There was the distinctive sound of a train crashing when it was announced that Bob Dylan was to cover the songs of Francis Albert Sinatra. Those still scarred by the horror of his Christmas album would have just about forgiven him that often hilarious misstep when he followed it with the very solid "Tempest". But even on that album the vocals often sounded like his larynx had been shredded during a vicious razor blade attack ("Paid in Blood"'). What damage then a couple of years later will he inflict on the great American Songbook?
Actually "Shadows in the Night" finds Dylan in good voice (relatively speaking), Certainly there are bum notes aplenty and passages so out of tune it sounds more like Tom Waits than ole Blue Eyes (the last line of the "Night we called it day" is a shocker). Yet to this reviewers pleasant surprise "Shadows in the night" is far from an unmitigated disaster and in parts is hugely enjoyable. In essence it does not divert radically from that road Dylan has travelled since "Modern Times" with music based on spare blues and country templates. And to those who want to rush to end one of the greatest musical journeys in modern music let us enjoy him while he is still here no matter how fallible he is. In this sense the excellent version of "That Lucky old sun", the yearning regret of "I'm a fool to want you" and a splendid languid country cover of "Autumn Leaves" are far more humane than the Buble style big band impersonations of artists like Rod Stewart who have milked this material dry. Dylan brings a ramshackle charm to there delivery that works very well and can be treasured. Alternatively other versions struggle and sink. "Some Enchanted Evening" is a first class honours degree stinker whilst sadly "Stay with Me" barely holds a candle compared to Sinatra's definitive take.
"Shadows in the night" is a classic curates egg and of course you would be better advised to save up your hard earned cash to get the best reissue of the past year and probably the last decade "The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 Box set". Similarly there is no substitute for the real thing and either a copy of Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours" or "Sings only for the lonely" would be a better investment. Bob Dylan is never going to record another "Blonde on Blonde", "Blood on the Tracks" or even "Time out of Mind" but he is still with us and by God he deserves our respect. For those who feel that this is not so much a "shadow in the night" as a shadow of his former self, then so be it. The irony is that the man who ushered in modern music as we know it, has once again returned to songs originating before the 1950's. This should not surprise us. Dylan has often looked backwards to move forward. "Shadows in the Night" is not essential but neither is it a lamentable mess. At minimum it is worthy of nvestigation. Finally a small nod to the mighty forces that he didn't attempt "My Way"!
Review by Red on Black