Release Date: Mar 31, 2017
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Folk, Vocal, Americana, American Popular Song, Torch Songs, Traditional Pop
W ith his third album of covers in a row - this one a 30-song extravaganza of old favourites such as Sentimental Journey, As Time Goes By and Stormy Weather - the casual observer might assume that Bob Dylan is subjecting his long-suffering fans' forbearance to its most stringent test since 2009's Christmas album. But on Triplicate - as it was with Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels - his singing is sensitive and the exquisite arrangements avoid Rat-Pack brashness and cloying sentimentality. Dylan is a prism through which American music is revealed in new and fascinating ways.
Fans of Bob Dylan know they're following a seasoned, knowledgeable time traveller. His is a restless, critical artistic mind that surveys his immediate surroundings and determines whether he's going to engage with contemporary life head on or instead draw on historical precedents that might inform us now. Somehow, his records and their meaning seem eerily prescient.
Bob Dylan's third foray into songs previously recorded by Frank Sinatra isn't only the largest set of new recordings he's ever released (three CDs, 30 songs), it's also majestic in its own right. Dylan moves through this area - the region of Sinatra, and also of standards songwriters like Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein - as if it's territory for him to chart and command. Indeed, Dylan has now made more successive albums in this idiom than in any other style since his world-changing mid-1960s electric trinity, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde.
Rough and worn in, scratchy and diffident, Triplicate continues Bob Dylan's extended love song to the great crooners of the last century. The sweep of this new album is broader in scope and size than that of previous releases Shadows In The Night and Fallen Angels, which were essentially limited to new interpretations of songs associated with Frank Sinatra. Stretched out comfortably over the course of three CDs, the songs on Triplicate reflect the same era of American music with Dylan putting his unique spin on "Stardust," "You Go To My Head" and "These Foolish Things" and other film and Tin Pan Alley classics.
At the tail end of 1967, when flower children and hippiedom were at boiling pot levels, and music was headed into a more electric arena, Bob Dylan released one of the most underrated albums in musical history with John Wesley Harding. This was the first album to be released after his infamous motorcycle accident, and only a year removed from Blonde on Blonde, which many fans and critics alike praise as his finest hour, complete with a magnetic backing band and an overall polished sound. But the acoustic John Wesley Harding was a radical departure from the heavy instrumentals on Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited, almost as if the former Robert Zimmerman had taken a step back in his evolution, going back to the folk music many had derided him for leaving behind only a few years prior.
Bob Dylan's sprawling new album of standards reaffirms his mastery as an arranger and vocalist. Triplicate is a 30-song album split evenly over three discs, which Dylan says represents the way he should have made his LPs (they tended to be overloaded with content). The album is Dylan's third straight studio album covering classic American songs, and is generally made up of majestic ballads, with an occasional upbeat toe-tapper like the lead track, "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plans.
Even Bob Dylan himself would surely admit that, for all his prodigious and endlessly mythologized talents, he's not the world's greatest musical interpreter—even of his own songs. While he's made a couple of other people's songs his own over the years, few of his early folk covers are definitive. He's readily admitted to the superiority of Jimi Hendrix's “All Along the Watchtower” compared to his own, and, absent of any better ideas, has copped to cribbing live arrangements of his songs from Grateful Dead bootlegs.
T he 38th album from the only Nobel prize winner (to date) to have appeared in a Victoria's Secret ad finds him continuing his reinterpretations of the classic American songbook, as he did so successfully on 2015's Shadows in the Night and 2016's Fallen Angels. Spread across three loosely themed discs, Dylan performs intimate versions of songs written by Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin and others and, in the main, popularised by Sinatra. Throughout, the muted arrangements act as foils to the expressiveness of his pathos-imbued croon, turning the limitations of his voice to his advantage.
It's possible to read the title of Triplicate in two ways. First, the 2017 collection is the third installment in Bob Dylan's exploration of the Great American Songbook, following quickly on the heels of 2015's Shadows in the Night and 2016's Fallen Angels. Secondly, Triplicate is indeed a triple-album, or perhaps more accurately, a set of three interlinked albums all running 32 minutes apiece.
The excitement may have been slightly dampened by the announcement that Triplicate consists entirely of Dylan's takes of standards from the Great American Songbook (mainly material associated with Frank Sinatra), by now firmly established as a last chance saloon for light entertainers and would-be Rat Packers seeking an easy route to a handsome pay day. Dylan wrapping his famously battered pipes around 30 (ten per loosely themed record, although heartbreak, loneliness, lost love, time slipping away and blue, blue feeling dominate regardless of which disc you pick) slices of Tin Pan Alley's most gilded produce from the long gone bygone days, including such endlessly recycled evergreens as "Stardust", "As Time Goes By" and "Stormy Weather" that have been in circulation for the best part of a century, may sound like the oddest project this bona fide American icon has slapped his name on since 2009's croaky festive platter Christmas in the Heart or, on the non-musical front, the recent Nobel Prize for Literature will he/won't he acceptance saga. But the concept of Triplicate isn't really that far-fetched.
Bob Dylan's Triplicate is the third album of American standards that Bob Dylan has released in the past two years. It is also three albums long, with 10 songs on each album, for a total runtime of 95 minutes. Dylan, a songwriter whose most enigmatic refrain is that he is less complicated than everyone makes him out to be, has explained that 10 is the number of completion, a lucky number, "symbolic of light." In any case, the project brings the total number of hours of Bob Dylan singing American standards to just under three.
One particularly enlightening passage in author Clinton Heylin's authoritative biography of Bob Dylan, "Behind the Shades," describes rehearsal sessions he conducted early in the new millennium. As drummer David Kemper related to Heylin, Dylan would gather members of his band and rehearse many of his favorite songs by other artists -- from Dean Martin and Big Joe Turner to the Stanley Brothers and country duo Johnnie & Jack. "We would work it up just like the [original] record," Kemper recalled.
In the middle of the last century, pop vocal albums consisting of selections from the “Great American Songbook”–made-for-market pop tunes published between the late 1920s and the late 1950s–went from being best-sellers on the LP market to the prototype of "adult contemporary" music. Over the years, this music became associated with Italian restaurants, high-end mini-malls, off-hours public television specials, and retirement home common areas, before having an inauspicious resurgence in the past decade-and-a-half as a cash grab for aging pop/rock stars at awkward-to-dismal points in their recording careers. However, when Bob Dylan announced that he'd be releasing his first album of Sinatra-famous standards, Shadows in the Night , in 2015, it felt like something weirder than an elder statesmen simply satisfying his record contract.
I often wonder if the artist I am writing about is going to read the review I write of their new record. Especially if their latest entry is subpar but not representative of my fandom. I almost want to write an addendum — to the artist directly, perhaps covered with a password, to save face if we ever meet (we won’t). In this case, I have no fear.