Bob Dylan first attempted an album of Tin Pan Alley standards in 1986. Thirty years later and back in full command of his career, he’s barely touched the rock music he helped invent since 2001’s Love And Theft, instead circling back past himself into blues, folk and pre-war pop.
This companion to last year’s Shadows In The Night again turns Sinatra’s songbook into a 74-year-old’s weary laments, with one jaw-dropping exception: you haven’t heard Dylan till you’ve heard him rumba through That Old Black Magic.
It starts with Young At Heart, and a winking dare to a Grim Reaper currently culling his peers: “And if you should survive, to 105…” What follows errs on the side of unswinging restraint. But the chiselled arrangements, laced with brass and Donny Herron’s pedal steel, showcase Dylan’s partly restored voice and unexpected phrasing, a side of his genius where Sinatra has always been the only comparison.
Last year’s UK gigs, where Dylan hit high notes bathed in 40s Hollywood lights and shadow, told this phase’s full story, with film noir, adult romance and a tribute to songwriting forebears all thrown into the mix. It’s an interlude letting him sing with soft, long experience, and get something big out of his system.