Release Date: Feb 3, 2015
Record label: Columbia
It’s obviously up against some stiff competition from lingerie adverts and festive albums that came with free Christmas cards, but there’s an argument that Shadows in the Night may be the most improbable moment yet in Bob Dylan’s latterday career. By releasing a collection of standards from the great American songbook, Dylan, presumably inadvertently, joins in a trend begun 14 years ago by Robbie Williams. Ever since Williams proved that you could sell 7m copies of Swing When You’re Winning to an audience who’d never previously evinced much interest in the work of Cole Porter or Johnny Mercer, the great American songbook album has become a kind of sine qua non among rock stars of a certain vintage.
If there’s anything that can be said about cover albums at this point in musical history, it’s that they’ve garnered a rather sketchy reputation. There’s a lingering impression of haste, even laziness, as if the artist who released them was too pressed for time or low on energy to release an album of original material. Furthermore, it has become standard procedure for every great rock-and-roll musician to lean on the Great American Songbook from time to time.
If Bob Dylan had recorded Shadows In The Night, his new collection of 10 songs associated with Frank Sinatra, at any time before now, it wouldn’t have been right. These songs are so lived-in and well-worn; they weren’t written for a young man to sing. They’re difficult and a lot more tricky and nuanced than any of the other songs Dylan’s interpreted before this, and if he’d taken them on earlier, he may not have been up to the task and given in to the easy seduction of ironic delivery or parody.
The whole idea of the gravel-throated Bob Dylan singing material Frank Sinatra covered seems absurd. Dylan is well-known for having a terrible voice, Sinatra for having a great one—indeed, Sinatra’s first studio album back in 1946 was called The Voice. However, Dylan manages to successfully cover Sinatra on his newest album, Shadows in the Night, by using a method made famous by the Chairman of the Board.
Ifthere is an IlluminatithenBob Dylan issomehow affiliated. Frank Sinatra wasdefinitelyan Illuminatus. If Tempest was hellfire apocalypse romance,prophesied steampunk armageddon,then Shadows in The Night is the revelationof the true nature of the American songbook. The American songbook is a catalogue of occult hymns.
As an encore at almost every show on his North American tour last fall, Bob Dylan performed an unlikely ballad: "Stay With Me," recorded by Frank Sinatra on a 1964 single and written for a 1963 film, The Cardinal, about a young priest who ascends to a post in the Vatican. Sinatra cut the song, a prayer for guidance, as if from on high, in orchestration as grand as papal robes. On this quietly provocative and compelling album, Dylan enters the words and melody — as he did onstage — like a supplicant, in a tiptoe baritone through streaks of pedal steel guitar that suggest the chapel-like quiet of a last-chance saloon.
The latest album from music’s sliest quick-change artist sounds like a dare, or a joke. Dylan doing Sinatra? The croaker doing the crooner? It sounds as crazy as Bob's bomb Christmas album from five years ago. Surprise! On the new “Shadows in the Night,” Dylan redefines the songs entirely, making them conform to his character rather than the other way around.
Other people's songs have long been a staple for Bob Dylan, who first made his name in Greenwich Village by singing folk songs in the early '60s and often returned to old tunes as the years rolled by. Sometimes, he'd dip into the pre-WWII collection of standards known as the Great American Songbook, peppering set lists with unexpected selections as early as the '80s and even covering Dean Martin's "Return to Me" for The Sopranos in 2001, and he's made no secret of his affection for old-fashioned crooning on the records he's made since 2001's Love and Theft, but even with this long history of overt affection for pre-rock & roll pop, the existence of 2015's Shadows in the Night might come as a surprise. Shadows in the Night finds the songwriter whose work marks the divide where artists were expected to pen their own material finding sustenance in the Great American Songbook, with every one of its songs recorded at some point by Frank Sinatra.
Shadows in the Night is an album that requires you to check your tablet device at the door. It asks you to stop snarkily tweeting while tracking your ex’s doings online, to unlearn the crass language of interpersonal relations established over the past 50 years and re-enter an age where wistfulness was as close as pop came to emotional catharsis. Vituperative backchat had probably been invented at cocktail parties by this point, but little of it had made its way into mass-market romantic song.
Few things symbolize creative death as succinctly as the standards album, now a frequent terminal point for aging artists who seek to forestall the end of their productive output by capitalizing on the golden-hued nostalgia of bygone hits. Not so, of course, for Bob Dylan, who's made an entire career out of defying expectations, and continues to willfully resist classification and fogeyism, even on an album of which 50,000 free copies will be issued to randomly chosen AARP members. The standard Dylan inscrutability ends up turning what could have been a straightforward snooze—10 covers of songs made famous by Frank Sinatra—into another eccentric, quietly effective outing, building on themes of melancholy and loss amid the less bombastic corners of Ol' Blue Eyes's early oeuvre.
A side effect of the sort of mistrust in which ‘umble web reviewers are held these days is that I couldn’t listen to Shadows in the Night until after print outlets had published their reviews, meaning I write this in the knowledge that it has now officially been decreed that Bob Dylan has Done It Again. Even when he’s not breaking out those famous words of his and instead covering a bunch of old Frank Sinatra standards, he is still a legit genius etcetera – in fact, since I’ve been writing this, a special press email has been sent out to stress just how brilliant the reviews were, which is a fairly unusual move, but then this is Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan!!! – we’re talking about. It’s interesting to contrast with the reception of his last cover sets.
