Thursday, February 5, 2015


It took me three or four listens to get used to the vocals on this much-ballyhooed album of Dylan covering Sinatra.  That's not uncommon, at least in my listening, and I do listen to everything he does.  I'm currently going through that mammoth box set of all his albums, and sometimes I stay on a disc for a few spins, to get used to his delivery and whatever kind of material was suiting his fancy at that point.  That's part of the experience, and if you're inclined, the joy of listening to Dylan.  Once you get whatever concept he's presenting, there's plenty to explore.  And once you're used to the voice, you'll appreciate even more.  Just don't expect him to be the guy you hope or want. 

There are great debates going on this week over Dylan's voice, and a lot of arguments being made that suggest he is a master singer.  They go something like this:  It's not about the quality of his voice, it's the phrasing, and how he's singing the words.  Perfect pitch be damned, he has perfect timing.  Detractors can throw out words like wheezy, nasal, tired, and painful, and as I'm listening to him struggle through Some Enchanted Evening, it's hard to disagree.  There are better performances here though, and I'll say that he is, as one friend and veteran Dylan-watcher said, very committed to these performances.  He's trying, he's thought it through, the spirit is willing if the vocal chords are not entirely.  But on Lucky Old Sun, well, there's nothing to complain about out, a number better associated with Louis Armstrong, who was more about phrasing than perfection.

The other important aspect of the record is the arrangements.  If you've spent any time with the Sinatra catalog, especially pre-'60's, you'll know these songs were originally done with large orchestras.  Dylan has instead chosen to record with a very small combo, basically his touring group plus one horn or stringed instrument providing the needed lushness.  Pedal steel and bowed acoustic bass (might be a cello, I didn't get the credits) give much of the atmosphere, and there are beautiful moments on the electric guitar.  It's headphone music, warm with a narcotic quality, and as rich as the originals, with ten times the players.  The review I would have given this album on Tuesday, the day it came out, would have been far more picky about the singing.  Try my technique of living with it for a few spins, and I bet you'll be a lot happier.

No comments:

Post a Comment