Album Reviews

Bob Dylan

Fallen Angels

Artist:     Bob Dylan

Album:     Fallen Angels

Label:     Columbia

Release Date:     05/30/2016


Dylan doing standards? Again? As he’s done throughout his career, The Bard continues to confound his critics and fascinate his fans. Yet, Fallen Angels, like its predecessor, may be the most bewildering turn Bob’s ever taken. Consequently, the search for reasons begins. The answer may be a simple one, although that belies the Dylan mythology. It may simply lie in the fact that he’s now at the age (75!) where being a venerable elder draws him closer to others who were once of that age, and considered artists of the ages. The fact that these songs have him emulating Frank Sinatra in particular may reflect the fact that he identifies with Sinatra in spirit, as well as intent. Granted, Bob is no Old Blue Eyes. His voice is, at best, more a croak than a croon, and while he manages to carry a tune, it often seems more by suggestion than by actual enunciation. Dylan’s never been known as a polished singer of course, but Bob being Bob, his voice is an odd but effective trademark. The Dylan of Nashville Skyline with his rich, liberated vocals may have been better suited to these songs, but both the vulnerability and lack of  reserve are admirable, even if unintended.

Thankfully, it’s his longtime band that is really responsible for its success. Yes, Dylan chose the songs (presumably), but here he only sings, leaving the instrumental chores entirely to his band. And indeed, here again they perform like the seasoned pros they are, be it guitarists Charlie Sexton, Stu Kimball and Dean Parks’ supple sway, the steady anchor of Tony Garnier’s bass or the soft brush work that comes courtesy of drummer George Recile. Their efforts allow the arrangements to do justice to the mood as well as the music, mooting Dylan’s coarse vocals and adding the midnight ambiance so essential to the spirit and sentiment these songs evoke.

Naturally there will be those who wish Dylan would have exorcised his ambitions after only one album. They may lament the fact that the bard is either simply marking time or putting his muse to rest forever. Some may consider it a mere curiosity, and choose to ignore it until Bob gets back on his own road. And yet the real devotees will appreciate it for what it is, just another of the many side roads Dylan has followed throughout the entire course of his career, no less shocking than the aforementioned Nashville Skyline or the much maligned and now fully redeemed Self Portrait. Love it, hate it or merely tolerate it, the once unthinkable is now a reality, so it’s best to at least accept it.  In the end, Fallen Angel still finds the Bobster plotting his own course.

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2 Responses

  1. I sit back in amazement at all the positive reviews of Dylan doing the so called “Great American Songbook”. It reminds me of the old children’s story “The emperor’s new cloths” My feeling is that Bob is having some fun with his fans, especially the ones who will buy anything the master puts out. (Full disclosure, I’m probably one of them.)
    I have a pretty broad taste in music and consider both Bob and Frank Sinatra the very best at what they do, but I can’t imagine ol’ blue eyes doing an album of Dylan covers. When Frank attempted a song from the world of rock ( ” Bad Bad Leroy Brown”come to mind) he was pretty bad at it.
    And your review says Bob can at least carry a tune. Seriously? Have you heard all the flat notes on this latest album? Just listen to “Polkadots and Moonbeams” or “All the way”. Yikes!
    This trend has been going on for awhile now, rock and country singers recording standards with various degrees of success. Willy Nelson, Paul Macartney were pretty good at it. Rod Stewart brought nothing new to it. I spent some pretty large bucks to see Bob in concert this summer If he spends half his time singing these songs I will not be a very happy concert goer.

    • For a start, he will be singing these songs, and he does them brilliantly (I saw him 3 times last year and the setlist is unlikely to change). It isn’t a case of ‘Emperor’s new Clothes’, many people really do like these albums and enjoy them. The trouble is that some ‘fans’ find themselves stuck in a timewarp and really should just lock themselves away with Blonde on Blonde stuck on loop. Bob constantly evolves, never sitting still, you either move with him or get left behind.