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Bob Dylan – Shadows In The Night

February 7, 2015

Bob Dylan Shadows

Bob Dylan, like his state-mate Prince, continues to know how to play the PR game keeping his name in the press regarding his latest artistic expression. The headline is that Shadows In The Night is Dylan’s Frank Sinatra album.  Is it a joke?  Is he being ironic?  Is he just another aging pop star trying to make a quick buck of the great American songbook?

Well I am here to tell you Dylan is serious and that he has approached this project authentically.  Let’s backtrack – Dylan has always been a musicologist,  with expert knowledge of the last couple hundred years of the people’s music (pop, rock, folk, country, blues, etc.).  Throughout his career he has returned to the musical equivalent of comfort food.  He clearly loves the kind of music Sinatra made famous.  It is hard not to be a pop music fan and not appreciate what Sinatra could do with a song.

Every few years I am reminded of Sinatra’s greatness: a song in a movie, an old clip on TV, an accolade by a respected musician, a cover version, crate digging, etc.  Today it is this devoted tribute by Dylan.  A great cover song of well established songs needs to be reinvention, if not a deconstruction.  The cover needs to have the fingerprints of the originator and the interpreter.  Shadows In The Night hits it out of the park.  This is clearly a Dylan album, but it is also a tribute.  It bangs you over the head with how truly great the Great American Song book is both lyrically and musically. And who, frankly, would know better than a the melded mind of Sinatra and Dylan.

My first listen to this LP (yes I am listening to the vinyl version) sounded a bit like Dylan was acting – pretending to be a crooner.  I tweeted that Dylan’s croon sounds like the Electric Fetus’s floors are creaky (which is one of the best sounds in the word). But repeated listens to this album reveals Dylan’s authentic voice.

He has been hinting at this album since Time Out Of Mind.  On each of his albums over that last 15 years, Dylan has written and performed original songs that would not sound out-of-place on Shadows In The Night.  On his latest tour he has been playing “Stay With Me,” which is an obscure song affiliated with Sinatra.  When I heard this song at Dylan show this past fall it was the highlight of the night.   I assumed it was a Dylan song I had not heard before.   It was only afterwards, when reading reviews, that I learned it was part of the Sinatra catalog. That night Dylan gave that song the most love of any song of the show and his most conventionally beautiful vocal treatment. The phlegm had been cleared away for this treat.

Dylan makes these songs his own.  First and foremost this is the best “Dylan Voice” in years.  It is as unique as his Nashville Skyline voice.  And like that voice, Dylan is not being a mimic, but he is in a mood:  late at night, reflective and slightly sentimental.  This voice is proof that his  current gravel of a voice is intentional and not a damaged wreck.  Second he has arranged the songs for the Bob Dylan Band (not the traditional Nelson Riddle treatment/mimic).  The primary instrument is pedal steel (an unusual, yet perfect choice – it is like a sob in the night).  Third Dylan has clearly study these songs and thought about how he would present them – it sounds intentional and not tossed off – and that is a good thing.  The album has a melancholy feel both lyrically and musically which seems appropriate to where Dylan is in his career and life.

The important message I want to report is that this album works – it is not a novelty album, but a legitimate artistic statement by one of the most important pop artist of our time.  That message is that great songs are great songs.  Songs so great that Dylan would perform them in a tender and wistful manner.  Dylan once said:

Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king

On Shadows In The Night, Dylan is king.  I have listened to this album about ten times this week and every time I hear it sounds better and moves me more.  Another brilliant Dylan surprise.  Dylan’s voice and phrasing are the perfect vessel to carry these gems into my ears.

Unfortunately Sony and Dylan decided to not put this album on Spotify – hopefully it will show up later.  In the meantime here is a playlist of the Sinatra “originals.”

 

While writing up my best of 2015 I noticed the album was now on Spotify:

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From → Music Reviews

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