Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
Shadows In the Night is quite a different Bob Dylan record. A complete departure from the thirsty rock and roll waves of 2012’s Tempest, Shadows is instead a contemplative and poignant interpretation of 10 great classics spanning the 1920s through the 1960s.
The songs that comprise Shadows In the Night are often referred to as standard ballads. But the way that Dylan and his band have cloak them in these fine silk suits of melody renders them brand new again. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, you’ll be hearing these 10 cuts fresh out of the box.
Obviously, this isn’t some throw-off album of classics meant to fill the bins. No sir; this project is dear to Bob Dylan’s heart, serving to bring his catalog full circle. You see, these 10 hand-picked songs are the ones that moved and taught him, the ones that shaped his own consciousness and brought him to the brink of the music.
Yes, these cuts mean something to him, and he expects them to mean something to his audience, since he’s finally doing what everybody has demanded that he do since 1963 – he’s releasing the veil and telling us about himself.
“It was a real privilege to make this album, “ Dylan said in advance of the record’s release. “I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough to approach 30-piece complicated arrangements and refine them down for a 5-piece band. That’s the key to all these performances. We knew these songs extremely well. It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking…I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.”
Shadows In the Night sounds like its been brewing inside Dylan for decades, this solitary tempest that’s been driving him from city to city, from stage to stage, for over half a century. Accordingly, he’s been carefully promoting the album, bringing his audience to the lips of the music, imploring us to listen. For if we listen, we might actually discover the same something that Dylan discovered about these songs in ourselves. And to succeed at that will allow us to finally know why this man’s songs have meant so much to the world.
It’s impossible to choose high-points on this record, since the collection itself, one song building a bridge to the next, is the veritable highpoint: Each cut marked by this invisible lilt that reaches out like fingers and grips the soul and strangles the core-memory of the heart awake. Thus, everyone will have their personal favorites. Mine include the incredible “That Lucky Old Sun” and the bluntly honest “I’m A Fool To Want You.” “Autumn Leaves” and “Where Are You?” could have been written by Dylan in another lifetime, these mournful renditions brimming with the power to unclench fists and call tears unto the edges of eyes.
As part of the pre-promotion for Shadows In the Night, his 36th studio collection, Dylan chose to grant an interview to Robert Love, Editor and Chief of AARP Magazine. This interview is absolutely riveting, with Dylan as open and forthright as he’s ever been in print – the exchange actually sounds like a living room conversation that’s been copied to the masses.
“I love these songs,” Dylan states at one point in the interview, describing his relationship with the songs on Shadows. “And I’m not going to bring any disrespect to them. To trash [these] songs would be sacrilegious.”
Yet, in the end, this record is about so much more than a great singer’s favorite songs. Rather, it’s about the journey of the artist and the aging process itself, about the cold maturation of the soul, about the human spirit’s infinite ability to grow bright new gardens atop long-departed ghosts.
So, if you really want to know something about Bob Dylan, don’t look for hidden symbols in his lyrics and don’t pore over every interview he’s ever given looking for something he didn’t mean to say. Instead, buy this record, turn the lights down low, resist asking that next poison question, and just listen.
Or like Johnny Cash once wrote in defense of Dylan and his right to be: ”Shut up! And Let Him Sing!”
Shadows In the Night features: