Since he teamed up with Daniel Lanois in the late 1980s, Bob Dylan has pursued a recording sound that harkens back to before Phil Spector and yet doesn’t quite fit soundly in the past. Dylan employs his encyclopedic musical reserve to seam together different eras and ideas. In effect, he’s been writing an alternative history of music, highlighting both the overlooked and select popular cuts while scrapping decades of developments — some of which Dylan himself developed — so as to satisfy this choice narrative. It’s this pursuit that contrives “Duquesne Whistle,” a crossroads joining Johnny Cash’s freight train rhythm and Big Bill Broonzy’s forlorn howl.
Unlike our first taste of Tempest, “Early Roman Kings,” which simply cut the riff of “I’m A Man” and pasted new words over it, “Duquesne Whistle” brings us to a fresh, if somewhat sepia toned, landscape. Dylan imagines himself as a train riding highwayman, though this could just as easily be the same devil-may-care outlaw of “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts” transported to a different time. The elastic guitar reverbs go in and out like the lights of a worn down passenger cabin, while the clockwork drum dribbles sound like the powerful engine. This is Dylan at his rambling and most exciting, and wouldn’t sound out of place next to other late career highlights like “Thunder On The Mountain” or “Mississippi.” “Duquesne Whistle” sounds like a certified album centerpiece, which should only raise anticipation for Tempest’s release.