Fallen Angels Bob Dylan Colombia/Sony There are almost as many fine interpreters of the Bob Dylan songbook as there are of the Great American Songbook, and one of the very best, English singer-songwriter Barb Jungr, embarks on an Australian tour early next month.
It would only be fair to advise Dylan aficionados to check her out rather than bother with this particular release from the object of those interpreters’ affections. It’s not an absolute disaster by any means. The backing on almost every track is exquisite. But then the vocals chip in, and you are compelled to wonder: what did Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer do to deserve this? Actually, the Arlen-Mercer gem That Old Black Magic is a redeeming feature of this album, a rockabilly shuffle that relieves the ennui that characterises the other 11 tracks. Sure, there are plenty of other great songs, most of them recorded at one time or another by Frank Sinatra.
Of course, Sinatra, too, misfired on occasion, not least when he ventured into disco in the late 1970s with an album that included a distressingly revised version of All or Nothing at All. Thankfully, Dylan plays it straight, as he does with almost every other song, from Young at Heart, which — somewhat poignantly, it must be admitted — kicks off the album, through Polka Dots and Moonbeams, All the Way, Hoagy Carmichael and Mercer’s Skylark, the relative curiosity On a Little Street in Singapore, Melancholy Mood and the album closer, Come Rain or Come Shine.
Several of his choices have, no doubt, stood the test of time via a plethora of interpretations, but invariably through the mediation of interpreters whose vocal cords were still more or less intact. Dylan’s voice retreated to a nasal wheeze a quarter of a century ago, although I must concede that whereas I was initially appalled by Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong, I found both albums rather endearing upon returning to them some 20 years hence.
It’s not inconceivable that last year’s Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels will eventually be open to reinterpretation. The latter has been greeted with fawning reviews in publications such as Mojo and Uncut, but I am more inclined to revert to Greil Marcus’s gut reaction to 1970’s Self Portrait: “What is this shit?”
It’s only fair to note, though, that Dylan’s 75th birthday this week more or less coincided with the 50th anniversary of Blonde on Blonde, and his recorded repertoire up to that point alone liberated him from having to worry about his legacy as an artist. No one before or since has scaled those heights as a singer-songwriter. By the time of his motorcycle accident a half-century ago, Dylan had already earned the right to selfindulgence, and this superfluous album fits comfortably into a trajectory where the embarrassing dross is overwhelmed by the brilliance of the preceding blaze.