8 June 2016
Bob Dylan - Fallen Angels
I will start this review with a confession of sorts - I have never really got the music of Bob Dylan, but I understand his importance to modern music and I can see his influence. I have tried so many times, I have listened to so many albums and songs, covers and read articles - I just haven't found my 'in' as they say, even when I thought I have, it has turned out to be fool’s gold. I know some people will find this sacrilege, but I have to be honest from the start. So, why have I decided to review his thirty seventh studio album? Well, all but one of the songs on this album were previously performed by Frank Sinatra at some point or another. I know it is a cliché to like the king of swing, but I like the odd crooner number and anyone who has appeared in a Cannonball Run movie is a legend in my eyes. This is the second album he has released in this style, the first was the 2015 release 'Shadows in The Night". To give a brief background to Bob Dylan would take a while, so I will assume you know enough about the man and I will go straight to the review.
"Young at Heart" is the first number on this album, this song has been covered by the likes of Bing Crosby, Barry Manilow, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits and was first song by Mr Sinatra after originally being an instrumental called "Moon Beams". Obviously with this sort of song, it is kept very traditional and will not be lighting up any trendy nightclubs any time soon; but that is not the audience for this sort of number, it is a song to relax to, it is beautifully put together and it has a timeless quality that transcends the concept of fashion or anything. It is just a nice cover of a love song, which actually sounds as refreshing as still lemonade on a summer's day. "Maybe You'll Be There" is a slower number (what were you expecting, trash metal?!?!?!) which has previously been covered by Diana Krall, Kay Starr and Gene Pitney, the song was first published in 1947 and first made the charts US Billboard charts by Gordon Jenkins. It is a song about wanting for your love of a person to be reciprocated by a potential partner and the loneliness of being in your own and reminiscing of those long lost times. It is treat with a love and warmth to the song, you can hear the respect that Bob Dylan has for the number in his voice and the backing band are professional to a fault with it and so gentle. "Polka Dots & Moonbeams" is the next song on the album, this was Frank Sinatra's first hit recorded with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and it has also been covered by John Denver, Blue Crosby amongst other people that I have not really heard of before if I am honest. Like a musical sleeping pill, you are sent into such a relaxing state that it will either make you so happy that you could be accused of being on Valium, or you will be so angry and bored that you might destroy your sound system in a fit of rage and despair. Personally, I can see both arguments as it is one of those numbers that will not have an average fan, but I am enjoying it at the moment. “All The Way" has been covered by the likes of Neil Sedaka, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Mina and sadly by Celine Dion (sorry if you are a fan of the lady, but I have never understood the appeal). It is another traditional pop number, with love being the theme of the day. It is something that (when the mood is right), will be a great song to slow dance to and it is also a great song for a summer's day; but it is so gentle that is feels a little light weight at the same time. I like this song, but it is still not one that is setting my world on fire, it is just a well-crafted cover of an old fashion pop standard.
"Skylark" is the only song on this album which was not song by Frank Sinatra at some point, but it has been sung by Aretha Franklin, The Clovers, Linda Ronstadt amongst others. This is actually one of the more cheerful songs on this release, it has a toe tapping feeling to the music and I cannot help but smile when it is on. It is not the sort of thing I would normally go for by a long shot, but it is such a nice piece of music that it is hard not to fall under its charms and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere that the band create on this number. "Nevertheless" marks the half way point of this album and it is a song that has been covered by pretty much everyone who has ever been slightly linked with easy listening pop music. It is a song about that having to take a risk, to go through the door and find out if love is being replicated by another person; it is so gentle on the ears that it can send you into a sleepy state straight away, but it is another song which is hard to hate as well as you can feel the affection that is at the very core of this cover. It might not be my favourite on this album, but it is still not a bad number. "All or Nothing at All" is a love song, but it is more an ultimatum of sort - either love me or leave me. It is a standard song for this album, one that has been covered by many artists and will probably be covered by many others as the years go on. I will be honest here and say that it is a well-played song, but one that leaves me a little non-pluses and wondering why it was such a big song in the first place. The performance is adequate; however, the song is lacking for me. "On a Little Street in Singapore" is a quiet possibly the most obscure song on this album, upon researching it the number, the song originally written by Peter DeRose and Billy Hill is nowhere near as popular as other numbers on the album. This little jazz number is a short on time, but I like the briefness of the song - it does not outstay its welcome, there is love behind the song and it is pleasant on the ears.
"It Had to Be You" is the most famous song on this album for me, used in the film 'When Harry Met Sally', covered by Harry Connick Jr, Elvis Costello, Harry Nilsson and others. It was first released in 1924, so it is (at the time of writing 92 years old). This is a slow song at the best of times, but this version is really slow and it might not be for everyone. However, in fairness to Bob Dylan and his band I can say this is a well-crafted song which I am sure some people will swoon for. "Melancholy Mood" was original recorded by Kenny Baker in 1939, it is another song on this album which I have never heard before. This song is my favourite song on the album, just piping "Young at Heart", it is an energetic number (in a given sense of the word energetic - on this album, it is mostly slow, slow, slow) which has a gentle soul, beautiful music and one of the best performance from Bob Dylan on this album. He sounds at ease with this song, as if it was his own or one that he is incredibly familiar with which has been missing from a few of the numbers on this album for me. The penultimate song on the record is "That Old Black Magic" which was originally by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra, covered by most of the Rat Pack, Robbie Williams, Kevin Spacey, hell - even the Muppets have covered this song. Mr Dylan and co.’s take on this song is to give it a fast pace, gentle guitars and some brushes on the drum kit. I found myself smiling more often than not on this song, it is a number that is hard to get wrong, but even harder to get right and this is a really good cover. Ending the album is "Come Rain or Come Shine" end the album on a heartfelt, but sombre number that is once again a classic which has been covered by every easy listening artist you can think of, as well as another fifty that you will not have heard of. The song is a heart breaker, a slow dance to the end and I think it should have been the penultimate song, swapping it with "That Old Black Magic" as it ends this record on a beautiful, yet sad not. It does not hold you as "That Old Black Magic" or "Melancholy Mood"; so even though it is a perfectly well produced and performed cover, it just ends the album on the wrong number for me.
I have to say I am nicely surprised by this album if I am honest. As a non-Dylan fan, I was not really sure what to expect with this album and it was nice to come away from this with a smile on my face. A few of the numbers did not work for me, but none of the song made me reach for the fast forward/skip button either. It is a work of love for Mr Dylan here, something that we all should be able to do. Would I recommend it to anyone? Well, I would say if you have an interest in easy listening then it is something that is worth checking out. But I am not too sure where it would sit in his discography for die-hard fans, but I cannot see them hating it either. For me it is just a good covers album, nothing that is re-changing my opinions but it is worth of a cursory glance.
7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out.
Top track - Melancholy Mood
You can purchase Fallen Angels from Amazon here
You can visit the Bob Dylan website here
You can follow the activities of Bob Dylan on Facebook here
At the time of writing, Fallen Angels is not available on streaming sites
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