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Bob Dylan: Triplicate

Doug Collette By

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If Bob Dylan's Triplicate, the thirty-eighth studio album of his fifty-year plus career, proves anything, it's that he's very serious about his exploration of the Great American Songbook. Not only is this his third straight studio recording devoted to such material, he deigned to be interviewed close to the March 31 2017 release of the recordings (spending more than a little time on the subject) and, on the current leg of his touring schedule, devotes at least a handful of selections per night to renditions of such songs. The Nobel Laureate was nowhere near so voluble when offering the DIY rediscovery of his folk roots via Good As I Been to You (Columbia, 1992) and World Gone Wrong (Columbia, 1993).

It's always tempting to overthink what Dylan does or says, but the fact is, Triplicate begs many questions, not the least of which are the most practical. Having already released two other albums of similar material, Shadow in the Night (Columbia, 2015) and Fallen Angels (Columbia, 2016), does he need to issue another, especially in this form of three CD's or LP's (both formats accommodate a running time around thirty minutes for each song cycle). The concept he applies to the content, including "It's Funny to Everyone But Me," suggests the distinction he's making and thereby the extension of his interest: he's grouped the material according to specific themes, the arc of which spans the entire project.

Notable as that is, and thought provoking as well, this approach doesn't amplify the points Dylan made so authoritatively with the first entry in this series, then reaffirmed with the second. That is, most importantly, that he can sing clearly, authoritatively and passionately, that his well-practiced band can handle virtually any style he presents them (Tony Garnier's bass no less prominent than multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron's pedal steel on cuts such as "Once Upon A time") and that, after years of a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward studio recording, he has taught himself to be a skilled and knowledgeable producer (under the nom de plume 'Jack Frost'); here, in fact, he brought in session pro Dean Parks on guitar as well as James Harper to arrange and conduct horns.

Triplicate reiterates those skills, stretching them only insofar as the sequence of songs tells a story, the truth of which emerges in Dylan's choice of the tunes and the order in which they appear. Whether or not profound meaning arises from a listening to Triplicate in its entirety or through choosing specific selections is in the ears of the beholder, but also in the hearts and minds of the listener(s), Bob Dylan aficionado or not. The existential nature of songs like "When the World Was Young" or "Stardust" (the song after which Willie Nelson titled a similar album of his) are hardly novel, but this artist has hardly ever dealt with them so directly, except perhaps on Nashville Skyline (Columbia, 1969).

Hearing Bob Dylan speak of the truth he finds in songs like "Sentimental Journey," "That Old Feeling," or "My One and Only Love" (recorded not only by Frank Sinatra, but saxophone colossus John Coltrane with Johnny Hartman on vocals), it's difficult to doubt his intent or his execution thereof, largely because, over the course of more than three years, he has devoted so much time, effort and thought to these projects. Given the man's track record over the years, on the record and off, it is certainly difficult not to take him at face value.

Add to that the fact he's finding meaning on Triplicate tracks such as "I Could Have Told You" or "The Best Is Yet Come"-this from a seventy-six year old man!?-, perhaps the proper course to take is exactly that to simply accept those thoughts and feelings of his to the fullest extent, as he conveys them in singing "These Foolish Things." Such an approach is a surefire means to avoid descending into the proverbial weeds to ponder if this album of Bob Dylan's, like its immediate predecessors, is simply a thinly-disguised means to fulfill a contractual obligation.

Track Listing: CD 1: ‘Til The Sun Goes Down:I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans; September of My Years; I Could Have Told You; Once Upon a Time; Stormy Weather; This Nearly Was Mine; That Old Feeling; It Gets Lonely Early; My One and Only Love; Trade Winds. CD 2: Devil Dolls: Braggin’; As Time Goes By; Imagination; How Deep Is the Ocean; P.S. I Love You; The Best Is Yet to Come; But Beautiful; Here’s That Rainy Day; Where Is the One; There’s a Flaw in My Flue. CD 3: Comin’ Home Late: Day In, Day Out; I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night; Sentimental Journey; Somewhere Along the Way; When the World Was Young; These Foolish Things; You Go to My Head; Stardust; It’s Funny to Everyone But Me; Why Was I Born.

Personnel: Bob Dylan: vocals; Tony Garnier: bass: Charlie Sexton: guitar; Donny Herron: steel guitar; Dean Parks: guitar; George Receli: drums; James Harper: horn arrangements, conductor.

Title: Triplicate | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Columbia Records

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