Is Bob Dylan’s new album a hit or a miss? The Medium’s Maria Cruz and Chris Antilope weigh in.
Maria Cruz: It’s a wonderful personal look into the man
Where to begin.
On Wednesday, folk legend Bob Dylan released his 36th album, Shadows in the Night, which consists of Frank Sinatra covers. I know people might think this is an odd combo with such a contrast between the sounds of the two artists, but Dylan isn’t trying to copy Sinatra so much as he is trying to do what folk music does: retell the stories of others.
This album is beautiful. Dylan is connecting with his listeners here; he’s being vulnerable with us, which makes this album seem more personal. For me, these songs represent something in Dylan that the public has never really gotten a taste of throughout his career, which is a softer, more exposed side of him. This is especially true in “Why Try to Change Me Now”, which sounds like someone confessing he is who he is and yet saying, hey, at 73 years old, why change now?
With songs like “I’m a Fool to Want You”, “Stay with Me”, “The Night We Called It a Day”, and “Autumn Leaves”, listeners really get a completely different side of Dylan. There are no harmonica solos, no 30-second musical interludes, just Dylan and his stories. I know these are not his stories, but to have a tale be retold and owned by such a powerful artist is something to appreciate. In only 10 songs, Dylan manages to communicate his side of these stories while hinting at Sinatra’s versions.
The original songs featured big sound from Sinatra’s band, but Dylan brings quiet horns and soft electric guitar to the table, taking the songs in another direction entirely—tone that fits miraculously well with Dylan’s voice.
Which brings me to one of the biggest and loveliest surprises on this album: his voice. He gives these songs a persuasive grace that is so beautiful and convincing you’d think he wrote these songs himself. Dylan doesn’t strain his voice on any high or long notes, which was a problem on Tempest. In fact, this album puts to rest the argument that Dylan’s voice is too “nasal” to handle some songs, or that his voice was never as good as his lyrics. I observed this most in “Some Enchanted Evening”, “That Lucky Old Sun”, and “I’m a Fool to Want You”.
This album is a wonderful treat for Sinatra and Dylan fans. His sound may be changing, but his impact on the world of music isn’t.
Chris Antilope: He can do better… and has
Do you know that annoying sound that you hear at night when you’re trying to fall asleep, and it’s so irritating that you just can’t rest? It is with a very heavy heart that I tell you that that sound is Bob Dylan’s 36th album.
Yes, the father of modern American folk music’s newest album, Shadows in the Night, was an unfortunate pain to listen to. It features no original songs by the artist, but songs ranging from 1923 to 1951, all made famous by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Dylan’s album demonstrates that once you’ve turned carbon into diamond, as Sinatra did, the task is much more difficult the second time.
I found listening to this album both tedious and treacherous. Listening to it made me want to fall asleep, but I couldn’t, because the songs either all sounded the same or irritated me with the sound of his aging voice and the twang of the pedal steel guitar. As a lover of all genres of music—from 1920s swing to 1980s classic rock to modern music of almost any sort—I was surprised that I didn’t like this album. Dylan popularized folk, which influenced bands that I love, such as the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and Mumford and Sons. However, the music that inspired those bands has been lost in the half-century that Dylan has been active.
The opening song, “I’m a Fool to Want You”, does not make a great first impression—the image I get is of an elderly drunk outside a saloon in the ol’ west serenading a young woman dancing with a man her own age. The motif of the aging singer with a nasally, raspy, unfortunately dull voice runs through the album. Thankfully, there are only 10 tracks.
Unfortunately, I can’t pick a favourite song. Look at it the way you look at movies, specifically ones that have been remade. Take the Star Wars franchise. The originals were incomparably better than the prequels. When something is good, it’s best to just take the money and run, and just leave it as it is. Dylan disrupts his own success with his unnecessary addition to the multitude of albums that he has released since 1962.
What was perfected by Sinatra and other artists before, including Diana Krall, Eric Clapton, and Harry Connick Jr. (among others), was regretfully tampered with by this new album. Perhaps Dylan can pump out a 37th album sometime soon to reinstate his legacy and put more of his own music on display.