Bob Dylan, “Fallen Angels” (Columbia)
Last year, America’s greatest songwriter of the rock era threw a curveball: He recorded an album of standards associated with Frank Sinatra. The arrival of the new “Fallen Angels,” Dylan’s second collection of standards, is less surprising, though it has a different vibe.
Recorded once again at Capitol Records’ renowned Studio B with Dylan’s touring band (augmented by guitarist Dean Parks), the songs are again framed by Donnie Herron’s pedal steel guitar. But what separates “Fallen Angels” from “Shadows in the Night” is the tone of the songs. Last year’s album was a 10-tune meditation on failed romance. He wasn’t angry, just resigned.
This year’s 12-tune collection is more hopeful, well, as hopeful as an apparently unattached 74-year-old man can be about love. There is an old-school, black-and-white movie, amorous ambience to “Fallen Angels” as Dylan dusts off “It Had to Be You,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and other cuddly chestnuts.
Dylan kicks it off with strong crooning and assertive vocals on “Young at Heart,” hitting a final note detractors never thought Mr. Croaky could achieve. There’s a sweetness to his high voice, underscored by pedal steel on “All the Way,” though the singer seems to run out of steam midsong before regaining momentum.
Guitar (Parks) and viola (Herron again) lend a gypsy jazz feel to “Skylark” as Dylan sounds fully engaged. However, his voice fails him with its thinness on “Nevertheless” and its frogginess on “All or Nothing at All.” The exotic Middle Eastern atmosphere on “On a Little Street in Singapore” is alluring, but the singer doesn’t have the vocal range to pull it off.
Dylan regains his confidence on “It Had to Be You,” with careful phrasing and woozy vocals, matched perfectly by the lazy rhythms and gorgeous guitar of his band. Who thought Dylan would be so seductive in his autumnal years?
The other high point is “That Old Black Magic,” with its percussive introduction, toe-tapping guitar and Latin vibe. It’s the right combination of jazziness and sweetness.
On the whole, Dylan sounds more wistful than impassioned here. No one would confuse him with Tony Bennett, who, at 89, is still delivering the Great American Songbook with the bravado and nuance of a clarion trumpet. But to hear rock ’n’ roll’s greatest lyricist interpret some of pre-rock’s greatest lyrics is still something of a treat.
And don’t forget, the last time Dylan recorded two consecutive covers albums (1992’s “Good as I Been to You” and 1993’s “World Gone Wrong”), it was a prelude to a remarkable resurgence of songwriting and recording. You just never know with Dylan.
Jon Bream, Star Tribune
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