Category Archives: Music

stream bob dylan fallen angels

Listen to Bob Dylan’s Fallen Angels (stream)

stream bob dylan fallen angels

Bob Dylan’s latest, Fallen Angels, is to be officially released on May 20th (four days ahead of Mr. Dylan’s 75th birthday). But you can listen to whole thing now via a streaming broadcast from NPR, embedded below, beginning with Bob’s take on the classic “Young at Heart.”

The album follows Dylan’s truly remarkable Sinatra-inspired record from last year, Shadows in the Night. Each tune on that album was one previously recorded by Frank Sinatra, and Dylan and his band seemed to be consciously trying to recreate one of the classic arrangements Sinatra used on each one, albeit while coloring with the palette of a five-piece guitar-based band in place of the original significant-sized orchestras. The result was jaw-dropping, and Dylan’s singing was as good or better as any of his career, wringing every kind of sensitive nuance out of the lyrics and his aged vocal instrument, and transforming old songs of romantic love and loss into veritable hymns (although at least one was already a hymn).

While Fallen Angels continues some of the Sinatra theme (“Melancholy Mood” is the arrangement that Harry James put behind Frank in 1939), there are also other things going on. For example, one of the tracks, “Skylark,” was never recorded by Sinatra. And though “That Old Black Magic” was recorded by Frank, Dylan copies an arrangement used by Louis Prima and Keely Smith in 1958 (and also oddly enough in 1995 by Van Morrison and his daughter Shana).

What’s clear on first listen to the whole of FALLEN ANGELS is that it is again a rather amazing and very beautiful record.

All such trivia aside, what’s clear on first listen to the whole of Fallen Angels is that it is again a rather amazing and very beautiful record. Bob Dylan has found a way to continue to surprise and to create deeply worthwhile work into his old age, and that’s something to inspire gratitude indeed.

The full track list of Bob Dylan’s Fallen Angels is:

1. Young At Heart
2. Maybe You’ll Be There
3. Polka Dots and Moonbeams
4. All The Way
5. Skylark
6. Nevertheless
7. All Or Nothing At All
8. On A Little Street In Singapore
9. It Had To Be You
10. Melancholy Mood
11. That Old Black Magic
12. Come Rain Or Come Shine

Bob Dylan "Melancholy Mood"

Bob Dylan, “Melancholy Mood”

Bob Dylan "Melancholy Mood"
It is (in the sense of those things these days) Bob Dylan’s hot new single: “Melancholy Mood.” The song is best known from its recording by Harry James and his Orchestra, with brand new boy singer Frank Sinatra, in 1939. It was the B-side of “From the Bottom of My Heart.” Neither side charted, though both are masterful and lovely records and show the promise of the Sinatra to come. Bob Dylan’s version is embedded below here via YouTube, with a little more on the song and his own quite lovely take on it coming under that. Continue reading Bob Dylan, “Melancholy Mood”

Frank Sinatra Christmas Special 1957

Frank Sinatra’s 1957 Christmas Special (with Bing Crosby)

Frank Sinatra Christmas Special 1957Directed by Frank Sinatra himself, and sponsored by the good people of Bulova and Chesterfield, it’s surely one of the classiest Christmas specials ever to go out over the airwaves: twenty-five minutes of unassuming Yuletide excellence. And it’s currently available via YouTube (and embedded below). Continue reading Frank Sinatra’s 1957 Christmas Special (with Bing Crosby)

A Jolly Christmas Frank Sinatra

A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra

(Bringing this out of the archives to mark Frank Sinatra’s centenary)

Review of A Jolly Christmas from Frank SinatraThere’s a communal feeling about most Christmas music. Maybe this is because we generally hear the songs in the company of others, whether it’s as we’re elbowing our way down the aisles of the department store or perhaps singing along with them in church. I think that the most special thing about Frank Sinatra’s A Jolly Christmas
(Capitol Records, 1957) may well be how a very particular mood is created, quite different to that of the run-of-the-mill Christmas album. It is not so much a mood of lonesomeness (although Sinatra was well-skilled with evocation in that area) but a more nuanced and less inherently-sad sense of simply being alone at Christmas. Not miserable, and not necessarily overjoyed either, but simply contemplating and appreciating the season apart from the crowds and the relatives.

In the course of his long career Sinatra recorded plenty of Christmas music, from the sides with Axel Stordahl in the 1940s on Columbia (some very lovely stuff) to The Sinatra Family Wish You a Merry Christmas on Reprise in 1968 (predictably kind of cheesy). And these Christmas tracks get repackaged and resold over and over again. However, A Jolly Christmas is, to my mind, quite distinct. In 1957 when he went in to record it (during July in Los Angeles), Sinatra was truly at the peak of his artistic powers. Not only was his vocal ability (both the quality of his voice and his sense of how to use it) the best it had ever been or would ever be, but he was also at a peak of good taste. My theory is that Sinatra always personally had good taste, but later in his career he came to believe that his potential audience did not, and he dumbed things down at times in an effort to woo them. At this time, however, in the mid-1950s, Sinatra had a clear idea of what he wanted to do, musically-speaking, and what he was capable of, and he was able to work with arrangers and musicians of great excellence and taste themselves, and together they were able to put out records of a very high standard that in turn reached an appreciative and welcoming audience. All of these factors would never come together simultaneously again, and this is why Sinatra’s albums for Capitol Records in the 1950s stand as his greatest, and indeed as some of the most perfect examples of refined popular music that exist.

