Bob Dylan’s Triplicate – A Triple Dose of Standards

TriplicateWhat’s most impressive about Bob Dylan is that, for more than fifty years, he has been a shape-shifter, creating trends, abandoning them, then returning to the roots of popular music. With the 2015 Shadows in the Night, Dylan surprised us by releasing an album of standards, mostly songs that Frank Sinatra had sung. At the time, I wrote:

But, no, he’s created something of a masterpiece here. In ten songs, at just 35 minutes, Dylan recreates an ambience, a mood, a feeling. These stripped down arrangements – compared to the way the songs were performed back in the day – allow Dylan to do some of his finest singing in years. Even Bob said that he felt his voice was at its best during these recordings.

In 2016, he followed up with Fallen Angels, another selection of standards, which reproduces that some tone. (I didn’t get around to reviewing it, for some reason…)

Now, Triplicate is another collection of standards, this time thirty songs on three discs. Each disc is thematic: the first is entitled ‘Til the Sun Goes Down; the second is Devil Dolls; and the third is Comin’ Home Late. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

It’s interesting to look at the three album covers. The first had a photo of Dylan, the second a hand with cards, and Triplicate is just a single word on a maroon background, almost like an epitaph. It’s as if Dylan wanted to efface himself from the music and not appear on the disc at all. (I don’t have the CD, but on the limited edition vinyl version, there’s a black-and-white photo of Dylan inside the front cover, but not on the front of back of the album. Presumably that photo is in the CD booklet or notes.)

Dylan has given a long interview about Triplicate, which you can read on BobDylan.com. This is the longest interview he has given about his music in a long time, and it gives a lot of insight into his thoughts about this release.

There’s something magical about Dylan singing these songs. Sure, his voice cracks a bit, he’s off key at times – Stormy Weather is particularly imperfect – but if you close your eyes, you can hear a wind-up Victrola playing old songs in a smoky bar. Or you can imagine Bob on stage in a small club, as glasses clink, people chat, and the band plays its final set of the evening. Just as Dylan retreated to traditional songs with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica, in the 1992 Good As I Been to You and the 1993 World Gone Wrong, Triplicate, and its two predecessors, create a tone that is anchored in time. The time of the radio; of crooners; a pre-technological time when music meant something much than it does now.

These songs are some of the most heartbreaking stuff ever put on record and I wanted to do them justice. Now that I have lived them and lived through them I understand them better. They take you out of that mainstream grind where you’re trapped between differences which might seem different but are essentially the same. Modern music and songs are so institutionalized that you don’t realize it. These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll.

Whether it’s with a horn section, or just with Dylan’s band – which again shows how competent it is at playing just about any style of music – the recording is impeccable. Dylan didn’t overdub the horns; he said that doing it live was better, and with a competent producer and engineer, this is certainly the case. The sound is perfectly balanced, and Dylan fits his voice faultlessly with the backing musicians. (As far as I know, all the songs on all three of these releases were recording “live” in the studio; in other words, all the musicians playing at the same time.)

Something about Triplicate suggests that it might be the last Dylan album. There is a sense of finality in the music. Nearly 76 years old, Bob is still touring, a hundred or so concerts a year, so perhaps he’s going to continue for a while. But he’s done everything now, from records to performances, to the Nobel Prize for Literature (which he is said to be picking up today). Perhaps the second song on Triplicate is a hint:

One day you turn around and it’s summer
Next day you turn around and it’s fall
And all the winters and the springs of a lifetime
Whatever happened to them all?

As a man who has always had the wandering ways
I keep looking back to yesterdays
‘Til a long-forgotten love appears
And I find that I’m sighing softly as I near
September, the warm September of my years

No matter what, put this album on, not too loud, turn down the lights, and close your eyes. Dylan and his band will transport you to a different time.

I’m seeing Dylan perform in May. As much as I want to hear some of the great classics, like Desolation Row and Visions of Johanna, I would be happy to hear him and has band perform all the songs on this album. The tone Bob gets with these songs when performed live – he played five or six of them in every concert in his last tour – is special. No one plays music like this authentically any more. Except Bob Dylan.

