Triplicate, Bob Dylan’s third collection of American classics, is the stuff of antique couples dressed impeccably for the weddings of their grandchildren, sliding timelessly across linoleum floors. It dances along the forgotten choreographies of ages long past and folds itself into pocket squares.
Sorrowful and full of longing, Dylan’s voice is an acquired taste that some just can’t get into. But for those who are, Triplicate offers a vocal depth and sincerity that’s complimented by its brushed symbols and sauntering upright base. Its loungey jazz instrumentations paint vignettes of bars you can still smoke inside — of heartache before emotion became synonymous with whining.
If Humphrey Bogart were still around, this would be the soundtrack of his lifetime montage. And it seems as though Dylan may be curating his own:
Broken into three overtly thematic discs, an even 10 cuts on each one, the first disc is a dreamy, nostalgic waltz with mortality. It has the sonic aesthetic of a yellowed page inked by the hands of legends, but forgotten on a bookcase for generations.
The second disc incorporates more sanguine tunes — mid-to-uptempo strides that bend wisdom into melody with a smile. Slowing for sentimental standouts like “As Time Goes By” and “How Deep Is the Ocean?,” the song choices are at once obvious and unassailable to those familiar with his cannon. But the gravelled grace he brings to them is unexpectedly touching.
And the third set balances out the first two, at times finds a fleeting smoothness that surrenders Dylan’s signature touch for something vocally transcendent.
This is a Frank Sinatra album, in terms of both its inspiration and the number of Sinatra songs that make an appearance. Admittedly, the unapologetic machismo of Sinatra’s affluent swagger feels a little ironic when filtered through Dylan’s legacy of working-class struggle and honest poetry. But as the years dig like tires into the worn dirt road of his voice, it comes across more like a loving subversion — the retirement of a reluctant revolutionary who never really did anything he didn’t feel inspired to do:
When God made music, he made a room in the human soul. For Bob Dylan, that room is his entire home. And in that regard, his philosophy is one of southern hospitality — everyone is welcome.
A consummately eclectic American musician, Dylan’s career-long refusal to be pigeonholed by the reductive expectations of his fanbase has always been a cause for both acclaim and derision. With the three-disc Triplicate, Dylan makes reductiveness even more impossible. It closes with “Why Was I Born?” — a song previously recorded by both Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, and likely referenced in his epic early 1960s memorial “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.”
It’s safe to say that after 38 studio albums, 11 live releases, and 14 compilations, we all know the answer.