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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

'Great American Songbook' author Carl Sigman's compositions newly revived by Bob Dylan,

Bob Dylan "I Could Have Told You"

No surprise at the big stir caused by word that Bob Dylan's next release, Triplicate (March 31), is not only a three-disc set, but is comprised completely of "Great American Songbook" covers--30 in all and including such chestnuts as "Stormy Weather" and "As Time Goes By."

No surprise, too, that Dylan chose to revive Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Carl Sigman's "I Could Have Told You," since even though Sigman died in 2000, the collaborator on such classics as "Ebb Tide" and "What Now My Love" is on somewhat of a career roll.

Just in the last two months alone Sigman's songs have also been covered by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, She & Him, and Los Angeles teen band the Regrettes (all three acts recording the holiday staple "A Marshmallow World"), and Alison Krauss ("Losing You"). And these compositions, like "I Could Have Told You," are hardly Sigman's best-known entries in a rich catalog also highlighted by "Pennsylvania 6-5000," "All Too Soon," "Crazy He Calls Me," "It's All in the Game," "Answer Me, My Love," “You're My World," "A Day in the Life of a Fool," and "Where Do I Begin (Love Story)."

Additionally, the Krauss and Dylan cuts are the first featured ones from their forthcoming albums, Krauss's being Windy City, due Feb. 17, with a live version also included in the deluxe edition. Sigman copyrights have been used, too, in recent TV commercials like a Google spot featuring Darlene Love's immortal version of "A Marshmallow World" from A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, a Target holiday campaign that used Karen O's take on "A Marshmallow World" and Verizon Fios's use of "Solfeggio," famously a part of the legendary Ernie Kovacs Show's "Nairobi Trio" gorilla band segments, for which Sigman supplied the words to his "Ebb Tide" collaborator Robert Maxwell's tune.

"I Could Have Told You," which Sigman wrote with Jimmy Van Heusen, concerns a fleeting love affair with a straying woman. It was originally recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1953--when Dylan was 13--and has now exchanged pedal steel guitar for Nelson Riddle’s string section.

“I've been listening to it over and over," says Michael Sigman, Carl's eldest son, and a writer whose book History of the Music Biz, published last year by Hits Magazine, featured interviews with luminaries like Berry Gordy, Jac Holzman, Clive Davis and Marshall Chess together with observations gleaned from his many years heading the music trade magazine Record World (it will soon be followed by a second volume).

Sigman also works closely with Music Sales, the company that owns the publishing rights to his father's catalog.

"You could be forgiven for thinking that Sinatra's version was definitive, but Dylan’s bittersweet, countrified arrangement is a perfect backdrop for some of the best singing my all-time favorite artist and songwriter has done in a long time," says Sigman. "Over the past 80 years, my dad's songs have been covered by thousands of artists, but I can say without hesitation that this is the most thrilling one of all for me."

Sigman says that shortly before his father's death at 91, there was a tribute to him at his golf club in Florida, during which the audience sang along with his standards.

"He was a modest man, and truly couldn't believe that his songs were still remembered," Sigman recalls. "If he knew that Bob Dylan was singing one of his personal favorites all these years later, he would be utterly floored.”

Dylan, whose last two albums (Shadows in the Night, 2015, and Fallen Angels, 2016) were comprised almost entirely of songs sung by Sinatra, cited "Ebb Tide" in his 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One as a "phenomenal" song that "never failed to fill me with awe," with lyrics that were "so mystifying and stupendous."

Listening to Sinatra sing it, "I could hear everything in his voice--death, God, the universe--everything," noted Dylan, who has also performed Sigman's "It's All In The Game" and "Answer Me, My Love" in concert and programmed his "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)" on his Theme Time Radio Hour show for Sirius XM Radio.

And as for Krauss's version of "Losing You"—a No. 6 hit for Brenda Lee in 1963 co-written by Jean Renard--Sigman says, "I didn't think anyone could ever match Brenda Lee's heart-wrenching rendition of 'Losing You'--produced by Owen Bradley and recorded when she was 19--but Alison brings a maturity and depth to the song that adds luster to the copyright."

Sigman notes that since 2010 there have been some 50 covers of his father's songs by varied artists including Cassandra Wilson, Mandy Barnett, Prince Buster, Lloyd Price, Paul Carrack, Audra McDonald, Ronnie Milsap, Herb Alpert, Andrea Bocelli, Seth MacFarlane, and even Elvis Presley—via a previously unissued "What Now My Love."

Additionally, rapper G-Easy sampled "My Way of Life" twice on his 2015 album When It's Dark Out. Meanwhile, Southside Johnny is now recording an album of Billie Holiday songs, including "Crazy He Calls Me," which has also been covered notably by the likes of Dinah Washington, Linda Ronstadt, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Tony Bennett and Rod Stewart.

"Now that Dylan has weighed in, that only leaves the Beatles!" says Sigman, adding, "I’m told on good authority that in the Abbey Road vaults there’s a 33-second Fab Four outtake from a 1964 session of 'You're My World'--the year Cilla Black hit with the song via an epic George Martin production. Time for that to see the light of day!"

Reflecting on his father's oeuvre, Sigman says that Carl Sigman was "a 'utility man' kind of songwriter, which is to say that he wrote all kinds of songs in all kinds of styles, co-wrote with vastly different collaborators from all over the world--Duke Ellington, Bob Hilliard, Bob Russell, James Last, Gilbert Becaud, former vice president Charles Dawes, Robert Maxwell, Francis Lai, Peter DeRose--and wrote words and/or music. So one or another of his songs works for a wide range of artists."

He concludes: "I haven't been that surprised by the stream of covers over the years, but am knocked out that two of my all-time faves--Alison Krauss and especially Bob Dylan--have featured these less well-known songs at the same time, in 2017!"

Alison Krauss "Losing You"



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