Nobody asked Bob Dylan to record an album of old standards popularized by Frank Sinatra. Not even the 50,000 randomly chosen AARP The Magazine subscribers who found a free copy of Shadows in the Night in their mailboxes earlier this month. Then again, nobody asked Dylan to “go electric,” hole up with The Band in the basement of a pink house, or embark on a Never Ending Tour, either.
Is Bob Dylan trolling us? His 36th studio album, Shadows in the Night, is a collection of old jazz crooner standards most closely associated with Frank Sinatra. It’s an idea seemingly as weird as his phlegmy Christmas album or his leering Victoria’s Secret ad. In the '60s, Sinatra was arguably for squares; entrenched in Vegas and disdainful of rock'n'roll (which he had called "the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear"), he represented the establishment against which the counterculture was kicking, and that made him a kind of anti-Dylan.
On the release of his 1970 covers album ‘Self Portrait’, Bob Dylan was crucified. “What is this shit?” sneered Rolling Stone. Now, though, he’s earned the right to do what he wants. In 2010, he tackled festive favourites on ‘Christmas In The Heart’, and this 36th studio album collects jazzy standards once recorded by Frank Sinatra.
Call them standards if you must — imagine dusty old classics of the so-called Great American Songbook. But as interpreted by Bob Dylan, more accurate is to consider the entirety of "Shadows in the Night" as a gathering of meditations, or a booklet of hymns, or a selection of reveries. Ten songs, 34 minutes, a soaring lifetime's worth of emotion conveyed with the fearlessness of a cliff diver spinning flips and risking belly flops in the open air — that's Dylan and his band on the graceful, often breathtaking "Shadows." The record comes out Feb.
Releasing a record of standards covers is not a new or innovative concept. Rod Stewart pulled it off to great effect at the beginning of this century. Lady Gaga dropped her own takes from the Great American Songbook with Tony Bennett last year. Hell, even Sir Paul McCartney has taken a crack at it ….
Good God! After all these years and all those albums, Bob Dylan still retains the power to surprise us and reinvent himself with his music. When Shadows in the Night was announced last year, it sounded like another of Dylan’s late-career oddities – like his Christmas album or his cameo appearance on Pawn Stars. Surely he couldn’t be entirely serious about recording an album of moody pop ballads previously sung with finesse by Frank Sinatra? When you think of Dylan, you think of singer-songwriter.
During the pre-release publicity drum-up, Bob Dylan described what he and his long-term touring band are up to on this hushed collection of 10 tunes associated with Frank Sinatra as uncovering, as opposed to merely covering, these timeworn fixtures of the Great American Songbook. It sounds like the sort of randomly oblique pronouncement an artist with an army of devotees dedicated to analysing his each and every pronouncement might be drawn to after five and a bit decades in the spotlight. However, it turns out Dylan was being unusually illuminating.
Bob Dylan is an amazing singer. He always has been, but his voice, like so many things in this life, isn't for everyone. With recent Bootleg Series releases for Self-Portrait and The Basement Tapes, Dylan's camp has been re-focusing attention on the one-in-a-million lyricist's gifts as an interpreter of other people's ideas. Of late Dylan's own songs have never been harsher: "I pay in blood / But not my own," he lashed out in a punk-infused rasp on 2012's biting Tempest.
If you care at all about Bob Dylan, you’ve known for some time now about “Shadows in the Night,” variously described as an album of pop standards and a tribute to Frank Sinatra, who had performed all the songs in question. Last May, Dylan posted his rendition of “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” a 1945 staple based on a Rachmaninoff riff, on YouTube. “Stay With Me,” written by Carolyn Leigh and Jerome Moross for a 1963 film score, was a set list staple on the autumn leg of Dylan’s Never Ending Tour.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS < @ptabakis > Bob Dylan’s latter-day career renaissance has not been without its head-scratchers. Perhaps you remember the Victoria's Secret commercial? Or Masked and Anonymous? How about the Christmas album? These have been the most recent blips in a career teeming with major bumps, and more than a few derailments. The quality of Zimmy’s output, if charted on a six-decade time series, would match the performance of a blue chip stock: a steady upward trajectory, sliced with high spikes and deep valleys.
It’s not a put-on. Bob Dylan’s “Shadows in the Night,” an album of 10 songs that were all recorded by Frank Sinatra, is a tribute from one venerated American musician to another, a reconsideration of a school of songwriting, a feat of technical nostalgia and a reckoning with love and death. Mr. Dylan devotes the album to a particular subset of the Sinatra legacy.
Bob Dylan Shadows in the Night (Columbia) Despite his late entry in the standards album game, Bob Dylan actually proposed such an endeavor 35 years ago in the wake of Willie Nelson's Stardust. Then-CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff refused to pay for it. A questionable business decision, but one that probably saved Dylan's take on the so-called "saloon songs" of Frank Sinatra from the horrors of Eighties production.