thu 18/01/2018

Albums of 2015: Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of 2015: Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night

Albums of 2015: Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night

Dylan's twilight tour-de-force makes the old quite new

Dylan in late 50s mode

From the younger generation’s offerings of the past year, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly stands out, sparkling with invention, risk-taking, personal openness and social engagement. Bob Dylan’s interpretation of songs made famous by Frank Sinatra, would seem, in comparison, to be taking a more conservative path, revisiting songs that sat squarely in the middle of the road when they were first written, mostly before the mid-point of the last century.

And yet... Dylan’s sweetly melancholic series of classics from the great American Song Book have a freshness that makes them totally of now. Every song was recorded live without overdubs, with veteran engineer Al Schmitt’s microphones strategically placed to record Dylan’s super-smooth road-band, along with some discrete but moody trombones, a softly played trumpet, and French horns.

There is plenty of regret here too, but tinged with a longing for redemption

Today’s rappers spit out syncopated rhymes that speak poetic and political truths with attitude, just as Dylan snarled in fiery protest five decades ago. But the honesty displayed on Shadows in the Night is of a different and more perennial nature. This is ageless music, and yet spoken with the humility of age, a sense of self and its limitations that resonates with wisdom. These songs are about love, loss and longing. Each one is a well-honed jewel, a miniature masterpiece of understatement, at once cool in its reserve and yet burning with passion.

There is plenty of regret here too, but tinged with a longing for redemption: on "Stay with Me", a plea coloured in equal measure with beauty and pain, the wounded lover, begging for forgiveness, sings "I grow cold and weary, and I know I have sinned". The honeyed swathes of Donny Herron's steel guitar bathe the song in a soft evening light, the dying sun ablaze, as it sets on a life lived with no holds barred. On "What I'll Do", Dylan slows his pace right down, dangerously close to the utter stillness at the heart of individual loneliness. On "That Lucky Old Sun", a fitting end to this extraordinary emotional journey, Dylan's voice playfully reaches into the upper register, breaking into the tenor charm of his now-lost youth.

Dylan has moved on – as he has so often done, in a series of self re-inventions – from the delicate croak of his senior's voice. He now sings with a crooner’s smoothness, but shot through with irony and resignation. The joy felt by those who have followed every twist and turn in this genius’s long career, lies in realising that so much of the extraordinary talent he displays in these renditions of Sinatra favourites was latent, in various forms, from the romanticism of tracks on his very first album Bob Dylan, through the heart-breaking emotion on Blood on the Tracks or Nashville Skyline. This is a new Dylan indeed, but also the wise old man that, in many ways, he always was.

Comments

Thanks, and very well said. This is indeed the work of a master, and I believe my father, who grew up (and raised me) on Sinatra would have enjoyed this album, too. It really speaks to Dylan's singularity of vision. There is beauty in his renditions, beauty for the ages. I wonder if there's a second set of Shadows awaiting somewhere? But still ... very thankful for these 10 soft shadows of songs that Bob has cast.

I read that there are another 12 tracks from these sessions still in the can, so I think a follow up album may be imminent.

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