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Bob Dylan breathes new life into classics from the Great American Songbook

In Bob Dylan’s reinterpretation of American classics, the phrasing and nuance imbue the songs with character.
In Bob Dylan’s reinterpretation of American classics, the phrasing and nuance imbue the songs with character. PHOTO: SONY MUSIC

Bob Dylan puts his indelible stamp on pre-World War II jazz and traditional pop songs in his 38th studio album

Bob Dylan's first album release after being named winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature last October is not, as some may expect, an album of new, original material to affirm his position as music's poet laureate.

Triplicate, his 38th studio album released one day before he officially received his Nobel Prize in Stockholm on April 1, continues from his last two releases, Shadows In The Night (2015) and Fallen Angels (2016) and sees him interpret more early 20th century standards from the Great American Songbook.

His first triple album comprises mostly pre-World War II jazz and traditional pop songs by iconic and influential composers and writers such as Broadway legends Rodgers and Hammerstein, film, television and theatre writer Jimmy Van Heusen and lyricist Johnny Burke.

While these are songs that have been reinterpreted over the years, many popularised by Frank Sinatra, Dylan, as singer, arranger and bandleader, puts his distinctive and indelible stamp on these classics.



    Bob Dylan


    4/5 stars

His well-worn, gravelly voice comes to the fore and while his singing is not the most melodic, the phrasing and nuance that he brings to each line imbue the songs with plenty of character.

Recording this collection has been a labour of love.

"I am finding these great songs to be a tremendous source of inspiration that has led me to one of my most satisfying periods in the studio," he said in a press statement.

Dylan was more candid in a recent interview with American writer Bill Flanagan on his website, describing these songs as "cold and clear-sighted".

He continued: "There is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll."

Triplicate also works as a valuable lesson in American music history, as Dylan breaks down the collection into three parts comprising 10 songs each.

The first part, 'Til The Sun Goes Down, includes jazz standards such as Stormy Weather (1933 ) and That Old Feeling (1937).

The second part, Devil Dolls, has tunes such as As Time Goes By (1931), made famous in Casablanca, and the third part, Comin' Home Late, has songs such as These Foolish Things (1936), made popular by singers Billie Holiday, Sinatra and funk godfather James Brown.

There is no mistaking Dylan's version from the rest that came before his.

His unique voice aside, Dylan's faithful band deserves extra credit for breathing new life into the songs.

While some tracks benefit from a subtle horn section, Dylan's compatriots shine with their stripped- down arrangements. From Donnie Herron's expressive steel guitars to Tony Garnier's sturdy bass, Dylan's touring band puts in a stellar performance that enhances the weight of these singular reinterpretations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline 'Breathing new life into classics'. Print Edition | Subscribe