Bob Dylan has the blues for the Roman Kings.
Tempest, Bob Dylan’s 35th studio album, is due September 11, the same date he released “Love and Theft” in 2001, the year September 11 became 9/11.
Columbia Records has released the album’s first single, “Early Roman Kings.” The song uses the familiar da-DA-da-da blues riff that Willie Dixon introduced on “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” that Bo Diddley took for “I’m a Man” and that Muddy Waters turned into “Mannish Boy.”
Dylan has appropriated and adapted the blues throughout his career. Songs that on the surface don’t sound like the blues employ the form’s 12-bar structure (e.g., “She Belongs to Me,” “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “Highlands”). Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde and Time Out of Mind ooze with the blues. My favorite song on Slow Training Coming is an overt blues (“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”).
On his last couple of albums of original material, however, Dylan seems to have regarded the form as an easy mechanism for generating songs that are basically throwaways (e.g., “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “The Levee’s Gonna Break” and “Jolene”). I sense the same impulse is at work on “Early Roman Kings.” He invests his badly deteriorated vocals with commitment, but the song sounds like something he wrote to get a concert audience hot and bothered in between performances of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate.”
Dylan doesn’t specify the identity of the early Roman Kings in their sharkskin suits and high-top boots, but Roman Kings was the name of a Bronx street gang.