Shadows In The Night – Bob Dylan
Rather like the sight of the first daffodil of spring a new album from Bob Dylan is always a welcome event. But whereas you know what you are going to get from a daffodil, the bard from Minneapolis is always prone to surprise his faithful (and long-suffering) adherents.
This album, Dylan’s 36th studio disc, is a case in point. Latterly Dylan has shown a predilection for exploring the back catalogues of Americana, none more so in his Theme Time Radio Show series. So an album devoted to some of the songs from Frank Sinatra’s catalogue is not so out of whack. And for the maturer artist – I’m thinking of Neil Young in particular – there is a developing FU trend. They’ve been there, done it and are now so well established that they now do what they want to do rather than conform to the commercial demands of their record companies. There is a little of that here.
An album of covers is usually the sign of someone who has lost their creative mojo and, having exhausted all the possible combination of greatest hits albums, are looking for a way to wind down their contractual obligations. But I’m not sure this album is such a cynical exercise. As some of the more perceptive reviewers have already pointed out, Dylan proclaimed his admiration for the depth and profundity of Sinatra’s voice in his memoirs of a decade or so ago, Chronicles, Volume One.
Of course, the problem is that Dylan’s voice bears no comparison with that of Sinatra. Dylan’s trademark was his rasping, almost untuneful voice, not the show-stopping, heart-pumping range of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Dylan is not seeking to go toe-to-toe with Sinatra – a futile exercise if there ever was one. Instead, he is intent of reinterpreting the songs in his own inimitable style.
Bravely, Dylan doesn’t mask his voice behind over-enhanced backing sounds or conceal his vocal deficiencies by hiding behind some strident backing vocals. What we have here is man meets microphone and, I have to say, whilst the range of his voice is a bit limited and occasionally strays into karaoke territory, it is better than it has been for some time.
The choice of songs is interesting. Anyone expecting to find Dylan’s take on My Way (no one can deconstruct that song like poor Sid Vicious did) or Strangers In The Night will be sorely disappointed. For sure, we have Some Enchanted Evening but for the most part the ten songs come from the lesser known parts of Sinatra’s repertoire and eschew, sensibly, the big ballads. For me, the best track is Why Try To Change Me Now which as well as a remarkable take on Sinatra’s original can be seen as Dylan’s rationale for embarking upon this unexpected turn in his recorded output.
Again, rather than have a full orchestra with saccharine strings and punchy brass, Dylan has opted for a five piece band who play unobtrusively in the background with Donny Herron’s pedal steel guitar superlatively understated providing the colour. But it is all a bit one-paced. The tempo doesn’t change from one track to another and it all becomes a bit samey and, dare I say it, dull.
Overall ,this is an interesting album and by no means a turkey but definitely one for the converted rather than would-be converts.