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Archive for the ‘CD reviews – evergreen’ Category

CD review/ Shadows in the Night – Bob Dylan


dylan

Shadows in the Night

Artiste: Bob Dylan

Genre: Evergreens

Label: Sony Music

Rating: ****


BOB Dylan is Bob Dylan. He definitely isn’t Frank Sinatra, and never would have been aspired to be one. So when we heard that he was attempting an album containing songs popularised by the older American hero, our question was: What on earth was he up to?

Thankfully, our fears were laid to rest after a few listens of ‘Shadows In The Night’, Dylan’s 35th studio album. With a voice that’s sounding smokier and mustier as he approaches his mid -70s, and an orchestration that will make you long for candlelights or full-moon nights, low-lit bars or a sky filled with stars, Dylan does his own take on Sinatra. Effortlessly and elegantly, he does it his way.

Strangely, Dylan avoids Sinatra’s anthem ‘My way’, whose words would have been equally suited to describe his own approach to music in particular, and life in general. And if you thought the album title would compulsorily mean a version of the brilliant ‘Strangers in the night’, he skips that one too. Sure enough, he doesn’t even touch done-to-death numbers like ‘Something stupid’, ‘Fly me to the moon’ and ‘Under my skin’.

The 10 songs Dylan chooses to interpret largely belong to an era preceding Dylan’s super success in the 1960s. Yet, only two would fit into the category of tunes that most people would recognise. He gives a completely different spin to the Rodgers-Hammerstein II beauty ‘Some enchanted evening’, charmingly singing the opening lines, “Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then that somehow, you’ll see her again and again.”

The other hit, ‘Autumn leaves’, may come across as one of the album’s weaker moments, but that’s because you would instantly compare it with some outstanding versions done in the past by singers Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone, and the trumpet-saxophone jazz improvisation by Chet Baker and Paul Desmond. For that matter, even Bollywood’s Sapan Chakrabarti didn’t spare the song when he created ‘Tum bhi chalo’ in ‘Zameer’. Still, Dylan makes you hum along, even if in disagreement.

Of the other songs, Dylan gets into form instantly on the opening track ‘I’m a fool to want you’, where he changes the mood from “Time and time again I said I’d leave you, time and time again I went away” to “Take me back, I love you’” to “I can’t get along without you.”

‘The night we called it a day’ brims with romance on the lines, “There was a moon out in space, but a cloud drifted over its face.” On ‘Stay with me’, ‘Why try to change me now?’ and ‘That lucky old sun’, the vocal style is vintage Dylan, at times sounding uncomfortable in comparison to the originals, and yet proving how easily he’s adapted them to match his own style.

On ‘Full moon and empty arms’, a song which jointly names Buddy Kaye, Ted Mossman and famed Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff on writing credits, Dylan sings, “The moon is there for us to share but where are you?”

The next song, “Where are you?” has similar emotions as it goes, “Where are you? Where is my heart? Where is the dream we started? I can’t believe we parted?” And on Irving Berlin’s ‘What’ll I do’, he moans, “When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?” On each tune, a combination of trumpets, trombones, French horns, guitar, pedal steel and minimal percussion lend that special mood and ambience.

Yet, barring some of the unusual song choices, there’s nothing really new about this Dylan venture. It’s definitely not the first time he hasn’t written original material for a new album after his 1962 self-titled debut, as in late 2009, he attempted popular festive favourites in the album ‘Christmas in the Heart’. He’s also not the first person to record an album of Sinatra hits – after the jazz interpretations by the pianist Oscar Peterson and his trio in 1959, we have had attempts by Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton and, Teny Bennett, among others.

Likewise, Dylan is among the many singers to have attempted songs from the Great American Songbook, with the list also including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. And he’s also not the only singer to try out cover versions of popular hits in recent months, as Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox have also done that.

In such a scenario, one may ask what’s new. Well, that’s the beauty of ‘Shadows in the Night’. Dylan sings these songs in such an individualistic manner that they are bound to keep your evenings enchanted.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

CD review/ Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole/ George Benson


benson

Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole

Artiste: George Benson

Genre: Evergreens/ jazz

Concord Records

Rating: ****

BACK in college in 1982, George Benson was one of my earliest introductions to jazz-pop, along with Grover Washington Jr and Chuck Mangione. Though I got into more traditional jazz soon enough, Benson’s fluid guitaring and distinct style of vocal scatting – singing nonsensical syllables – always attracted me. To this day, the songs ‘The Greatest Love Of All’, ‘On Broadway’, ‘Breezin’, ‘This Masquerade’ and ‘Give Me The Night’ remain favourites.

Thus, it was great to hear Benson had recorded a tribute album to the legendary Nat King Cole, one of the most influential voices of the 20th century. Though this album was released last June, I got to check it only recently. Here, Benson takes 12 numbers popularised by Nat, and while retaining the basic vocal melody, adds his own touch with his lush arrangements, guitar interludes and scatting parts.

Interestingly, Benson begins the album with an old recording of his singing a sample from the hit ‘Mona Lisa’ when he was an eight-year-old. A full-length version of the same song is sung by the adult Benson to conclude the album, and the lines “Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa, or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art” sound as riveting as they did when sung by Nat in 1950.

The album’s second song is Cole Porter’s 1935 standard ‘One of Those Things’, which has been covered by numerous artistes, Typically old-school arrangements and a trademark Benson scat are the highlights of this. This is followed by Nat’s hugely famous ‘Unforgettable’, which has a marvellous trumpet stretch by guest artiste Wynton Marsalis, and typically simple lines like, “Unforgettable that’s what you are, unforgettable though near or far.”

Other well-known songs include ‘Route 66’, penned by Bobby Troup and featuring a sprightly piano by Randy Waldman, and Eden Ahbez’s ‘Nature Boy’, known for its lines, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”

There’s an absolute beauty in ‘Smile’, whose tune was written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 film Modern Times, but was given lyrics much later by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons. The song, with the vocals, was popularised by Nat, and Benson’s version features an intoxicating trumpet by Till Bronner.

Of the other tracks, ‘Straight Up and Fly Right’, a peppy number co-written by Nat, is played with a funky feel. ‘Ballerina’, ‘Walking My Baby’ and ‘I’m Gonna Sit Down and Write Myself a Letter’ retain their old-world charm.

While Benson does solo vocals on most tracks, two duets add value. ‘When I Fall In Love’ features singer Idina Menzel, and has the lines “When I fall in love, it’ll be forever, or I’ll never fall in love.” For the trivia fans, it was originally a big hit for Doris Day, though Nat’s version was successful too. Finally, ‘Too Young’ with singer Judith Hill brims with nostalgia.

Throughout, Benson keeps the feel of the songs rich, without compromising on their simplicity. As a tribute, this is great listening, and good exposure to those who haven’t grown up on the genius of Nat King Cole.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding

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