Bob Dylan's sprawling new album of standards reaffirms his mastery as an arranger and vocalist.
Triplicate is a 30-song album split evenly over three discs, which Dylan says represents the way he should have made his LPs (they tended to be overloaded with content). The album is Dylan's third straight studio album covering classic American songs, and is generally made up of majestic ballads, with an occasional upbeat toe-tapper like the lead track, "I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plans."
Dylan has never been regarded as a conventionally talented vocalist, and his development as a late-career crooner has confounded many fans. But throughout his career, Dylan's vocals have always been more than simply a vessel for his Nobel Prize-earning lyricism and commentaries. There are subtleties in his diction, a sarcastic snarl here, a deliberate drawl there. These continue on Triplicate's 30 tracks, and are what keep his covers from turning stale.
The album is full of blooming chords and plinking guitar melodies. The occasional horn accompaniment is lush and present without being overpowering, and the guitars sound rich. The reverb-drenched guitar arpeggios on Jimmy Van Heusen's "There's a Flaw in My Flue" stand out particularly, and they work wonderfully with Dylan's downtrodden melody.
There are mistakes on the album — several in fact. Dylan's commitment to a live studio recording without overdubs creates an atmosphere that's equal parts warm and chilling, but it also reveals unmistakable cracks and flat notes.
Rather than redoing them, though, Dylan embraces them, and the recordings are better for it. Triplicate paints an admirably honest portrait of the 75-year-old, presenting him plainly for listeners, even if that means occasionally showing Dylan's distinctive voice letting him down on tracks like "That Old Feeling," where his nasal rasp just doesn't add anything to the performance.
For many, Dylan's legendary verses will still preside as his greatest offering, but Triplicate proves that his ability to interpret the Great American Songbook is equally worthy of recognition. Triplicate is an idiosyncratic indulgence for one of music's greatest figures. (Columbia)