Having seen Bob Dylan play live a few years ago, I’m pretty sure he is not the first person I would choose to cover three albums’ worth of American jazz-age standards. The sound which came out of his mouth on that occasion resembled that of a demented, elderly dog. ‘Just Like A Woman’ had a chorus which went: ‘Grassum, grassum — rassum rassum rassum’, a neat twist on the original lyrics. It was joltingly inhuman. However, he has been on the Benylin, I think, because his voice here is not quite so gratingly hilarious. Now he sounds like a pissed-up and very persistent old gadgie at a karaoke machine in the shabbiest bar in Hibbing, Minnesota, as he growls through the likes of ‘Sentimental Journey’, ‘As Time Goes By’ and — the best by some margin — ‘I Could Have Told You’.
The songs are taken slowly, very slowly, and the musical accompaniment is exquisitely tasteful — all shabby-chic muted horns and pristine Farrow-&-Ball cocktail jazz guitar. Quite a few of rock music’s éminence grises have plundered this canon in the past — Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt and Lyle Lovett to name but three — with varying levels of success. Triplicate works for a while, partly because of the tastefulness but also for the sheer novelty value of hearing Dylan singing ‘Stormy Weather’. But over three full-length albums? Even if they are ‘thematically linked’? I think not.
Even if Dylan has a right to sing whatever the hell songs he likes, it is not why we like him and it is not why he got the Nobel Prize. He can console himself that Triplicate is way better than the album of ancient covers by his old sparring partner and genuine rival, Neil Young, which included a truly loopy version of ‘God Save The Queen’ — the anthem, not the naughty punk song.