Easy lis­ten­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Mahir Ali

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.

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