THE GRADE A
BOTTOM LINE Dylan mines the Great American Songbook again and again and again.
Bob Dylan may be the most untouchable living music legend we have.
He rarely does interviews. He rarely speaks in public. Though he continues a healthy touring schedule, he rarely says anything in concert when he’s not singing. When Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, he didn’t receive the award in person, though he did send a warm acceptance speech.
He lets the music speak for itself.
And Dylan is saying plenty with “Triplicate” (Columbia) — a trio of albums drawn from the Great American Songbook to complete (we think) a trilogy of standards, started by 2015’s “Shadows in the Night” and last year’s “Fallen Angels.”
Once again, the arrangements for “Triplicate” are stylishly subtle, an elegant backdrop to let the song and Dylan’s delivery shine. Though Dylan’s career is deservedly built on his poetic lyrics and memorable melodies, his skill as a singer is often overlooked because his voice is not conventionally pleasing.
It is, however, increasingly poignant — the wear and tear on his 75-year-old voice giving many of these beautiful songs a far harsher reading.
“Stormy Weather” may be the most stunning, with James Harper’s arrangement sounding ominous at the opening, just Dylan’s voice over a foreboding mix of muted horns and strings that gives way to something more traditional. The effect, especially when the ominous sounds return, is like menacing thunder interrupting a quiet evening.
“As Time Goes By” sounds weathered, instead of wistful. The way Dylan lets some notes erode mimics the passage of time in a way that isn’t as smooth as Nat King Cole would suggest.
The wobbling, choked end Dylan brings to “Here’s That Rainy Day” seemingly brings the idea of worrying about the future to life.
When his 30-song journey ends with “Why Was I Born,” the question remains open, as if the answer depends on which part of “Triplicate” you believe most.