Preview – Bob Dylan Fallen Angels

By Stephen Pate – On May 20th, 2016 Bob Dylan’s new album “Fallen Angels” will ship. Dylan’s latest tribute to Frank Sinatra is a follow-up to last year’s Shadows in the Night.

“Why can’t Bob Dylan just be Bob Dylan?” asked my wife when I previewed the album for her. Other Dylan fans will be scratching their heads all over the world.

Where is the rebel, poet, folk singer, and misogynistic lover of the real Bob Dylan? He is gone for the time being as Dylan has taken a turn towards singing The Great American Songbook.

Age perhaps is the best excuse for this 2-year foray in the well mined vein where Willie Nelson, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and others have toiled before. It’s feels  Bob Dylan sings Durante singing Sinatra The Early Years.

5 of the 12 songs are already on the internet and you can preview them below.

It’s hard to tell from the stories if these are new recordings or left-over tracks from Shadows in the Night. The Shadows recording engineer Al Schmidt hints, in the Stephen K. Peebles video interview below,  that these tracks are part of the first session in 2014. Some stories say this was a new 2015 session.

I tend to believe the “Fallen Angels” sessions were recorded later. First, Dylan’s voice is markedly better than his singing on “Shadows in the Night.” Second, they have dropped the heavy steel guitar of Shadows for more complex musical arrangements.

A good example of the new style is “Melancholy Mood“, the lead song on the 4-song EP. It starts with a beautiful one-minute guitar solo that sounds like the pop-jazz style of Barney Kessel. It’s a very nice arrangement that plays tribute to the smooth style of the era.

The real problem here is not the music, it’s Dylan’s singing. I’ve written about and defended Dylan as a singer since 1964. Dylan as the crooner was best heard on “Self-Portrait” where Dylan dropped his mask and just sang songs he liked in a semi-natural voice. It was still sand paper but you have to admire the beauty and phrasing in songs like “Pretty Saro” from that album.

Dylan has a tremendous range of vocal emotions but, in my mind, he does not hit that often on this CD.  His voice is old, gone and he has trouble holding the notes on these songs that were written for more polished voices.

“Melancholy Mood” is perhaps the best song. Most of the others are hit and miss.

Frank Sinatra had such a great voice it takes someone like Michael Bublé to follow Sinatra.

It’s painful in places to hear Dylan singing off-key.  My question is: what’s the point of hearing someone as great as Dylan struggle so badly?

I suppose we Baby Boomers are getting older. Some of us are already gone and some of us have seen death come knocking so maybe it’s time to mellow out. Or maybe not. A little rage before the dying of the light is not bad.

I will probably buy this CD like every Dylan release in the past but it feels like the law of diminishing returns. I mostly listen to the older Dylan recordings that are more in character.

Don’t take my word for it. You can preview the “Fallen Angels” CD in the USA at NPR and in Canada at the CBC.

Tracklist:

1. “Young At Heart”
2. “Maybe You’ll Be There”
3. “Polka Dots and Moonbeams”
4. “All the Way”
5. “Skylark”
6. “Nevertheless”
7. “All or Nothing at All”
8. “On a Little Street in Singapore”
9. “It Had to be You”
10. “Melancholy Mood”
11. “That Old Black Magic”
12. “Come Rain or Come Shine”

Fallen Angels is available from record stores, listen on Apple Music, iTunes and Amazon.com and Amazon locations in Canada, the UK and Germany as a pre-order for delivery on May 20th.

You can already download “All The Way” and “Melancholy Mood” on iTunes.

On Amazon.com in the USA, Fallen Angels is already #1 in the Folk and #11 in all music based on pre-orders. That says a lot about Dylan fans.