At 73 you’d think most musicians would probably wind down and put their feet up to enjoy the rewards of their hard work. But notorious as he is, Bob Dylan’s 36th album marks yet another triumph in a long list. Shadows in the Night is a collection of ten songs that are considered part of the Great American Songbook, songs originally recorded by Frank Sinatra. Obviously this means that many people are considering them covers of Sinatra, but Dylan has rebuked this claim, saying that these songs need to be considered and assessed as individual from anything that’s come before.
His husky baritone shines strongly, humming harmoniously through the songs, keeping them tempered and provocative.
And it’s certainly true that Dylan takes the source material and runs with it in the only way he can. Under his control, the songs have a definite languid and chilled vibe. The opening track, ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’, has to be one of the coolest openings to an album of all time. While you have those suave connotations of the original, the songs have found a different significance under Dylan’s tutelage.
His husky baritone shines strongly, humming harmoniously through the songs, keeping them tempered and provocative. For an album at this stage in his life he gives his strongest recorded vocal performance for years. ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ and ‘Why Try to Change Me Now’ are nothing short of brilliant in this respect. But what Dylan does with his vocal work is effectively twist these songs into dark, bluesy anthems, and he is shockingly successful in this endeavour. He brings out a real latent potential within the material, given that originally these songs arose from a period of Sinatra’s musical career that focused on heartache and loss.
The instrumental work is possibly the biggest contributor to the success here. Instead of the grandiose, big band sound that defines much of the instrumental work these songs are traditionally associated with, Dylan uses the likes of the pedal steel guitar, electric guitar, and bass minimally. The result is a fantastic concentration on perfecting the backing work, which assembles a relaxed, solemn and resonant atmosphere.
Yet arguably the best thing about this album is that it was rather unexpected. The thought that Dylan would release a ten-track rendition of Sinatra classics definitely shook me. You’d think it would be difficult for Dylan to succeed here but, like Dylan always does, he completely pulls it off, and he does so effortlessly and near flawlessly. It’s an album that is simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. After rocketing to the top of UK charts, Shadows in the Night isn’t a simple passing fad, but an essential listen for the sound of 2015.