Bob Dylan Delivers Sunny Interpretation Of American Songbook on ‘Fallen Angels’ (ALBUM REVIEW)


dylanabumNot everything Bob Dylan does is truly provocative, but his music remains very much so and his new album is hardly an exception, so there’s plenty of speculation around Fallen Angels. Suffice to say, if you liked the last album, Shadows in the Night, you’ll probably like this one (though one such album  may be enough) and, if you did not cherish that one, chances are this one won’t carry much value either (the two records are that similar).

Bob Dylan’s thirty-seventh studio album is very much a sequel to its predecessor. Comprised of familiar numbers from the so-called ‘Great American Songbook’ such as “Young At Heart” and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” the dozen cuts were again recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, with Dylan himself as producer (under his assumed name ‘Jack Frost’). Augmented by venerable session guitarist Dean Parks plus an anonymous  (and difficult to hear) horn section, Bob’s regular touring group again provides the basic accompaniment, within which multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron’s solos and fills, mostly on pedal steel, are notably less predictable than on the prior sessions.

What distinguishes Fallen Angels from Shadows in the Night, first of all, is the tenor of the material. In contrast to the noir atmosphere of the latter, this album is a generally sunnier, upbeat selection of tunes and, as was the case before, it works. With engineer Al Schmitt recording and mixing, Dylan and his band clearly relish the opportunity to concentrate on interpreting well-known numbers like “It Had to be You” as well as lesser known chestnuts including “Skylark” and “Nevertheless.” And while it’s arguable how much this endeavor actually stretches their collective skills, their attitude implies more than a little admiration for such astute practitioners of songwriting as Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer.

Equally importantly, the very release of a second similarly-conceived album carries a clear declaration of healthy respect, on Dylan’s part, for the many great singers who’ve performed these numbers, preeminent of which is Frank Sinatra, for whom Bob has, in the past, professed deep and sincere admiration. Upon its release, the most startling aspect of Shadows in the Night (and ultimately its most riveting virtue,) was the clarity of Dylan’s singing, in enunciation as much as the smooth sound of his voice itself. Those virtues also appear Fallen Angels, but the element of surprise is lacking for those that heard the earlier album and, in fact, those aforementioned attributes aren’t quite so outstanding on this companion piece; at their best, the vocals carry a palpable glow, often with the decided delight in evidence during “All or Nothing At All,” but even though Bob holds the final tone of “That Old Black Magic,” there is some hint of a struggle, the likes of which is more obvious as he aims for the notes in the melody of  “All the Way.”

In the end, any singer and/or band might like to play and sing this a set of standards, if only to see what the exercise would reveal about themselves. A similar challenge might then also apply to those hearing the record which, in turn, puts Fallen Angels, like Shadows in the Night, squarely within one of the prevailing themes of Bob Dylan’s most revealing work: the search for identity.

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