When Bob Dylan announced his 36th album would be a compilation of Frank Sinatra covers, everyone from critics to fans thought it sounded ridiculous. Why would the 73 year old folk singer attempt to cover classic pop standards, especially when songwriting has always been Dylan’s strong suit? Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this album is that it actually works, for the most part. Shadows in the Night is far from Dylan’s old work, but it’s a refreshing piece from an aging artist that revels in nostalgia and it’s laid back pace.
The album’s first track, “I’m a Fool to Want You”, begins with a glistening side guitar and then adding a somber backing band behind it, including an upright bass and quiet horns. Dylan’s voice fits the moody song perfectly. His raspy, withering voice is reminiscent to that of Johnny Cash’s later work, and captures the same emotional longing and character as Cash. It’s a somber balled that sounds like a cross between a blues track and classic country tune. The key to the success of this track, as well as the rest of the album, is that Dylan doesn’t try to recreate the lush and lively instrumentation and spirit that Sinatra gave these songs years ago. Instead, he turns the songs into somber love songs, but also manages to keep the same smooth charm of the tunes.
The album’s standout track, “Why Try to Change Me Now”, is a superb ballad that showcases brings out the best in the album’s style and sound. The slide guitars take the place of the string section, and are complemented perfectly with a smooth, slow bass line. Dylan’s voice is particularly powerful, although being very subdued and quiet. Following this track is the soft, emotional ballad “Some Enchanted Evening”, where Dylan expresses his longing for a women that he once had, but now only dreams of meeting once more. It’s a particularly beautiful song, and another standout on the album.
Shadows in the Night has a distinct sound, which makes it unique, but also is one of its drawbacks. It’s difficult to distinguish one track from another as they all feature similar instrumentation, tempo, and style. However, this does give the album a very holistic feel and atmosphere, and because of its rather short run time, its sound is only a minor issue.
The album concludes with the stellar “That Old Lucky Sun”, which captures the albums spirit perfectly. It’s one of the more upbeat songs on the album, featuring quiet but powerful horns, soft guitar work, and Dylan’s emotional vocal performance. The song has a powerful sense of nostalgia about it, just as the entire album does. This nostalgia is furthered by Dylan himself, whose raspy voice makes each lyric feel like a reflection on his life, harkening back to the pop tunes that were popular in his youth. Shadows in the Night feels like a collection of remembrances of one’s life, which may be the source of its powerful emotion as the listener is given 35 minutes to reflect on their own life, from where they’ve been to where they’re going. It’s far from the masterpieces that Dylan released years ago, but it’s one of the most straightforward album’s the singer has ever released, one with simple lyrics and manageable track lengths. It may sound like an insane idea for an album, and it’s one that only Bob Dylan could pull off.
Standout Tracks: “Why Try to Change Me Now”, “That Old Lucky Sun”, “I’m a Fool to Love You”