Easy lis­ten­ing

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

Trip­li­cate Bob Dy­lan Sony “I re­leased one al­bum (a dou­ble one) where I just threw ev­ery­thing I could think of at the wall and what­ever stuck, re­leased it,” Bob Dy­lan says in his de­li­cious 2004 mem­oir Chron­i­cles: Vol­ume One, “and then went back and scooped up ev­ery­thing that didn’t stick and re­leased that, too.” He is re­fer­ring to the pe­riod, close to 50 years ago now, when he was des­per­ately try­ing to shed off the adu­la­tors who had in the 1960s an­noy­ingly anointed him as the spokesman for their gen­er­a­tion. It didn’t quite work back then, but his re­cent ex­cur­sions into the Great Amer­i­can Song­book — Shad­ows in the Night in 2015 and last year’s Fallen An­gels — spurred sus­pi­cions that he might be try­ing to re­peat the feat he at­tempted at the cusp of the 70s with Self Por­trait and Dy­lan. Trip­li­cate ef­fec­tively rub­bishes that the­sis.

The first triple al­bum, other than Aus­tralian com­pi­la­tion Master­pieces, in a record­ing ca­reer that stretches back to 1962 is a metic­u­lously cu­rated col­lec­tion of stan­dards — some of them ob­scure, oth­ers all too fa­mil­iar, in­clud­ing Stormy Weather, As Time Goes By and Star­dust — that are treated to the best vo­cals Dy­lan could con­ceiv­ably con­jure up in the Septem­ber of his years (yup, that one’s on there, too). Ev­ery syl­la­ble re­ceives the at­ten­tion it de­serves.

Dy­lan is seem­ingly out to prove that the ini­tial part of his singer-song­writer ap­pel­la­tion isn’t a crude joke. Over the decades his voice has fre­quently at­tracted op­pro­brium, often un­fairly. On master­pieces from the mid-60s and mid-70s, his vo­cals are usu­ally ap­pro­pri­ate, oc­ca­sion­ally ex­quis­ite and in­vari­ably inim­itable. By the turn of the 90s, though, he had ac­quired a croak that re­stricted his range, and he oc­ca­sion­ally fal­tered in cop­ing with the con­se­quences. His sub­se­quent ex­cur­sions nonethe­less at­tracted adu­la­tion that some­times verged on overkill, based on what he rep­re­sented rather than his en­dur­ing skills as a rev­e­la­tor.

At this stage of his ca­reer, it might have been po­ten­tially far more fruit­ful for Dy­lan to at­tempt the com­po­si­tions of his con­tem­po­raries, from Len­non-Mc­Cart­ney to Phil Ochs and Tom Pax­ton, than the often mun­dane — al­though some­times de­light­ful — lyrics of his pre­de­ces­sors. The ef­fort that has gone into Trip­li­cate ought not to be de­rided, but that does not mean it won’t ul­ti­mately stand as a tes­ta­ment to Dy­lan’s de­light­ful per­ver­sity — the un­fath­omable mind­set that led him ini­tially to ig­nore last year’s No­bel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture, and then to gra­ciously ac­cept it on April 1.

Dy­lan’s un­pre­dictabil­ity is a part of his charm, and who knows what he will come up with next? There’s no guar­an­tee that Trip­li­cate — di­vided into three 32-minute seg­ments, ev­i­dently be­cause that is the ideal du­ra­tion for a vinyl LP — will be the last of his nods to a past he has only lately felt in­clined to in­habit. The Best is Yet to Come? I wouldn’t bet on it. But the thing is, with Dy­lan the hope never dies.

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