Dylan The Crooner | KUOW News and Information

Dylan The Crooner

Feb 3, 2015
Originally published on February 4, 2015 8:02 am

Bard. Voice of a generation. Bob Dylan has been called many things over the years. With his new album, Shadows in the Night, the 73-year-old aims for another title: crooner.

The new LP features Dylan's versions of 10 songs from the Great American Songbook — all of them recorded at one time or another by Frank Sinatra — and it's a strange, moody, sometimes brilliant left turn for the artist.

Dylan's voice isn't exactly cut out for torch singing. He's brusque. He lacks the Sinatra suppleness. With these super-slow songs, Dylan looks back to a time when singers used nuance, shading and implication to tell their stories. It's a challenge for him.

Yet Dylan is not dabbling. He's a student of popular song from vaudeville forward; his recent albums have included coy originals that are similar in structure and spirit to these easygoing foxtrots. And unlike, say, a songbook hack like Rod Stewart, he understands how to shape a great melody and personalize it, with small gestures that convey meaning beyond the words.

Shadows in the Night was recorded the old-fashioned way: mostly live in the studio, with Dylan and a five-piece band all in one room. That makes a difference; Dylan whispers his way through a last-set, smoky-club atmosphere that's the natural habitat for songs of longing and regret. The performances might not all be A-number-1, top-of-the-list genius, but they ring true. Sometimes if you're trying to evoke a sense of romantic devastation, a devastated voice can actually be an asset.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Bard, the voice of a generation - Bob Dylan has been called a lot of things over the years. Now with his new album, "Shadows In The Night," he aims for an unlikely title - crooner.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHY TRY TO CHANGE ME NOW")

BOB DYLAN: (Singing) I'm sentimental, so I walk in the rain. I've got some habits even I can't explain.

CORNISH: The album features versions of 10 songs, all of them recorded at one time or another by Frank Sinatra. Reviewer Tom Moon shares his thoughts on this left turn for Dylan.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Let's start with the obvious. Bob Dylan's voice isn't exactly cut out for torch singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE NIGHT WE CALLED IT A DAY")

DYLAN: (Singing) There was a moon out in space but a cloud drifted over its face. You kissed me and went on your way, the night we called it a day.

MOON: He's brusque, he lacks the Sinatra suppleness. With these super-slow songs, Dylan looks back to a time when singers used nuance, shading and implication to tell their stories, a challenge for Dylan.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A FOOL TO WANT YOU")

DYLAN: (Singing) I'm a fool to hold you, such a fool to hold you, to seek a kiss not mine alone, to share a kiss that the devil has known.

MOON: Yet, Dylan is not dabbling. He's a student of popular song, from vaudeville forward. His recent albums have included coy originals that are similar in structure and spirit to these easy-going foxtrots. And unlike, say, a songbook hack like Rod Stewart, Dylan understands how to shape a great melody and personalize it with small gestures that convey meaning beyond the words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'LL I DO")

DYLAN: (Singing) What'll I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to? When I'm alone with only dreams of you that won't come true, what'll I do?

MOON: The album was recorded the old-fashioned way - mostly live in the studio, with Dylan and a five-piece band all in the same room. That makes a difference. Dylan whispers his way through a smoky club atmosphere, the natural habitat for songs of longing and regret. The performances might not all be A-number-1, top-of-the-list genius, but they ring true. Sometimes if you're trying to evoke a sense of romantic devastation, a devastated voice can actually be an asset.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AUTUMN LEAVES")

DYLAN: (Singing) I see your lips, the summer kisses, the sunburned hands I used to hold.

CORNISH: The new album from Bob Dylan is called "Shadows In The Night." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AUTUMN LEAVES")

DYLAN: (Singing) The days grow long.

CORNISH: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.