David M. Riley

Bob the Crooner

I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan since… well, since way back when.  And one of the main things I’ve allways  liked about Bob was his voice, that ragged, scratchy, sometimes off-key voice.  Someone once said Dylan sang like he was sitting on a barbwire fence.  The first Dylan album I bought was Highway 61 Revisited. His voice sounded timeless, not young, not old, but eternal, with lots of wisdom.

By the middle of the 00s, though, I really could not stand to listen to him sing anymore.  That voice had deteriorated so much that, for me, it was hard to bear.  In the last couple of live shows I attended, he did a lot of what I call the “dreaded upsinging.”  That’s when Bob lifts his voice at the end of each line.  It’s how he sings when he gets lazy about singing.  I find it annoying.

I haven’t cared for the material he’s put since Time Out of Mind (1997) either.  That was an excellent album.  Everything after that has been crap.  I think Bob has recycled enough old blues riffs for one career.

In 2015 he started bringing out the standards, Frank Sinatra kind of stuff.  I am a Sinatra fan, but I was about as interested in hearing Bob sing from those old songbooks as I was hearing Bob sing Christmas songs.  I don’t begrudge him recording what he wants to record, but I don’t have to like it.

Then, just a few months ago, I tuned in to a TV special celebrating the 90th birthday of Tony Bennett.  It featured some good performances by Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Diana Krall, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, and one Bob Dylan.

Bob was on tour somewhere as usual, so he submitted a tape of he and his band playing live.  It was very good!  The clip is a single shot with no cuts, and Bob sings well and is wonderfully Dylanesque.  Now, I’m listening to Triplicate, the latest album, and enjoying most of it.  There are a few songs and vocals that Bob doesn’t work out too well, but that’s always been the case with Mr. D.  I’m diggin’ it.  Great arrangements and the use of a pedal steel guitar on these standards is innovative.

The song is “Once Upon a Time,” with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams from the 1962 musical All American.  Watch this performance from the Tony Bennett special and see what you think.