Melancholy Mood by Bob Dylan – a folk singer’s review

It is pointless to try and claim authority enough to pick apart the many influences and creative combinations that make up Bob Dylan’s latest work.

Everything from Love And Theft onwards has been too rich, too full of cultural sinew and the knotted roots of American heritage that it is impossible to unravel any one song.

On top of that, this is a Bob Dylan revealing to the world his mastery of music performance.

This is as far from early Dylan as you can get.

MusiCares Person Of The Year Tribute To Bob Dylan - Show
Bob Dylan speaks onstage at the 25th anniversary MusiCares 2015 Person Of The Year Gala Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Having said that, the fundamentals of his genius are as present as ever.

Dylan was always more than a writer. He is a performer of words, using them as an instrument, a compositional theme in the full symphony of his music.

From the opening 50 seconds of beautiful guitar work, to the smooth, fresh and really quite youthful vocals, Melancholy Mood is a masterclass in musical poise, phrasing and interpretative singing.

Dylan’s ventures into early popular standards not only reveal his range as an artist, they also bring home an often neglected part of his talent.

That he started out as a folk singer is important. Folk singers have to be able to find a new angle on an old song.

They have to strip the melody, chords and words down to their most basic, primal energy, and harness it for a performance that drives home the point.

That is what Dylan is doing here.

Songs like Melancholy Mood cannot be called covers. They are performances of standards, by a master of interpretation.

Dylan’s real talent is being able to get to the essence of an emotion, to the fundamentals of the human experience.

Taking standards and classic songs and applying this folk singer’s method is inspired.

The technical clout, and the depth of heritage in American song on show here is beyond my understanding.

All I can do is sit and marvel at the way Dylan focuses in on the bare necessities of each song, how his joyful phrasing dances across the tearful lyric.

There is an emotive counterpoint between the realities of life, and the instinct of the song. You feel your sadness, but you are relieved of the burden.

Dylan seems done with searing lyrics, with cool-lipped, fiery songs. However, he turns his talent to a less shamanic kind of healing, a more common sense entanglement with emotions.

The popular song is a limited art form, but its limitations are its strength. To home in on the emotion, to bite at its throat and let the juices run – that is what popular American songs can do like no other art form.

Dylan’s understanding of this power, and his complete ease in using it, make him the unchallenged king.

Forget the voice, forget associations of his name. This is Dylan demonstrating the power of one song to work its magic without you even knowing it.

Paul Newman once said that he became a better actor as he grew older. When asked to explain why he thought that, he said: “less is more”. I’m sure Dylan feels the same way about his craft.

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