Shadows in the Night, Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s latest album, Shadows in the Night, serves to reaffirm the 73-year-old’s agile artistic touch. An album of 10 cover songs, all also performed at one point by Frank Sinatra, Shadows in the Night departs from typical Dylan albums, the richness of which lie primarily in the originality and depth of the songwriting. Here Dylan highlights not the poetic quality of his words but rather the direct, emotional quality of his voice. Few, if any, singers can express as much depth and power through their vocals as Sinatra did. Often with minimal musical accompaniment, Sinatra’s voice carries a richness far greater than its sound, and Dylan’s covers successfully emulate and personalize that style.
A focus on the vocal expression of emotion is not new to Dylan. His lyrics have always earned acclaim, but his frank, speech-like delivery of those carefully crafted words has carried the feeling behind his music to the heart of the listener. In this way, a comparison of the thin-voiced folk singer to Sinatra does not seem so out of place. While the words of the song craft the framework to contain and articulate the singer’s emotion, Dylan, like Sinatra, allows these interior forces to swirl and, at times, overflow in his honest voice. His most personal albums embody this outpouring: In Blood on the Tracks and Time Out of Mind, the music and words form the skeleton as Dylan expresses feeling that can only be captured in his voice.
These emotional vocals are all the more evident in the limited accompaniment and direct lyrics of Shadows in the Night. Though drawn-out words and vocal range are not Dylan’s signature style, he successfully merges these powerful aspects of Sinatra’s delivery with his own directness, an honesty that refuses to hide behind melody or rhythm. In this way, the album is both intensely heartfelt and raw, a combination that perfectly suits its meditation on love that carries a quality of hope mixed with impossibility. Many of the songs dwell retrospectively on lost love with the desire to somehow reclaim it, if only through recollection. In “The Night We Called It a Day,” the singer recalls a fleeting connection bounded by time. While acutely aware that “there wasn’t a thing left to say,” Dylan’s vulnerable, almost drained delivery of these final lines suggests a longing for what has finished. We feel a similar fatigued state of longing in “Stay with Me” and “Full Moon and Empty Arms.” In the closing song, “That Lucky Old Sun,” Dylan’s weary voice turns away from lovers and old flames, praying at last to some force above: “Lift me to paradise.” These mixed emotions of vulnerability, hope and longing find an outlet in Dylan’s raw delivery.
Dylan’s renditions of these classic songs embrace deep emotional complexity and remind us of the artist’s undiminished talent of expression. Mixing heartfelt vocals with a direct and personal tone, his delivery sways, rolls and throbs with the swirling emotions that drive the music. The delicate balance of Dylan’s honest voice manifest these elusive, intangible shadows of feeling.