Shadows in the Night, Bob Dylan

Shadows in the Night, Bob Dylan

Seth Montpelier '18, STAFF WRITER

The excitement of a new Dylan album was, admittedly, a bit spoiled when it was announced that it would be a set of Sinatra covers. It is always better when The Master of Lyrics is writing his own words. However, the album is a surprising delight that shows Bob’s skill as an arranger.

Being one of the greats with many miles behind him, this record doesn’t rank in Dylan’s top 10. Probably not even his top 15. But, this is a minor gem. There are numerous Sinatra cover albums out there, but this one stands out. This is, partly, because Dylan doesn’t go for the wildly popular hits. There are already millions of covers of “The Way You Look Tonight,” as lovely as it is. He goes for the hidden masterpieces, the darker numbers.

A wordsmith first, Dylan picks clever tracks, like “The Night We Called It A Day,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “Full Moon And Empty Arms.” The songs are painful, but there is a modest width hiding beneath that heartache. This makes it worthwhile. Nobody wants to hear Bob Dylan singing simple lyrics in worn-thin love songs. He picks songs that are not cliched with saccharine lyrics. That’s part of the pleasure.

The true achievement in the album is how Dylan and his band pared down these songs with huge orchestrations for a five-piece band. This is no simple feat. To many, these tracks might be hard to recognize. It’s great that his touring guitarist Charlie Sexton is on board, as he has an ear for almost any genre. The MVP, however, is Donny Herron on the pedal steel guitar. He stands out on almost every track. He determines whether the tracks will have an old country feel or a classic Hawaiian sound. The stripped down approach removes the drama of full band and finds the gloomy, crestfallen, and atmospheric tones hidden deep in these songs. This is no pop album.

The main concern, which many people reading now have surely been wondering, is Dylan’s voice. It can be assured that he finds a croon that goes wonderfully with his picks. That’s not to say his voice is clean. There is still a croak and a lot of rasp, but Dylan takes special time with these songs. He seems to be preparing, measuring his breaths. This might be because these are not his and he wants to handle them with care and respect. Of course, he has never been able to shake off the reputation of his voice, which is sad. It’s never been bad and, in fact, he has one of best voices in history. Most pure pop voices of today sound the same. Dylan had a sneer and often a modesty, which was a great way to compliment his lyrics. It worked well in the ‘60s and he found a way to make it work after he’d blown his chops in the ‘90s. He has a growl and embodies the aging outlaw with more than a few stories to tell. Here, however, the outlaw is more guarded and self-depreciating. The best example would be one of the album’s best tracks, Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do.”

Of course, everybody hopes Dylan will churn out a studio album of originals soon. This album will go down as a one-off. But, it is great, without question. It will deserve many plays on rainy days or maybe in the wee small hours of the morning. It was meant for these. Dylan is on a streak in his third act. Here’s hoping he can keep it going.

 

4 out of 5 dolphins