I'm a big Bob Dylan fan, but his last few albums have left me cold. He's old, and sounds it, and the songwriting ain't what it used to be. So when I received a promo of the new album "Shadows in the Night," I wasn't even sure I wanted to hear it. I left it on a stack of CDs for a few days before I cracked open the seal and started listening, and I'm glad I did.
"Shadows in the Night"is a very different Dylan record, first because it puts the spotlight on Dylan as an interpreter of songs associated with Frank Sinatra. Sure sounds like a scary idea, but it works, there's an unmistakable tenderness in Dylan's voice, he loves the tunes and it shows. I never expected anything like this from Dylan. His voice sounds so different, it's deeper, less sandpapery, not exactly a crooner's voice, and he's in no way trying to mimic Sinatra.
Unlike most of the standards albums that come weighed down with overwrought arrangements, "Shadows in the Night" is a rather minimalist undertaking. Basically it's just Dylan and his five-piece band, augmented on a few tunes with other players, but Dylan's voice is very much in the spotlight, as it should be. There's an emotional depth to his performances, he's putting the songs over in his own way. The band is great too, Donny Herron's pedal steel guitar on "Autumn Leaves" is heavenly. The last tune, "That Lucky Old Sun" brought a tear to my eye, and I got the feeling it did for Dylan too.
The sound quality of the album is another big surprise, it's wonderful. Looking over the press release I can see why, the entire album was recorded "live," without overdubs, Dylan sang in the room with the band, and the musicians weren't wearing headphones, so they could see and hear each other playing together. Which is, after all, the way most records were made up through the 1950s and early '60s.
My one nitpick is I wish Dylan's vocals were pulled down a little, they're too prominent in the mix. Dylan and the band have played the songs in concerts for years, so the recording of each tune was completed quickly, in one or two takes. There was no elaborate mixing or tweaking of the sound in post-production, it didn't need any fine-tuning, the sound was exactly what Dylan wanted when they played the tunes. I'd love to see young bands record like this.
Could it be that making music this way not only makes for better sounding records, but also better performances? That's what's lacking in so many contemporary pop and rock recordings, they're assembled and "perfected" in post-production, long after the musicians have gone home. The sound and performances may have little to do with what originally went down in the studio. With "Shadows in the Night" we hear complete performances, the tunes were mixed as the band played.
I loved the CD, so I went out and bought the beautifully packaged 180 gram "Shadows in the Night" LP, and it sounds richer and fuller than the CD, so the LP gets even closer to the sound of early 1960s recordings. If you have a turntable get the LP, it comes with the CD so you can rip lossless files on your own.
The album's total play time runs just over 35 minutes, so my only complaint with the album is it's all over much too quickly.