To put it in context, A Jolly Christmas was bookended by A Swingin’ Affair! (a sterling Nelson Riddle set) and Come Fly With Me (a masterpiece with Billy May). And released in exactly the same month (September of 1957) was Where Are You?, one of Sinatra’s great sets of lovelorn ballads, this one arranged by Gordon Jenkins, who likewise is the arranger for A Jolly Christmas. Jenkins had his strengths and weaknesses as an arranger, but there’s no doubting that his particular style is crucial in making A Jolly Christmas the unique kind of Christmas record that it is. Continue reading A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra

Sinatra Wee Small Hours

Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours

[Taking this one from the archives to the front page to mark the 17th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s passing]

Review of Frank Sinatra In The Wee Small HoursFrank Sinatra passed away on May 14th, 1998. I recall thinking at the time that with Sinatra gone, all bets were off—anything might now happen in this sad old world. (And I think the record would show that my fears in this respect have proven entirely correct.) Continue reading Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours

Frank Sinatra White House

Frank Sinatra Sings at the White House (1973 – Complete Film)

Frank Sinatra White HouseIt would always be a great time to rediscover this wonderful treasure, but it’s especially apt now, in this, Frank Sinatra’s centenary year. On April 17th, 1973, Frank Sinatra performed at the White House, on the occasion of a state dinner in honor of Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy, with President Nixon, First Lady Pat and assorted dignitaries as his audience. It was a sterling show, and it was recorded, but never officially released. For my part I didn’t even know that a complete film of the evening even existed, although the audio has been released over the years in bootlegged form. (My first encounter with the concert was hearing the great Jonathan Schwartz play some extracts of it on New York’s old WQEW in the early 1990s, when I also happened to be in the first full flush of Sinatra fan-dom.)

Frank Sinatra had famously announced his retirement in March of 1971, so this 1973 show was a special exception to that status … and also turned out to be effectively the end of it. His orchestra on the night was the United States Marine Band, with the great Nelson Riddle conducting (including on some of his own classic arrangements), with Al Viola sitting in on guitar and naturally Bill Miller on piano. Continue reading Frank Sinatra Sings at the White House (1973 – Complete Film)

Frank Sinatra Send in the Clowns

Frank Sinatra – “Send in the Clowns”

Frank Sinatra Send in the Clowns“Send in the Clowns”: It’s an odd song, isn’t it? A bit queer, you could even say. It’s not so easy to get a handle on what it’s about. But undeniably it’s also rather rich, in terms of its musical dynamics and lyrical drama, and I do think that’s why so many singers have been drawn to taking it up and seeing what they can make of it. It’s been sung by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Grace Jones to Roger Whittaker to Van Morrison to … well, maybe that’s quite enough range right there for any song to claim. Continue reading Frank Sinatra – “Send in the Clowns”

Billie Holiday centenary

Billie Holiday and What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Billie Holiday centenaryToday’s the centenary of the great Billie Holiday’s birth, on April 7th, 1915. She died far too soon, only 44 years on the earth. Although she packed a good deal of wonderful music into her career, imagine what she’d have accomplished given another couple of decades; with her light, unstrained but supremely articulate way of singing (and given good health) she could have gone on to make masterpieces and electrify audiences well into her old age. Looking back from the perspective of 2015 it seems like hers was one of the first of the celebrated premature deaths of great musical talents that became a long tragic string. Continue reading Billie Holiday and What a Little Moonlight Can Do

Leonard Cohen and George Jones

Leonard Cohen’s Bow to George Jones

George Jones Leonard CohenLeonard Cohen is about to release an album of recordings from his most recent concert tours: not so much the hits as the rarities. On it will be his performance of “Choices,” a song that George Jones made his own and made famous. George Jones and Leonard Cohen were both on concert tours in 2013. George Jones was then 81; Cohen a fresh-faced 78 going on 79. George Jones didn’t quite make it through his tour, falling ill and then passing away on April 26th. His had been intended as a farewell tour, and indeed it was titled “The Grand Tour,” after his classic record of the same name. And Leonard Cohen’s new album is titled Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour. Continue reading Leonard Cohen’s Bow to George Jones

Shadows In The Night: A Sinatra Tribute or NOT a Sinatra Tribute?

Bob Dylan Tribute to Frank Sinatra?Back when the album Shadows in the Night by Bob Dylan was first announced, in May of 2014, Rolling Stone magazine and others were all labeling it as “Dylan does Sinatra.” Although Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan have long been the sun and moon in my own musical consciousness (and I’ve always been fascinated by any even-tentative connections between them) I greatly hesitated about jumping on that notion, knowing that a lot of people who don’t know better tend to regard any old popular standards as “Frank Sinatra songs.” We didn’t have a track list. It wasn’t clear what the album was really going to be based upon.

Then we got the track list, and it was immediately obvious to any serious Sinatra aficionado that this album was in fact centered around songs closely associated with Frank; it included songs written for him, songs debuted by him, one cowritten by him, no less than four from a single Sinatra album (1957’s Where Are You?), and most were songs where Sinatra’s rendition is indisputably the one that matters most in musical history. (“That Lucky Old Sun” is an exception, and “Some Enchanted Evening” is assuredly a song that almost everyone has done.) Continue reading Shadows In The Night: A Sinatra Tribute or NOT a Sinatra Tribute?