Last year, Bob Dylan released Shadows in the Night, a tribute to Frank Sinatra. Fallen Angels was recorded during the same sessions; Sinatra had recorded all but one of these compositions, too. For Shadows, Dylan chose crepuscular songs of loneliness and mortality, leaning toward obscurities. For Angels, he's selected love songs that are jazz standards: "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," "Skylark," "It Had to Be You." Think of this as Shadows' slightly brighter and more playful partner.
Dylan is again backed by his touring band (they come to the Mann on July 13), and steel guitarist Donnie Herron gently guides most of the melodies. "And if you should survive to a hundred and five / Look at all you'll derive out of bein' alive," Dylan, who turns 75 this week, sings with a wink in "Young at Heart." As on Shadows, he enunciates clearly in a ravaged but masterful voice, though when "That Old Black Magic" rises to a climax, that voice undermines the lyric. He respects these songs; as much as his own compositions, they're part of his, and our, history.
- Steve Klinge
Chance the Rapper
(Apple Music ★★★1/2)
Mixtapes used to be casual, tossed-off affairs giving rappers a chance to stretch out and experiment between official albums. The "official" mixtape - this is the Chicago rapper born Chancelor Bennett's third - blurs those lines. It's silly to call Coloring Book, with its seriousness of purpose and guest appearances by Kanye West, Future, and Kirk Franklin, anything other than an album.
And it is a mighty impressive album - available only on Apple Music, as the streaming music exclusivity wars continue. Along with Franklin, Chance also guested on "Ultra Light Beam," which pointed West's The Life of Pablo in a gospel direction. Coloring Book starts in a similar fashion, putting a top-notch West verse to use on the irresistibly energetic "All We Got," a celebration of the redemptive power of music.
From there - with boisterous horns, uplifting spirit, and Chance's varied vocal attack (he's a singer who doesn't need to be Auto-Tuned), as well as a guest list that includes Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and T-Pain - Coloring Book brings the gospel-rap-pop fusion to more consistent fruition. "I don't make songs for free, I sing for freedom," Chance raps on an album that at its heart is about pain and suffering endured by the poor in his native Chicago, and music's role in helping them rise above it.
- Dan DeLuca
One of the best things that happened to 22-year-old Ariana Grande - inheritor of Mariah Carey's crown as soul-pop's youngest multi-octave vocalist - was Saturday Night Live. As it did with Taylor Swift, the comedy show allowed the usually stiff live performer to loosen up and demonstrate another side of herself. Grande has opened her jazzier vocal sound and found more minimalist production values that make her lyrical emotionalism shine on Dangerous Woman, her third album.
"All I want to do is fall in deep," she sings with a soft, strong quaver against a murmured syn-bass line and finger-snap percussion on "Into You." It's a torrid track whose chorus blossoms into full-blown electro-disco.
Grande maintains cool but mighty distance on the slick faux-blues of the title song, on which her quick-speak and multitracked runs are a highlight. "Side to Side" offers a dubby, dance-hall vibe and a naughty Nicki Minaj rap, and "Leave Me Lonely" is, weirdly, an even better pairing. The gruff-voiced Macy Gray and the usually smooth Grande go toe-to-toe creating sleek soul that's scuffed up like pricey patent leather after a mud storm. Brava, girl.
- A.D. Amorosi