First of all – there is absolutely no fan of Bob Dylan who does not want more new songs from Dylans own hand. And – very few of them doubt that Dylan is holding a solid stock of self-written songs that will stand both the light of day and the teeth of time.
This will always be the starting point when Dylan is doing anything other than his own material.
And yes – as the undisputed greatest songwriter of all time, all he might do runs the risk of standing in the shadow of his own best work. It also applies when giving out his own material, but not least when he releases others.
This is the starting point. Always. Even when Bob Dylan, at 75, released the difficult 38th album. Let’s focus a little on that, on “Triplicate”, rather than on what he didn´t release.
Bob Dylan’s own material is already so extensive and groundbreaking that few of his fans has the complete overview. This applies less to his non-fans, of course. Nevertheless, the latter are possibly even more rigid in their statements about his work.
Dylan’s releases of other people’s songs, be it traditional folk ballads or pure cover versions, in a blast of genres, are worth their own studies. Partly, they have also already been looked into. If we expand this with the hundreds of cover versions he has favored his audience with over three and a half thousand concerts since 1961, new chapters are required in the big book.
If you adds the 1668 songs of 1119 artists he also featured in his three-year radio show «Theme Time Radio Hour», well, you understand, the environment of this year’s release, “Triplicate”, is very comprehensive, if you want to dive into the complete picture.
The tradition Dylan unstoppably drinks of and points us towards, always had a special meaning in both his biography, in his music and songs. On the one hand – both musically and literally, they are part of his DNA, they are cultural building blocks that he has instantly assembled in partly new and unexpected ways. «I was just extending the lines», as he himself says. On the other hand, they have been his refuge in the pursuit of both meaning, focus, new foothold and new starts. An eternal cornucopia and a continuing well of youth. That’s how it was at the very beginning, with the debut album just over 55 years ago, that´s how it was when he went to the basement after his career peaked in 1966, where he with help from the traditional sources of songs and music found new artistic ways, that´s how it was in the mid-eighties, where the American songbook was used for finding a new way out, before the decades ends with the beautiful «Oh Mercy», and that´s how it was when he, in a single room, a man and his guitar, recovered joy and energy through two acoustic dives into folk and blues – a complete cleansing before the next blooming of the singer began with ‘Time Out Of Mind’ in 1997 and since the 2001 album ‘Love And Theft’ has been a long walk on musically reclaimed trails where all the American genres (including crooning) was spread out like a hand fan, written, picked and stolen in the next fifteen year period that lead to «Tempest», his last last album with his own songs. About four hundred years after Shakespeare wrote ‘The Tempest’. About hundred years ago since «Titanic» went down. About fifty years ago since Dylan debuted.
It’s hard to know when artists in general, or one artist in particular, starts thinking «This may be the last piece I’m making». It is certain that someone thinks it from the first moment, others at a later day in life. Here you will find differences both in personality and experience. After passing seventy, it is nevertheless not unreasonable to think so. According to this reviewer, ‘Tempest’ would in no way be a bad last album for any songwriter, where it embraced a wide range of poetry and genres, both literary and musical.
But life continued, and with a strong focus on post-2000 material, we were presented a new and more low-key live concept from the fall of 2013 – a concept where Bob Dylan, the singer, got more room than for a long time, a door was opened for a new phase in a previous remarkable career. That door went into the dark room ‘Shadows In The Night’. There you´ll find pain, sadness, lost love and to the last, a humble hope for paradise in the amazingly beautiful ‘That Lucky Old Sun’.
The recordings, the sound, the vocal and the breath’s prominent space in the soundtrack, the events, the transposition of the band to Sir Dylan’s Quintet, the existential relationship of the lyrics with Dylan’s eternal themes suddenly created new waves of inspiration to continue to create something new through a new turn in Dylans art of tradition alchemy. «Fallen Angels» followed a year later, but were recorded at the same time as «Shadows In The Night» – together they formed some kind of false double album where the sequel both musically and textually had more stripes of rhythm, light and heat than the first album.
