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Bob Dylan's 'Fallen Angels': EW Review

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Christopher Polk/Getty Images

We gave it a B+

Last year, when Bob Dylan released a collection of songs associated with ultimate crooner Frank Sinatra, fans braced for the icon’s most WTF album since his 2009 set of Christmas tunes. But the standards album, titled Shadows in the Night, proved so moving and engaged, it inspired a deserved sequel, Fallen Angels, a mere fourteen months later.

Like its predecessor, Dylan’s 37th studio album collects American classics written by the likes of Howard Arlen, Irving Berlin and Johnny Mercer. Though most of these songs were hits for Sinatra, they’ve all been covered by thousands. And like Shadows, Dylan cut this collection live, much of it in Capitol Records’ famed Studio B, with the same tight group of musicians, who repeat their chamber-jazz approach: soft brushes on George Recile’s snare drum provide the backbone, while filigrees of Donnie Harron’s pedal-steal guitar waft and strokes of his viola dab. The instruments evoke rather than declare; arrangements remain just spare enough to let the instruments dream. While Dylan may be the focus, two of the tracks (“Melancholy Mood” and “That Old Black Magic”) manage to captivate even before the vocals begin.

Which takes us to the heart and soul of Angels. Dylan alights on these words with a wry delicacy. His voice may be husky and damaged from decades of performing, but there’s beauty to its character. Tellingly, he delivers these songs of love lost and cherished not with a burning passion but with the wistfulness of experience. They’re memory songs now, intoned with a present sense of commitment. Released just four days ahead of his 75th birthday, they couldn’t be more age-appropriate.

The choice of material here poses several telling parallels. Standards likes these and Dylan¹s own songs now stand as equal American totems. Likewise, both catalogues showcase some of the best lyrics of the last century. The artist from the ’60s who wrote the couplet “My love she speaks like silence/Without ideals or violence” would appreciate the verse of Vick R. Knight Sr. in “Melancholy Mood,” which reads, “Love is a whimsey, and flimsy as lace/And my arms embrace the empty space.” As the instruments circle those lyrics like ghosts, Dylan sings them with the wink that replaces young love’s ache.

Best Songs

“On A Little Street In Singapore”

Dylan and the band deliver the song with a woozy rapture.

“That Old Black Magic”

The contrast between the brisk beat and the soft delivery gives this rendition a fleet charm.

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