No one should be surprised by this 36th studio album from 73-year-old Dylan being standards. Even when he first appeared he looked backwards (to old folk and blues); during his retreat in 1966 he and The Band played around on 50s pop and standards and on recent albums he's written ballads like Beyond the Horizon, which sound closer to Bing Crosby (known as The Old Groaner) than any of the Bobs of previous decades.
The "new" Old Groaner here - self-produced and in a cover referencing classic Blue Note jazz albums - sings 10 songs associated with Frank Sinatra. That Dylan does this so persuasively - cracked-heart ballads sung in that distinctively cracked voice - is the real surprise. And the elegant musical settings - no strings or cocktail piano here but soft horns, pedal-steel guitar, a country flavour rather than lounge-bar Sinatra - are never overblown.
He sinks easily into these musical settings, especially on the keening pedal-steel comfort of the seductively sleepy, quasi-religious Stay With Me ("I grow cold, I grow weary, I go seeking shelter and I cry in the wind", which sounds like Bob in his Christian period). He makes Autumn Leaves into a brief reverie with gently dramatic spaciousness, and on Some Enchanted Evening avoids the usual soaring, romantic arrangement to turn it into a melancholy rumination on the singer's outsider position.
Cy Coleman's Why Try To Change might be the most accidentally autobiographical here: "Why can't I be more conventional ... but that's not for me ... don't you remember, I was always your clown, why to try change me now?". It is undeniably beautiful.
Dylan's range is stretched as he slides towards notes, but - mostly on Sinatra's lesser-known songs of regret and failed love, largely from the 1940s and 1950s - he delivers the intelligent, concise lyrics with empathy and understatement as a careworn but wiser man in the late autumn of his days.
This album will mean nothing to most people (diehard Dylan fans included) and Sinatra lovers won't find a new place for their affection. But it is ineffably moving and a revelation of this singular man, his voice broken on the wheel of life, and the refined songcraft of the eras before rock'n'roll.
Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: Shadows in the Night
Verdict: A masterful stroll through someone else's back pages
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