Album review: Bob Dylan, Triplicate

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Bob Dylan’s music has been obsessed over, parsed and deconstructed past the point of usefulness across the past six decades. But the rasping bard still has the capacity to surprise, as we discovered with the recent revelation that he is a fan of The Stereophonics and Imelda May. The composer of ‘Blowin’ In the Wind’ has a soft spot for ‘Handbags and Gladrags’. What a world we live in.

Dylan offered these insights promoting his collection of pre-rock’n’roll covers. Triplicate consists of three discs, each 32 minutes in length. “It’s a lucky number, and it’s symbolic of light,” he said in an interview posted to his website. “As far as the 32 minutes… that’s about the limit to the number of minutes on a long playing record where the sound is most powerful.”

The connection between numerology and the Great American Songbook of the mid 20th century isn’t immediately obvious.

Then Dylan has never followed any logic but his own and the new release is easiest understood as the latest of his high-concept eccentricities, to be filed alongside his 2009 Christmas album or his two Sinatra covers records.

Triplicate is an unselfconscious celebration of the crooners who preceded Dylan. He gets inside ‘This Nearly Was Mine’, one of the bleaker tracks from South Pacific, and croaks with pained passion on Jimmy Van Heusen and Carl Sigman’s ‘I Could Have Told You’. There are also heartfelt tilts at songs by Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman and Hoagy Carmichael — old-school writers whose irrelevance was ironically hastened by Dylan and the Sixties counterculture.

Dylan fans would no doubt prefer a batch of originals. But taken on its merits rather than as a gesture of obfuscation on the part of a great enigma Triplicate is a triple decker of fun. A twinkle of wry humour hangs around the entire project and that is probably the context in which it is best enjoyed.


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