by Erik Ritland
Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.
Shadows in the Night (Columbia 2/3/2015)
Essential tracks: "The Night We Called it a Day," "Stay With Me," "Full Moon and Empty Arms"
Willie Nelson’s ‘70s classic Stardust was the first time a popular musician covered the Great American Songbook. Since then the concept has been watered down beyond any effect (thanks Rod Stewart), but that doesn’t mean that the material isn’t any less extraordinary and worth re-exploring.
Shadows in the Night, Bob Dylan’s album of songs popularized by Frank Sinatra, is especially meaningful because of the important place Sinatra has in Dylan’s life. This is not a genre exercise or an attempt to sell records: it’s one artist paying heartfelt tribute to a man who inspired him to his very core. The emotional depth is felt throughout.
Bob Dylan’s vocal performances on Shadows in the Night are so poignant that they often had those in the recording studio in tears. He hits each note with a surprising clarity. He and his band played each song live in the studio, each of them in the same room without wearing headphones and without adding overdubs, adding immediacy to each performance. The arrangements are beautiful in their sparseness, mostly featuring pedal steel, cello, some guitar, and light drums. “The Night we Called it a Day,” “Stay with Me,” and “Full Moon and Empty Arms” are especially stunning.
With Shadows in the Night Bob Dylan once again proves that artistry and creativity can be found as much in interpretation as in original material. Heart, spirit, and soul don’t solely proceed from the often insular desire to create something personal. We’re all a part of something bigger, and the best art understands that and tries to be informed by it, and indeed add to it, instead of focusing narcissistically on self-expression. Bob Dylan has always understood this, and Shadows in the Night stands with his best material that proves this point.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.