Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy 2017! We Open Mellow With Bob Dylan's Shadows In The Night!

The Good: Great vocals, Interesting musical accompaniment
The Bad: SHORT, Somewhat monotonous overall sound
The Basics: Bob Dylan does intriguing interpretations of classic club songs made popular by Frank Sinatra, which allows him to highlight his vocal abilities without making a truly stellar collection.

Happy 2017! 2016 is over and I, for one, am happy to close the book on that year that was packed with political disillusionment and deaths of artists and celebrities both tragic and heartbreaking. Thinking about 2016 put me in something of a melancholy mood and to mull for a while, I pulled out Bob Dylan's Shadows In The Night for enjoyment and review.

Shadows In The Night is a 2015 cover album of Bob Dylan's whereby the artist reinterpreted classic songs made famous by Frank Sinatra (Sinatra himself was only involved with co-writing one of the songs). Perhaps Shadows In The Night was a mistake; it is a very melancholy album, which is great for wallowing, but not so wonderful for getting out of one's introspective mood! It is worth noting up front that I am not overly familiar with the works of Frank Sinatra; I know who he was, but it was a few tracks into Shadows In The Night before I realized that I could probably not pick out a Frank Sinatra performance from a line-up of crooners. As such, this review of Shadows In The Night is very much on Bob Dylan's work, with no real comparative analysis to how the tracks contrast with Frank Sinatra's performances of the same songs.

With only ten songs, clocking out at 35:17, the biggest strike against Shadows In The Night is that it is short. The duration of the album reminds me of just how disappointed I have been over the long-term with the career of Sophie B. Hawkins; I have a radio interview with Hawkins where she discusses how she got signed to a label. In the interview, Hawkins references winnowing down her songbook from hundreds of songs to about the dozen best in order to record her demo tape and first album. With hundreds of songs before she released her debut, it is depressing to consider that Hawkins has only produced five albums. The point here being, there is a vast amount of material that remains unheard and Shadows In The Night could have been twice as long and utilized the c.d. medium better and presented Dylan's full attempt at covering Frank Sinatra, as opposed to this "highlights album."

Shadows In The Night has Bob Dylan presenting the vocals and producing the album, but otherwise generating very little for the album. Dylan is not credited with playing any instruments and he did not write any of the songs on Shadows In The Night (which makes sense for a cover album). Shadows In The Night has Dylan as performer, not artists . . . save that he reinterpreted the classic Sinatra-performed songs.

Unfortunately, for however original Dylan's takes on Sinatra's songs might be, Shadows In The Night is very musically uninteresting. Dylan is accompanied by the trumpet, pedal steel, and other (minimal) instrumentation, mostly brass. The songs are homogeneously slow and contemplative in their music. Shadows In The Night is moody and immersive, but track to track there is little differentiation. The album does an excellent job of sinking the listener into a morass of smoky depression and melancholy, but it does not change it up. One suspects that if the album were put on a loop, most listeners would listen to it on repeat forever without noticing where the album begins or ends, in one indistinct, depressive, loop.

That is not to say that Shadows In The Night is not good; it is. The highlight of Shadows In The Night are the vocals of Bob Dylan. Dylan performs each track with clear vocals, holding notes and articulating each word with clear passion and precision. The only song I knew coming into Shadows In The Night was "Some Enchanted Evening" and Dylan sings every line clearly and well, eliminating the stereotype that Dylan is a better writer than he is a vocalist. Dylan does not fundamentally change the lines or even the tempo, but he strips the songs back so they are vocally-dominated and his mood carries into every word. Every song on Shadows In The Night features Bob Dylan passionately and clearly singing in a way that perfectly conveys the sadness of the words he sings.

There are few artists who could get away with a moody cover album that is somewhat thematically and musically monotonous, but Dylan manages to pull it off with Shadows In The Night. Shadows In The Night is a sad little album that reminds viewers that Bob Dylan can sing, but allows listeners to enjoy that without having to pay so much attention to the lyrics and get into an activist mode from them.

The best track is "Stay With Me," there is no truly weak song, though none of the other songs really stand out.

For other Bob Dylan reviews, be sure to check out my takes on:
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Another Side Of Bob Dylan
Early Album Boxed Set
Blonde On Blonde
Blood On The Tracks
No Direction Home
Love And Theft
Modern Times


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for a comprehensive, organized listing of all the music reviews I have written!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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