Just before this last release, Dylan himself distributed a comprehensive and enlightening interview on bobdylan.com – many topics were dealt with, but the main issue is the publication of ‘Triplicate’. For those who ask why Dylan can not stop the crooning phase, you get the answer here. As Dylan sees is, he just did not finish, he knew that the first two albums were just part of the picture, that´s why. The thematic context made it logical to release them together: «One is the sequel to the other and each one resolves the previous one.» This time, the horns is also taken into the studio, not added later, and the entire triple is recorded live in studio without dubbing neither instrument nor vocal. A crack in the voice here and there is not enough stop the tape, but emphasizes that it is the complete work that matters, and in addition that reality sometimes gets cracked. This is life itself. Once again, there is an album where «timing and phrasing» are most important, and where the insight into the unique ability to convey a text and a feeling, becomes the payment for the patient listener. In our restless world, the stamina and the tranquility required to listed to an almost hundred minute release will not always be present, much less to hear it several times. But this is recommended. Here you are invited into a new room and there is much to see and hear and get used to in this house. The close interaction with the horns gives a new energy, as in the prologue «I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plans» and in «The Best Is Yet To Come». This is a completely different big band feel than on the two previous albums. Here, an eager and upset Dylan also touches the rasping rock vowel more than crooning. On Day In, Day Out, does he swing like Glenn Miller, we just have to wonder if he snaps and dances where he is standing, or maybe he lifts the microphone like he does in his live show? Here he lives what he sang on Love and Theft’s Bye And Bye: «I’m painting the town / Swinging my partner around».
The album ‘Triplicate’ alternates between contemplating unhappy love, as in ‘That Old Feeling’ or ‘Once Upon A Time’ about the heights of love, and as in the unlikely strong ‘How Deep Is The Ocean «, about the perishability of life, like the sand between your fingers in the irresistible beautiful «September of my Years «, or different variations of the observant exile that Dylan has always represented. Asked if he learned something about playing these songs, he answers: «I had some idea of where they stood, but I had not realized how much of the essence of life is in them – the human condition, how perfectly the lyrics and melodies are intertwined, how relevant to everyday life they are, how non-materialistic. »
Nor would Dylan agree that this is a nostalgic project – on the contrary: «It’s not taking a trip down memory lane or longing and yearning for the good old days or fond memories of what’s no more. A song like ‘Sentimental Journey’ is not a way-back-when song, it does not emulate the past, it’s attainable and down to earth, it’s in here and now.«
One of the authors behind «Treme», Tom Piazza, has written fine liner notes, a nice and useful user guide to Triplicate, he points to many details in the recordings that should inspire many to listen extra carefully to the vocalist’s phrasing. He also emphasizes the advantage of knowing the songs in previous tapes, with other artists. Only then, he believes, one will fully understand what Dylan is doing with the songs, what he adds to them that he again makes them their own. Well, most people know «Stormy Weather» from before, one will soon understand what he is talking about – in my ears a shabby standard song is almost raised to the same level as «That Lucky Old Sun» on «Shadows In The Night». Something about the same happens with ‘As Time Goes By”, albeit in a more low-key version.
In the interview, Dylan is also asked if he understands these songs better than when he heard them as a youth, and the answer is resolved: »I had some idea of where they stood, but I hadn’t realized how much of the essence of life is in them – the human condition, how perfectly the lyrics and melodies are intertwined, how relevant to everyday life they are, how non-materialistic.« He wont accept that this is a nostalgic project: »It’s not taking a trip down memory lane or longing and yearning for the good old days or fond memories of what’s no more. A song like ‘Sentimental Journey’ is not a way back when song, it doesn’t emulate the past, it’s attainable and down to earth, it’s in the here and now.«He does not have to spend time getting Into the «character» of these songs, they are carefully handpicked, so he can also add full vigor to the vowel – soreness, sadness, pain, strength, sorrow, love – occasionally all in one stroke like in the very dylanesque epilogue, ”Why was I born?”
Why was I born?
Why am I living?
What do I get?
What am I giving?
Why do I want a thing
I daren’t hope for?
What can I hope for?
I wish I knew
Why do I try
To draw you near me?
Why do I cry?
You never hear me
I’m a poor fool
But what can I do?
Why was I born
To love you?
Or should the questionmark be placed after both of the two lines? Why was i born? To love you?
And this is exactly what is «Triplicate’s» strength – the strong and personal meeting between the songs and the singer.
If this is an album for the fans? For many, the ‘Sinatra project’ has emerged as a strange and unnecessary relegation to an unknown genre. «Triplicate» fully demonstrates that for Dylan this has been a journey into familiar areas, and that if for him, at this point in his career, is a totally necessary maneuver to cover this part of the roadmap for the soul. He himself says, «These songs are meant for the man on the street, the common man, the everyday person. Maybe that’s a Bob Dylan fan, maybe not, I do not know.«