Review: Bob Dylan triples down on standards
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Bob Dylan, "Triplicate," (Columbia)
The idea of Bob Dylan becoming the keeper of Frank Sinatra's flame would have seemed preposterous 50 years ago. Dylan was revolutionizing songwriting in a torrent of words back then, instantly making the classics sung by Sinatra another generation's music. Parents' music.
Yet after two releases delving into the songs primarily from the first half of the last century, Dylan doesn't just double down on the strategy. "Triplicate" is, as the name implies, a three-disc thematic set of similar material. Virtually all of the songs were once covered by Sinatra.
It seems like an odd direction for America's greatest living songwriter, fresh off a Nobel Prize. Dylan hasn't released a disc of self-penned material since 2012, and it's worth wondering if the well has run dry. Maybe the inscrutable Dylan just likes singing these songs and wants to keep them alive.
Singing is the last thing you'd expect to hear discussed on a Dylan disc, yet his voice is surprisingly supple, even lovely. He reaches for, and finds, notes that you wouldn't think possible. The songs are recorded in a hushed, intimate setting with spare backing from his longtime band, many resting on a bed of steel guitar. They deserve to be heard in a cabaret setting.
These are songs of missed opportunities and lost love that feel right coming from a 75-year-old man. "We were young and didn't have a care," he sings in "Once Upon a Time." ''Where did it go?"
Songs like "Stormy Weather," ''September of My Years," ''Stardust" and "Sentimental Journey" are familiar, but others will be new to fans weaned on rock 'n' roll.
As well performed as the material is, the slower tempos allow a sense of sameness to creep in. "Triplicate" is more of a historical document than a contemporary recording, and absent a curiosity about songwriting of this era, some tedium is inevitable.