Often a poetic visionary with his gaze fixed onwards rather than back, Bob Dylan, in his current configuration, is deliberately looking to the past. Shadows in the Night, his splendid record of standards, doesn’t so much cover the classic songs – all made famous by Frank Sinatra – as it reinterprets and unpeels them. There is a haunted-ness in Dylan’s new record, a nakedness very alike and, at the same time, dissimilar to the vulnerability he has shown in his other late-era records. After all, this album of reinterpretations harkens back to songs he had heard in childhood, when he, too, had been busy making heroes of the gifted and the profound – immersed in the same acts of worship that would soon be conferred to him as well.
Shadows in the Night is in no way a product of a visionary’s creative shortcoming; it boasts a more subtle kind of artistry, one quite difficult to refine as well. Throughout the record, Dylan maintains, persistently and respectfully, his boundless devotion to the musical tradition, one not only founded on interpretation, but one that also demands complete empathy with the work of another artist, together with complete identification with each song. The reason that these songs, having already been reinterpreted incessantly throughout the years, sound so fresh coming from between the wheeze of Dylan’s voice is because, from each track, there emerges no doubt to the fact that Dylan has lived each word crooned. In life or in imagination, the empathy is always there.
It is appropriate, then, that the first video released from Shadows in the Night takes its form and narrative from the same era as the one in which Dylan has extracted these songs. A short film noir as bewildering as Dylan the artist has been all these years, the film comprises not only nostalgia for that bygone era, but is delivered with a kitschy grin wholly expected of Dylan, who always teeters between the most serious and the farcical, possessing a vaudevillian spirit fastened to a grave man’s grasp.