Shadows in the Night, Bob Dylan, Columbia, 2015
Shadows in the Night is Bob Dylan’s 36th studio album, and consists of ten covers of Tin Pan Alley standards that were popularized by Frank Sinatra.
The emotive orchestra and Sinatra’s silky crooning are gone, but the weeping pedal steel and Dylan’s sandpaper vocals embody the haunting loneliness of this rueful reminiscence.
The first track, “I’m A Fool To Want You,” is a lament of a foolish lover who loves someone who will not remain faithful. The mournful modulation of the pedal steel guitars, the gentle caresses on the acoustic, and the softly bowed string bass convey the despondency of the song.
Similarly, “The Night We Called It A Day” and “Autumn Leaves” are melancholic odes to the lover who has left. Heartbreak and loss are overarching themes of this album.
My favorite number on the album, “Stay With Me,” is a heartfelt prayer, sung with confessional solemnity. The wistful tone of Dylan’s voice, infused with his trademark rasp, blend perfectly to express the regretful yearning of an old man who has both softened and hardened with age.
Should my heart not be humble, should my eyes fail to see | Should my feet sometimes stumble on the way, stay with me | Like the lamb that in springtime wanders far from the fold | Comes the darkness and the frost, I get lost, I grow cold | I grow cold, I grow weary, and I know I have sinned | And I go seeking shelter and I cry in the wind | Though I grope and I blunder and I’m weak and I’m wrong | Though the road buckles under where I walk, walk along | Till I find to my wonder every path leads to Thee | All that I can do is pray, stay with me | Stay with me.
It recalls one of my favorite hymns, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:
Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come | And I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home | Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God | He, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood | O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be | Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Like a child trying to pronounce all her syllables, Dylan’s intonation and rhythm are measured and deliberate, even as he strains to rein in his faltering vibratos and wandering pitch. His vulnerable vocals is a picture of the wandering sheep in the song, groping in the dark and stumbling along to God. I have never heard a more poignant song from this wearied bard, an embattled soul, who knows that he has not stayed with God, but desperately hopes that God has stayed with him.
“Some Enchanted Evening” and “Full Moon and Empty Arms” feature an electric guitar with strolling blues licks, which intertwines beautifully with the seesawing string bass to strike a slightly more hopeful tune.
But the album returns to its doleful trajectory with the following tracks, “Where Are You?” and “What’ll I Do”: “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?”
The final track, “That Lucky Old Sun,” is about the toil and trouble of life, and a labor-worn man’s desire to do nothing but “roll around heaven all day [like that lucky old sun].” The pace slows on the last line, and Dylan bellows it out at a higher octave with elongated syllables, soaring together with the swelling horns as if to lift himself up to heaven.
As songs like “Stay With Me,” “Why Try to Change Me Now,” and “That Lucky Old Sun” show, the heartsick lover in this album is a metaphor for brokenness of life itself. In a culture where love is treated like a commodity for exchange rather than a binding covenant, Dylan bemoans humanity’s unfulfilled longing for true love. This covenantal love, as Ephesians 5 reveals, is a glimpse into eternity itself, and points to Christ’s love for his people.
Shadows in the Night is thus a deeply spiritual album that correctly diagnoses the human plight. It ought to leave us weeping for God, always true and faithful, who loves an adulterous people who have forsaken their Creator and turned to other gods (Hosea 3:1).
Buy Shadows in the Night HERE.