Bob Dylan, Fallen Angels review: The singer’s oft-criticised vocals shine here

The restrained picking and creamy pedal-steel guitar of his live band imposes a smooth but demotic country mood behind Dylan’s elegant, world-weary croon

Andy Gill
Wednesday 18 May 2016 15:21
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Download: Melancholy Mood; All The Way; Skylark; It Had To Be You; All Or Nothing At All

Dylan’s second volume of Great American Songbook interpretations continues in similar vein to last year’s Shadows In The Night, the main difference being the virtual absence, save for “Maybe You’ll Be There”, of the brooding, crepuscular horns that tracked the singer’s melancholy mood.

Instead, the restrained picking and creamy pedal-steel guitar of his live band imposes a smooth but demotic country mood behind Dylan’s elegant, world-weary croon as he tackles such circumlocuitous romantic rhetoric as “Is there a meadow in the mist where someone’s waiting to be kissed?” and “Down in a cottage built of lilacs and laughter, I know the meaning of the words ever after”.

Even for one well-schooled in delivering the complex, polysyllabic locutions of self-written songs such as “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Visions Of Johanna”, this sort of lyrical trickery – from Johnny Mercer and Johnny Burke, respectively requires careful negotiation not to pierce the meniscus of believability that gives the songs their enduring power.

And to his credit, Dylan copes remarkably well for one so routinely criticised as a vocalist. Even when he strains to keep in key or pitch, he manages to make a virtue of his shortcomings, bringing a sense of long-distance exhaustion to “All The Way”, and applying a sort of Gallic shrug to “All Or Nothing At All”, in stark contrast to the jauntier tone of Frank Sinatra’s and Billie Holiday’s interpretations.

Elsewhere, his weary groan through “Young At Heart” makes for an amusing contrast with the song’s theme, while his enervated delivery of “Come Rain Or Come Shine” suggests the promised alliance is a matter of support being required rather than devotion proferred. By contrast, he’s excited and enraptured by “That Old Black Magic”, although the dashing tempo as it whisks along is completely out of step with the rest of the album, which is probably best represented by the besotted abjection of “Melancholy Mood”, where the lines “whatever haunts me, steals upon me in the night, forever taunts me” evoke the beguiling nature of these fallen angels.

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