IT'S FRIDAY MUSIC: Ol' Gravel Tones Dylan croons like Ol' Blue Eyes 

Bob Dylan: Fallen Angels (Columbia)

Verdict: Dylan revisits Sinatra 

Rating:

Bob Dylan performing during his 'Never Ending Tour' concert at The Beacon Theatre in New York, US

Bob Dylan performing during his 'Never Ending Tour' concert at The Beacon Theatre in New York, US

Half a century ago this week, Bob Dylan outraged his fans by picking up an electric guitar during a string of British concerts.

Instead of the acoustic fare that had made him famous, he played rock'n'roll — prompting one disgruntled folkie in Manchester to yell 'Judas!' at him.

One wonders what those jeering purists would think of him now. Half a century after moving from folk to rock, Dylan is reinventing himself as a crooner.

Fallen Angels is his second album of jazz classics and show tunes, and the sequel finds him harking back affectionately to the golden age of American song.

As with last year's chart-topping Shadows In The Night, there's a sizeable debt to Frank Sinatra. Of the 12 songs, all but one (Bing Crosby's Skylark), were recorded by Ol' Blue Eyes. And while Dylan's rasping death rattle of a voice has never been universally loved, he treats these standards with the respect they deserve.

If the tone on last year's collection was subdued, the mood here is playful. The orchestral arrangements that originally accompanied these songs have been simplified — jazzy guitars, brushed drums, subtle brass — and Dylan brings a breeziness to All Or Nothing At All (an early Sinatra single) and the bittersweet but buoyant Skylark.

He even, rather alarmingly, breaks into a chuckle on Glenn Miller's wartime hit That Old Black Magic.

It wouldn't be Dylan without some twists, of course. Some jarring guitar lines lend a melancholy edge to Young At Heart, and there are discordant moments on the Oscar-winning 1957 number All The Way, with the veteran rocker straining to hit the high notes.

But Fallen Angels reiterates his skill as an interpretive singer. His delivery on It Had To Be You is wonderfully languid, and he's so laid-back on Polka Dots And Moonbeams that he starts singing only halfway through the song. On the eve of his 75th birthday next week, he is maintaining his late-life purple patch. With a little help from Sinatra, Ol' Gravel Tones is still on a creative roll.

 

Eric Clapton: I Still Do (Bushbranch)

Verdict: Slowhand in the groove 

Rating:

Eric Clapton in concert at the Royal Albert Hall

Eric Clapton in concert at the Royal Albert Hall

Four years Dylan's junior, Eric Clapton also celebrates a significant anniversary this year. It was 50 summers ago that he joined Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in supergroup Cream, where his fiery fretwork saw him hailed by many as Britain's greatest rock guitarist.

Like Dylan, he is a mellower soul these days. He has cut back on touring and hinted at retirement, and the tasteful blues workouts on I Still Do find him firmly in his comfort zone.

He even covers songs by J.J. Cale, Robert Johnson and Dylan — writers he has called on many times before.

And yet, thanks perhaps to the input of veteran producer Glyn Johns (who last worked with him on 1978's Backless), he sounds more focused than he did on 2013's aimless (not to mention terribly titled) Old Sock.

Opening track Alabama Woman Blues sets the more muscular tone, and the mood is maintained on the accordion-driven Cypress Grove and original composition Spiral, a churning rocker bolstered by forceful yet intricate guitar work.

The soulful ballad I Will Be There features vocals from one Angelo Mysterioso, a credit that has prompted some to suggest the guest could be George Harrison (who once used a near-identical pseudonym), although it doesn't sound like the late Beatle, and Eric isn't telling.

Elsewhere, Dylan's I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine is given a lively, Cajun makeover, while acoustic lullaby Little Man, You've Had A Busy Day and closing track I'll Be Seeing You add sentimental notes.

The latter, a jazz ballad popularised by Sinatra and Billie Holliday, provides a touching finale. If, as Clapton has intimated, the song turns out to be his studio goodbye, it would make a fitting farewell.

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