Triplicate – Bob Dylan
You can never put Bob Dylan in a box. He will always surprise you. After 2015’s Shadows in the Night, he followed up with 2016’s Fallen Angels, a similar album of his unique interpretation of standards that had been recorded by Frank Sinatra. His last album of newly written material was 2012’s Tempest. So after winning the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, what does the 75-year old legend follow Fallen Angels up with, just over 10 months following that album? One might expect a stunning new album of songs about the state of our nation (racial tension, election of Trump, etc.). But Dylan rarely does what we expect him to do. Instead he returns with the excellent Triplicate, his 38th studio album, a 30-song, three-album (his first triple album), project of newly recorded covers of mostly pre-World War II/rock and roll music songs known as the Great American Songbook.
Dylan, his touring band – guitarists Charlie Sexton and Dean Parks, bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George Recile and steel guitarist Donnie Herron – and arranger James Harper, went to Hollywood’s Capitol studios to record live (vocals recorded with instrumentation) hand-chosen songs from American songwriters such as Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Harold Hupfield, and Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. The project is thematically-arranged in three 10-song albums titled “’Til the Sun Goes Down,” “Devil Dolls” and “Comin’ Home Late”, each 32 minutes in length, which Dylan has said is the number of completion, a lucky number, and symbolic of light. Dylan has stated that the albums came out at the same time because thematically they are interconnected, one being the sequel to the other and each one resolving the previous one.
Interestingly, Sinatra released Trilogy in 1980, a three-album which too had a different theme for each album, “The Past,” “The Present” and “The Future.” The new project was produced by Dylan, under his usual pseudonym Jack Frost.
The 30 songs on Triplicate include classics such as “Stardust”, “As Time Goes By,” “September of My Years,” “Stormy Weather” and “Sentimental Journey” as well as less well-known songs such as Alec Wilder and Edwin Finckel’s “Where Is the One” and Jack Lawrence’s “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me.”
While many of the songs are slow ballads, often solemn and about loss, there are also a handful of more upbeat songs here as well. Dylan’s now road-weary voice, always an incredible instrument in itself, and which sounded really rough on Tempest, seems perfectly fitted for these songs and arrangements. He delivers vocal performances on these last three standards albums that I never thought I would hear from him again. Listen to his vocal and phrasing on “My One and Only Love”, for example. His touring band never gets in the way of Dylan’s heart-felt vocals within Harper’s intimate arrangements. Herron’s steel guitar is a highlight throughout. Horns are used sparingly, but effectively on songs such as “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Sentimental Journey”, and “My One and Only Love”.
I preferred the more upbeat songs on the album, with some of my favorites being “The Best is Yet to Come”, “Stardust”, “Day in and Day Out”, “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me”, “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans” and “That Old Feeling”. Dylan ends the album with “Why Was I Born?” written by Kern and Hammerstein in 1929. It includes the introspective lyrics “Why was I born? Why am I living? What do I get? What am I giving?”
While I would prefer new music from Dylan, I enjoyed and appreciated Triplicate, songs that Dylan says are meant for “the man on the street, the common man, the everyday person”. Will you enjoy it? My assessment is that if you enjoyed Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels, you’ll enjoy Triplicate. If you didn’t, you’ll probably want to pass on this one, though I would encourage you give it a listen before immediately dismissing it. Continue reading