Eric Novak, Staff Writer

 

In 1959, the legendary Bob Dylan was an 18-year-old trying to make a name for himself by playing in coffee shops. At the time, he certainly wouldn’t have imagined that he’d be releasing Shadows of the Night at 73 years old.

We’ve all heard Bob Dylan in some capacity. He’s the man principally responsible for bringing songwriting and storytelling to the fore in popular music. He also laid the groundwork for singers whose voices aren’t pure and classically good to have a chance at the spotlight.

Dylan’s civil rights anthem “Blowin’ In the Wind” was the chief inspiration for Sam Cooke’s equally huge and powerful “A Change Is Gonna Come” which has since become synonymous with the civil rights movement, hope and freedom alike. Being the man to inspire such a song is great in its own right, but Bob Dylan is so much more to so many people.

He’s had an incredibly varied career, ranging from simple folk balladry and campfire storytelling to full band, rocking romps. His voice has been described as ragged, honest, untrained and, at times, unbearable, but Dylan has soldiered on despite all criticisms.

Still, an album comprising solely of Frank Sinatra covers was not what I expected of Dylan. On his latest album, Shadows In the Night, he does just that. Upon first hearing news of this, I was more than a little shocked.

Why would someone whose singing voice can’t be described without words like rugged and worn be covering the songs of pop’s most pure crooner? Especially considering how Dylan’s voice has been slowly fading away over the years.

But upon hearing the first song, “I’m A Fool To Want You,” all of my doubts were shelved. It seems that Dylan still has a voice hidden inside his withered frame after all. He sings with a jazzy, rough sophistication that I actually haven’t really heard on a Bob Dylan record… ever.

There is an obvious nighttime mood throughout the album, as all the songs tend towards sultry jazz balladry, culminating in “Autumn Leaves,” a song that has been covered many times by many a famous face. Dylan takes his time, almost whispering his notes and caressing them with his weary voice.

It is on this song specifically that I hear twinges of Tom Waits, another famous musical storyteller who, interestingly enough, has surely taken many cues from Dylan. His forlorn calls fill me with a sense of nostalgia for long forgotten times that I didn’t know I had in me.

Even as Dylan sings each track with conviction, the album’s monotonous mood begins to wear on me after a while. The instrumentation doesn’t change very much throughout the album, as Dylan’s voice and lapsteel guitar are constant.

The songs all float along in the same tempo, and after a while, the album becomes kind of boring, despite Dylan’s impressive delivery. By the time “Why Try To Change Me Now” comes around, it feels like I’ve already heard the whole album.

All of the album’s sonic elements are pretty much in each track-Dylan’s world weary drawl, the ghostly tones of the lapsteel, occasional string embellishments and understated drums. When it comes to active listening, the album tends to drag on and become uninteresting after a while.

It’s an album best served as a background for a fireside evening or a relaxing afternoon read, placing it far below his previous standards.

On Shadows in the Night, Bob Dylan proves that he’s not a completely-spent force in the music industry. At this point in his career, by resorting to an album of Sinatra covers, Dylan suggests may be running out of highway.