Shadows in the Night
Artiste: Bob Dylan
Label: Sony Music
BOB Dylan is Bob Dylan. He definitely isn’t Frank Sinatra, and never would have been aspired to be one. So when we heard that he was attempting an album containing songs popularised by the older American hero, our question was: What on earth was he up to?
Thankfully, our fears were laid to rest after a few listens of ‘Shadows In The Night’, Dylan’s 35th studio album. With a voice that’s sounding smokier and mustier as he approaches his mid -70s, and an orchestration that will make you long for candlelights or full-moon nights, low-lit bars or a sky filled with stars, Dylan does his own take on Sinatra. Effortlessly and elegantly, he does it his way.
Strangely, Dylan avoids Sinatra’s anthem ‘My way’, whose words would have been equally suited to describe his own approach to music in particular, and life in general. And if you thought the album title would compulsorily mean a version of the brilliant ‘Strangers in the night’, he skips that one too. Sure enough, he doesn’t even touch done-to-death numbers like ‘Something stupid’, ‘Fly me to the moon’ and ‘Under my skin’.
The 10 songs Dylan chooses to interpret largely belong to an era preceding Dylan’s super success in the 1960s. Yet, only two would fit into the category of tunes that most people would recognise. He gives a completely different spin to the Rodgers-Hammerstein II beauty ‘Some enchanted evening’, charmingly singing the opening lines, “Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then that somehow, you’ll see her again and again.”
The other hit, ‘Autumn leaves’, may come across as one of the album’s weaker moments, but that’s because you would instantly compare it with some outstanding versions done in the past by singers Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa Simone, and the trumpet-saxophone jazz improvisation by Chet Baker and Paul Desmond. For that matter, even Bollywood’s Sapan Chakrabarti didn’t spare the song when he created ‘Tum bhi chalo’ in ‘Zameer’. Still, Dylan makes you hum along, even if in disagreement.
Of the other songs, Dylan gets into form instantly on the opening track ‘I’m a fool to want you’, where he changes the mood from “Time and time again I said I’d leave you, time and time again I went away” to “Take me back, I love you’” to “I can’t get along without you.”
‘The night we called it a day’ brims with romance on the lines, “There was a moon out in space, but a cloud drifted over its face.” On ‘Stay with me’, ‘Why try to change me now?’ and ‘That lucky old sun’, the vocal style is vintage Dylan, at times sounding uncomfortable in comparison to the originals, and yet proving how easily he’s adapted them to match his own style.
On ‘Full moon and empty arms’, a song which jointly names Buddy Kaye, Ted Mossman and famed Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff on writing credits, Dylan sings, “The moon is there for us to share but where are you?”
The next song, “Where are you?” has similar emotions as it goes, “Where are you? Where is my heart? Where is the dream we started? I can’t believe we parted?” And on Irving Berlin’s ‘What’ll I do’, he moans, “When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?” On each tune, a combination of trumpets, trombones, French horns, guitar, pedal steel and minimal percussion lend that special mood and ambience.
Yet, barring some of the unusual song choices, there’s nothing really new about this Dylan venture. It’s definitely not the first time he hasn’t written original material for a new album after his 1962 self-titled debut, as in late 2009, he attempted popular festive favourites in the album ‘Christmas in the Heart’. He’s also not the first person to record an album of Sinatra hits – after the jazz interpretations by the pianist Oscar Peterson and his trio in 1959, we have had attempts by Barry Manilow, Michael Bolton and, Teny Bennett, among others.
Likewise, Dylan is among the many singers to have attempted songs from the Great American Songbook, with the list also including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams. And he’s also not the only singer to try out cover versions of popular hits in recent months, as Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox have also done that.
In such a scenario, one may ask what’s new. Well, that’s the beauty of ‘Shadows in the Night’. Dylan sings these songs in such an individualistic manner that they are bound to keep your evenings enchanted.
RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding