’s vocal cords sound this time out.
Here are excerpts from what several reviews have had to say about a voice that would never get Dylan past an initial audition for “American Idol”:
“[W]ith a deeply wounded voice, he sounds deadly serious throughout. . . Stories told by a man in his 70s are taken with more weight than a man in his 20s. And when said man sounds like he's been eating nuts and bolts for the past half-century and he's a born storyteller, a living legend and trickster, said weight gets even heavier.” -- Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times
“Not that he was ever a soothing vocalist, but Dylan’s voice has been in ruins during many of his recent concerts, somewhere between Howlin’ Wolf’s growl and a tubercular wheeze. It’s hard to imagine what newcomers to Dylan’s music might think as they hear that ancient rasp, but it somehow suits the subject matter of these songs.” -- Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
“The shattered voice sounds less like a cow stuck in an electric fence this time. More like Tom Waits gargling with crushed glass.” -- Mark Beech, Bloomberg
"Bob Dylan’s voice isn’t getting any prettier. At 71. . . Dylan sings in a wheezy rasp that proudly scrapes up against its own flaws. That voice can be almost avuncular, the wry cackle of a codger who still has an eye for the ladies. But it can also be calmly implacable or utterly bleak, and it’s completely believable when Mr. Dylan sings, in 'Narrow Way,' 'I’m armed to the hilt, and I’m struggling hard/You won’t get out of here unscarred.' ” -- Jon Pareles, New York Times
“Dylan is so close-miked you can practically hear the phlegm rattle.” -- Andy Green, Rolling Stone
“Dylan's voice is a guttural growl now, that's no secret, but he knows how to enunciate and sing. None of the words pass by unnoticed.” -- David Bauder, Associated Press
“He's never been mistaken for Enrico Caruso, but on his death-haunted latest, ‘Tempest,’ the 71-year-old is in especially fine rattle, wringing every wrecked nuance out of his almost unbearably expressive voice. He applies that battered instrument to 10 remarkable new songs.” -- Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly
"Pay in Blood" features Dylan's vocals at their harshest, sneering, "I pay in blood, but not my own," -- Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
“…a gravelly voice as gnarled and knotted as an ancient oak.” -- Andy Downing, 77 Square