Bob Dy­lan takes an­other stroll down Tin Pan Al­ley on ‘Fallen An­gels’

Jerusalem Post - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - • By GREG KOT

With Fallen An­gels (Columbia), Bob Dy­lan makes at least one thing clear: It seems we got him all wrong, again.

Just when it ap­pears pos­si­ble to fix some as­pect of Dy­lan’s art and mu­sic, he does some­thing that makes any at­tempt to pin him down look mis­guided.

Take Dy­lan’s re­la­tion­ship with the Tin Pan Al­ley song­writ­ing fac­tory that dom­i­nated the worlds of pop­u­lar mu­sic, from jazz to Broad­way, in the first half of the 20th cen­tury. The songs cre­ated by pro­fes­sional lyri­cists and melody-mak­ers in New York City high rises pro­vided the mu­si­cal foun­da­tion for count­less leg­endary singers – Frank Si­na­tra, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzger­ald. But Dy­lan and his gen­er­a­tion cast them­selves as rebels whose he­roes forged their voices and songs on plan­ta­tions and in cot­ton fields.

In the in­tro­duc­tion to one of his ear­li­est songs, “Bob Dy­lan’s Blues,” Dy­lan did his part to kill the song­writ­ing es­tab­lish­ment. “This is un­like all the rest of the songs comin’ out of up­town New York – a Tin Pan Al­ley thing,” he drawled. “This one wasn’t writ­ten up there ... this was writ­ten down in the United States.”

No­tice the con­scious sep­a­ra­tion of high and low, “up there” vs. “down in,” as if to em­pha­size that Dy­lan didn’t want any part of that sort of for-hire, up­scale pro­fes­sion­al­ism. That’s been the party line es­poused by Dy­lan dis­ci­ples ever since. In a 2010 in­ter­view with At­lantic, Dy­lan bi­og­ra­pher Sean Wi­lentz said the singer “al­most sin­gle-hand­edly kill(ed) Tin Pan Al­ley.”

So how to ex­plain Fallen An­gels, Dy­lan’s sec­ond al­bum of Tin Pan Al­ley stan­dards in two years?

Over the decades, Dy­lan dropped hints that he ad­mired the clas­sic Tin Pan Al­ley songs more than he first sug­gested. Tunes writ­ten by the likes of Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael, Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen and oth­ers were part of his child­hood grow­ing up in north­ern Min­nesota. His 2004 mem­oir Chron­i­cles: Vol­ume One noted that in Arlen’s com­po­si­tions, “I could hear ru­ral blues and folk mu­sic. There was an emo­tional kin­ship there.”

Dy­lan orig­i­nals such as “Moonlight” and “Be­yond the Hori­zon” on re­cent al­bums un­der­lined that feel­ing. And with Shad­ows in the Night in 2015 and now Fallen An­gels, Dy­lan is pre­sent­ing his late-ca­reer in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Tin Pan Al­ley song­book, bring­ing the singer full cir­cle back to his child­hood days lis­ten­ing to his par­ents’ mu­sic.

What makes these projects more than just nos­tal­gia pieces is the ap­proach. Most “great song­book” al­bums by con­tem­po­rary artists such as Rod Ste­wart, An­nie Len­nox and Paul McCart­ney fa­vor lush or­ches­tra­tions that evoke the orig­i­nal in­ter­preters. Dy­lan goes for more of a sparse, Western plains ap­proach. His are at­mo­spheric, coun­try-tinged in­ter­pre­ta­tions, and they prompt a fresh ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the craft un­der­ly­ing these tunes.

Dy­lan’s craggy voice is where things get prob­lem­atic for many lis­ten­ers. But he’s smart in his choice of ma­te­rial – he grav­i­tates to­ward wist­ful melan­choly – and in the in­ti­macy of the ar­range­ments, which al­low him to sing with­out ex­ces­sive strain. The cracks in his con­ver­sa­tional de­liv­ery sug­gest the ru­ral blues he heard in Arlen’s songs when he was a kid. Pedal steel, fid­dle and brushes add to the sense that the mu­si­cians are gath­ered round a camp­fire be­neath an end­less sky rather than hud­dled in a Hol­ly­wood record­ing stu­dio.

As mood pieces go, Fallen An­gels is a notch or two be­low its pre­de­ces­sor. Dy­lan glides through most of these dozen songs with­out reach­ing the dev­as­tat­ing emo­tional con­nec­tion af­forded by “Au­tumn Leaves” and “That Lucky Old Sun” from Shad­ows in the Night. In­stead, the peaks on his lat­est al­bum ar­rive with his lan­guid mi­norkey read­ing of “On a Lit­tle Street in Sin­ga­pore” and the Louis Prima-like Latin tinge he brings to “That Old Black Magic.”

“Lovin’ the spin I’m in,” he sings, sound­ing any­thing but like the guy who sup­pos­edly left Tin Pan Al­ley for dead.

(Ki Price/Reuters)

BOB DY­LAN still proves he’s still the king of cover songs on his lat­est al­bum ‘Fallen An­gels’.

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