Village Voice 04.19.2017 : Page 32
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JON ANDERSON, TREVOR RABIN, RICK WAKEMAN 24 PIXIES 2017 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES NOVEMBER 04 JOHN MCLAUGHLIN & JIMMY HERRING 11 GET THE LED OUT A MEETING OF THE SPIRITS: MUSIC OF MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA ON SALE INFO AT THECAPITOLTHEATRE.COM FACEBOOK.COM/THECAPITOLTHEATRE (914) 937-4126 / INFO@THECAPITOLTHEATRE.COM 149 WESTCHESTER AVENUE / PORT CHESTER, NY THE CAPITOL THEATRE IS AVAILABLE FOR PRIVATE EVENTS EVENTS@THECAPITOLTHEATRE.COM TAKE METRO-NORTH RIGHT TO OUR DOORS, GET OFF IN PORT CHESTER world itself is sweeter than we will ever know, that knowledge will always escape us, that there is no locating oneself in any single place or time. Life sweeps every-thing away, and you depart without know-ing more than when you arrived. That was the sense when Dylan sang “Once Upon a Time” for the Tony Ben-nett ninetieth birthday tribute The Best Is Yet to Come on NBC last December — a show-stopping performance that seemed to search for all the directions a song that begins “once upon a time” could take, including those followed in his own song that opens with the same words. The words don’t have to mean any-thing because it’s the sense of an atmo-sphere to breathe, to be changed by, that you hear. The signposts of the songs, “The fundamental things apply,” “A cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces,” “Don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky,” don’t necessarily register, worn down by the hundreds of singers who’ve recorded them — from 1927, when Hoagy Carmi-chael irst cut his own “Stardust” for the Gennett label in Richmond, Indiana, a small jazz and blues company that fea-tured Charley Patton, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, to 1965, with Sinatra rolling out “The September of My Years” on his own Reprise label in Burbank, California. What you hear is much lighter than any carefully crafted catchphrase — instead you hear a certain person, the ictional character who inhabits Bob Dylan’s voice in these renditions, lighting down on a song, then moving on to the next one, and so modestly that when you inish listening to the third disc and go back to the irst, the feeling is that that character, too, has come back to the irst song on the irst disc for another go-round — and much deeper. “P.S. I Love You” — not the Beatles song, in which, Jonathan Cott once wrote, “P.S.” probably referred to Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue, but a tune written in 1934 and a hit for Rudy Vallée, done better by Bing Crosby, with words by Johnny Mercer, music by Gordon Jenkins, who in 1959 ar-ranged Sinatra’s indelible No One Cares — doesn’t even remotely suggest that it’s a great song. The bends in the melody are so cheesy people in the Thirties probably thought they’d heard it before. “P.S. I love you” is supposed to catch your ear, elicit a response — How clever to use that phrase in a song! — and make you smile, but it seems like it came into the song as an antique. Yet as Dylan sings it, it feels like a great song, or a great occasion for a great song. Again, it’s that sense of the song not as a speci ic combination of words and music, but as a place where words are music. Dylan meanders through the song. There is no destination: He flattens every-thing in the melody that suggests purpose, intent, desire, even meaning. There’s no need to stake a claim, or even carve your initials into a tree. The trees in this song don’t need you. They were here before you came upon them and they’ll be here when you’re gone, and that’s what’s so wonderful about them: You owe them nothing. The singer in this song owes nothing to its im-ages of domestic loneliness — in bed by nine, a burn on the table, each day seems like a year. He owes something, perhaps, to the few notes of the cello and guitar coun-terpoint that open his version, because they wave him goodbye as he sets out. What you hear is someone exploring the shifts in the melody as if they’re hills, rest-ing places, passageways that you never no-ticed the last time you were here, exploring the notion that any walk down the same street, across the same ield, can show you something you never saw before. Compared to Dylan’s own songs, the songs on Triplicate are tight, constrained, most of all orderly. They don’t have the expanse, let alone the fabulism, of the ballads that lie behind the Dylan songs that seem like epics, from “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” in 1963 to “Scarlet Town” in 2012. Except perhaps for “Stardust,” which can seem less composed than found, they aren’t, in the best sense, folk songs — and yet in a certain sense they are. The omission of any writers’ credits anywhere on Triplicate — on back of the package, on the discs, in the liner booklet — can let the songs communicate as if they actually don’t have authors, as com-mon coin that is also common property, as if they are landscape, atmosphere — and isn’t that what a song, not its composer, not its singer, but the song itself, really wants? To be the air that you breathe? “He has such a nice voice,” said the same friend. You don’t hear that said. The conventional word for Bob Dylan’s voice, today, is ravaged. Certainly he doesn’t have the clean tone of other older singers: Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett. What he does have, in the tears and breaks in his voice, is the ability to converse with the songs he sings, especially these songs, each of them carrying so many other singers. And that’s also to say that with any given number he now might be dis-cussing it with Holiday, Ethel Waters, Crosby, London, Sinatra, Bennett, Patti Page, Chet Baker, Astaire, Perry Como, Lena Horne, Helen Forrest, Dorothy Lamour, and countless more — and all those who will sing these songs after him. Listening to these three discs, these thirty songs, opening and closing and opening this book, I found myself think-ing not of any other Bob Dylan album, but of the Theme Time Radio Hour shows he hosted on Sirius XM between 2006 and 2009, and not only for the old songs he played. In the way Dylan reaches for high notes he can’t rise to, or goes flat before letting a hidden theme in the melody res-cue him and bring him back into the song, as with “Stardust,” the real analogue is Dylan’s flinty, cracker-barrel commentary in those shows: a sense of having lived with any song he’s playing, listening to it over time as if it were a person, and not telling half of what he knows. Whether the theme was “Lock and Key” or “Birds” or “More Birds,” there was, each time, that sense of a territory, a country of songs, a place to visit. For this show — for this album — if it’s the landscape of love, Dylan may be crossing it in muddy boots, leaving tracks for others to erase or follow. The steel guitar playing is kind of boring.