In light of Alex Macpherson’s insouciant dismissal of Dylan’s Tempest, I considered what I (still) love about this louche troubadour in 2012. I haven’t listened to Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blood on the Tracks in years. Years ago I lost patience with at least a third of Blonde on Blonde and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” But whenever he employs the modest gesture I’m astounded again by vocals that could coast on idiosyncrasy (can you imagine Merle Haggard singing “If Not For You”?) but push past it this mere affect in the same way Gerard Manley Hopkins’s meter applied the electro shocks to metaphors. With Dylan I never know which syllables he’ll bless with emphasis and which get a flicker of disinterest. These triumphs of laryngeal ingenuity shine on JohnWesley Harding, New Morning, Planet Waves, and my beloved Empire Burlesque, albums on which period productions distract from an attention to song form notable for its digestive virtues: he masticates them so that he can squeeze their lyrics through his teeth. What are Love and Theft, Modern Times, and Tempest but the latest triumphs in vocal detail? I can’t imagine a successful cover of “Jokerman.” Every time I sing along he throws me. Four (!) decades ago Bryan Ferry got it, and so well that it’s a karaoke rule: pick songs which make you comfortable, songs whose lyrics you know well enough to elide or discard, songs which inspire the audience to go, “What the fuck is he doing?” Check out “Pay in Blood.” This isn’t tired old Method acting — it’s Orson Welles in grease paint willing himself to look astounded at the sight of Banquo’s ghost.