Bob Dylan, "Tempest" (Columbia)

Fifty years after the release of his debut album, the music icon from Minnesota remains a serious contender, a must-hear force who refuses to act like an elder statesman. The reasons to listen to him now are similar to what they were in 1962 -- an oddly distinctive voice, a love of story songs, an appetite for the blues, a respect for folk music but a desire to push its boundaries.

"Tempest," his 35th studio album (out Tuesday), extends Dylan's streak to five compelling albums since 1997's "Time Out of Mind." This one is a bit dark, heavy on epic songs, but filled with sharp and biting lyrics (some deliberately borrowed from other songs, in keeping with the folk-music tradition). Detractors will argue that his voice ain't what it used to be. No, it's raspier, often phlegm-y, but he still can deliver a cutting line.

The album opens with the jaunty but occasionally ominous "Duquesne Whistle" and moves into the pretty night-owl ballad "Soon After Midnight." Dylan sounds all brokenhearted in the stinging roadhouse blues "Narrow Road" and the beautiful ballad "Long and Wasted Years" ("I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes/ There are secrets in them I can't disguise"). The dark tone continues on the swirling, snarling "Pay in Blood" and Muddy Waters-evoking blues "Early Roman Kings," a litany of evil people.

The 10-track collection closes with a trilogy of long-winded stories. The violent, bluegrassy "Tin Angel" chronicles a love triangle. The 14-minute "Tempest" tells the tale of the Titanic, with a sly reference to Leonardo DiCaprio. The finale is "Roll On John," a bluesy dirge for John Lennon, complete with the lyric "I heard the news today, oh boy" delivered by the sad, craggy voice of the only music man who was truly Lennon's peer. Dylan performs Nov. 7 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.


Cat Power, "Sun" (Matador)

"Sun" is the first album in six years for Cat Power, a k a Chan Marshall, and it represents a significant makeover for the 40-year-old indie heroine. On her self-produced eighth album, she relies on electronic keyboards and beats and eschews the dusky piano musings of her '90s work and the Memphis soul moves of 2006's "The Greatest."

"Sun" has the clear-eyed severity of a breakup album. At its best, as on "Cherokee," "Real Life" and the terrific single "Ruin," it winningly mixes languorous beauty with carpe diem. The disc hits a rough patch in the middle, but recovers with the unexpectedly effective 11-minute "Nothing But Time," a rewrite of David Bowie's "Heroes" with vocal support from Iggy Pop.