Even when he was barely out of his teens and loping around Greenwich Village with a sneer that doubled as protest accelerant, Bob Dylan felt kind of old. His relationship with journalists could be generously described as crotchety, his signature reedy voice made him sound prematurely timeworn, and his brand of standing up to the Man was less like the rah-rah calls for togetherness of his folk brethren and more a sullen rejection of anybody who represented the status quo—up to and including his own acoustic-obsessed fans.
So the idea of Dylan dedicating his 36th studio album to tunes made popular by Frank Sinatra feels somewhat inevitable, perhaps because so many of his own works are now as entrenched in the American songbook as anything by Irving Berlin. Shadows doesn’t so much reimagine these songs as Dylan-ize them in exactly the way you’d expect: Standards such as “What’ll I Do” and “That Lucky Old Sun” are distilled to their melodic core and delivered sparsely. That approach is only occasionally transformative, as when the South Pacific showstopper “Some Enchanted Evening” mutates into a gauzy, haunting hallucination.
This isn’t the Ocean’s 11 Sinatra drinking dry martinis with Dino at the Copa. Shadows showcases an icon bowing before a canon that continues to thrive and find new acolytes in the same way that his own “Like a Rolling Stone” has. It’s the sound of Dylan, now 73, acknowledging his own mortality by reminding everyone that though the body may be temporary, the work can live forever. B