Dylan in Shadows
Bob Dylan debuted two major works in February: Shadows in the Night, 10 torch songs previously recorded by Frank Sinatra, and his acceptance speech at the MusiCares Awards, in which he gave a detailed account of how his songwriting arose from the folk songs he sang as a young man. He also griped about critics of his unconventional singing.
Dylan led a generation in overthrowing the classic American songbook for a wild, more personal style, forcing reviewers of Shadows to note that in it Dylan is doing something he's always done: "confounding expectations." Yet in his MusiCares speech, he mocked those who dared say that's his driving motive.
Shadows does indeed confound expectations. Beyond that, it is an interesting but not compelling mood piece. Dylan's small band makes all these varied songbook classics sound like one misty, meandering, somber number, speeding along the historical process by which all distinctions in the 20th century pop songbook dissolve into unity.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Dylan in Shadows".