3 thoughts on “Bob Dylan’s Triplicate – A Triple Dose of Standards

  1. thanks for the review—it was tantalizing, making me want to jump the gun and pull the trigger, i was just looking at it on Amazon after reading the review and it would be so easy to click “one click.” i plan to get it soon, but this month was property tax and income tax plus bills yesterday, they sure do add up, sigh, living on a pension, so the grown up in me says just wait a few days, you don’t have to spend money every day. But maybe tomorrow…

    How come the Japanese pressing costs $37 and the regular one costs $18.99? They’re both 3 CDs. Japanese = better audio? Extra goodies? inquiring minds want to know.

    Does Dylan play keyboards on the album or just sing?

    I love Dylan doing standards. because of a simple twist of fate when i was 12 in 1961, my parents took me to a movie starring Gina Lolabrigida, Rock Hudson, Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. I fell madly in love with Bobby Darin, the first star i’d ever fallen in love with, and since he was a singer, i started collecting his many LPs, and while he had a diversity of genres, the great majority of albums were all standards. Bobby had said he was going to be greater than Sinatra, i thought he was way better than Sinatra. Anyway, the point being that i got heavy into standards when i was first also getting into Top 40 music. I can’t say the same for my friends. The standards/nightclub genre was past its prime in pop music in the early 60, it was virtually gone. . i wouldn’t have had the enjoyment of getting deep into all those songs, if not for the fluke of seeing Bobby Darin in a movie.

    So, for me, it’s like coming full circle, the most mind-blowing artist of my life doing so far, 5 CDs of standards. His voice getting better and better, more flexible and melodic, the feel he gets is the real thing, the heart, method acting, pulled into he realism of the songs. It’s as if mastering the feel of those emotions and images that make up the standards could have been for him like a voice school to learn and grow technique, making many new things possible, vocally. maybe…

    The reason i’m saying this is to respond to your sense that maybe Triplicate is the last Dylan album, epitaph even! say it ain’t so. Maybe you’re right, it’s reasonable to imagine the possibility, time will tell. But i want to share a different take–thinking about people like Chuck Berry working on an album at 90. true, they said it was his first album in 40 years but still, i’m talking bout people who live for it and love it so much that they do it til they drop. BB King, with effects of diabetes encroaching through his body for some years, some of those guys, they just play as long as they can, they don’t have to do it, they love doing it. BB made 90. Dylan has the love of it. He’s got that spark. anyway, that’s how it is for me. “I ain’t DEAD yet…”

    There’s this set for sale on Amazon, i bought it last month, it’s called Bob Dylan The Complete Album Collection Volume 1. It came out in 2013. Volume 1 :) . Maybe he just wanted to leave space and expectation for the Triplicate album and Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels. But maybe… He could go on doing standards for a long long time if he wanted, there’s so many more really great ones, he’s only done a small fraction. who knows, he might write another one of his own…he might have another surge, those have kept coming…i would bet on that, at some point in the future. His mind is still thinking those thoughts he thinks that come out in words so fine. He might write some in the standard genre of his own. Most of the Time–why doesn’t Tony Bennett cover that? Has he lived those lyrics?

    • No idea why the Japanese pressing is more expensive. I don’t think there are any extras, it’s just that the Japanese are into some questionable types of CDs that don’t sound any better, but that cost more.

      The Complete Album Collection Vol. 1 does not include the Bootleg Series releases. So I assume that a Vol 2 will be released at some point with whatever he’s recorded since the first release, plus the Bootleg albums.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if he were to plan a retirement. But maybe not; you never know. His touring has reduced a bit lately, from 100+ shows a year, to around 80, so who knows… ?

  2. That is true, bootlegs not included in Vol.1 collection, except sample of basement tapes, maybe that doesn’t count as bootleg, i remember when it was just a couple of records in all white cheap plain cardboard covers with no words on them, not sure if the word bootleg was in use yet back then. i see there’s a 6 disk basement tape set that’s supposed to be complete, that would definitely contribute to a respectable complete album collection Vol 2, along with all the other released bootlegs and the standards albums. i agree, planned retirement makes sense. So does leaving options open. Can be both, all in one. sometimes people come back from retirements too. I hope Vol 2 will have the Marc Knopfler stuff.i know it’s not official release. As it turns out, the only place i’ve found it for sale is Japan.

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