Friday, March 27, 2015

Bob Dylan 59: Shadows In The Night

Just when we think we’ve reached saturation on established artists reinterpreting the Great American Songbook, here comes another. The easy go-to concept for Shadows In The Night is that it’s Bob Dylan singing Frank Sinatra. While these songs are certainly associated with Frank, it’s safe to assume Bob’s familiar with other versions. However, a comparison to Frank’s recordings proves that those arrangements are the ones that Bob’s band labored to replicate to scale.
Seeing as Frank co-wrote “I’m A Fool To Want You”—and it’s still considered to be an ode to Ava Gardner—there’s no escaping the connotation. Here, with the barest echo of brass in the back of the mix, it’s a close cousin to the lovelorn music of Time Out Of Mind. The same goes for the weariness in “The Night We Called It A Day”, but the theme switches for “Stay With Me”, which, despite the assumption of the title, is actually something of a hymn. He sounds shakiest here, but still believable. “Autumn Leaves” is one of the shorter tracks, the bulk of it devoted to the intro, and you can just hear the guitar mimicking the wind in between the lines of the first verse. “Why Try To Change Me Now” effectively sums up his entire career, delivered with more of a shrug than a sob.
Familiarity with such oft-heard chestnuts can only inspire comparisons, so it’s hard to approach tracks like “Some Enchanted Evening” and “What’ll I Do” with complete objectivity. Let’s just say that the middle-eight of the latter should have been phrased a little tighter than he has. “Full Moon And Empty Arms” is the oldest song here, adapted from a Rachmaninoff melody, and some of those off notes are actually part of the original, proving his ear is spot on. “Where Are You?” was the title track of a Sinatra album that included three others of the songs here, and again, Bob nails it. Saving the best for last, “That Lucky Old Sun” is more associated with Ray Charles, or at least is was when Bob first started playing it three decades ago with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Without the Queens of Rhythm, it’s even better here.
As noted, the band is terrific throughout Shadows In The Night, and Bob wisely doesn’t strain his voice past the point of tolerance. Recorded at Capitol Studios (the host, coincidentally or not, of such recent albums as Paul McCartney’s standards set, Neil Young’s orchestral experiment, and those updated Basement Tapes) with just a few mikes, you can hear his wheezy breath between the occasional verses. Most reports agreed that these weren’t the only songs recorded during the sessions, suggesting—dare we dream—the possibility of a sequel. One should always expect a curveball when Dylan’s on the mound.

Bob Dylan Shadows In The Night (2015)—

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