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Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night

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Bob Dylan never has been, and never will be, a jazz singer. But when an artist of his stature and history decides to record an entire album of standards, it demands attention. Shadows in the Night has been widely ballyhooed as Dylan’s “Sinatra project,” timed to coincide with Ol’ Blues Eyes’ centenary. Indeed, Sinatra recorded all 10 selections at various points throughout his career. But, as Dylan explains on his website, his intent was not to cover Sinatra’s material but to “uncover” these songs, “lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.”

“Grave” is perhaps a curious choice of words. The arrangements-as performed by a pianoless quintet with three guitarists (Charlie Sexton, Stu Kimball and Donny Herron, who plays pedal steel), augmented by horns on three tracks-are consistently somber, almost funereal. Yet Dylan is not, and in that contrast the album finds its brilliance. Against such bleak settings, he proves a remarkably subtle interpretive genius. Yes, his readings of “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “Where Are You” are appropriately, painfully desolate, but painted in shades of grey, not black. His “Some Enchanted Evening” captures what most readings, including Sinatra’s, fail to recognize: that it concerns romantic yearning as much as fulfillment. And the wistful “Why Try to Change Me Now,” performed with sighed self-awareness, seems an ideal summation of the 73-year-old’s iconoclastic career.

He closes with “That Lucky Old Sun” (more strongly associated with Frankie Laine than Sinatra), shaping what is arguably the definitive version-a gently bruised and pitted tally of life’s workaday hardships that is, in its way, as powerful as Paul Robeson’s “Ol’ Man River.”

Listen to or download this album at iTunes.

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