Shadows In The Night :  Another Side of Bob Dylan (corrected)

Though Bob Dylan pays tribute here to Frank Sinatra who recorded for Columbia, Capitol and Reprise (which he founded), the record label is a Blue Note facsimile. The cover art also draws from a Blue Note: a blue tinted variant of Freddie Hubbard’s album Hub Tones (BST-ST84115). The back cover is a photo of a tuxedoed Dylan perusing with a masked woman an unidentifiable Sun 45rpm single.

Contrasting the fanciful, cryptic artwork are arguably Dylan’s most direct, sincere vocal performances on record.

He began as a young man sounding old and world-weary. On Blonde on Blonde he moved on to what in retrospect sounds like a Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) lilt and then on Nashville Skyline into his crooner phase that he later abandoned.

More recently, particularly in concert, while he’s sounded as if the voice has little but a croak left to give, this record demonstrates that that is yet another Dylan put-on.

Here, while he’s clearly a singing 73 year old, his voice is full-bodied and he holds notes well beyond what you might be expecting. He’s pitch perfect, even on the most difficult modulations and on the melancholic finale “That Lucky Old Sun” he hits the high notes with little audible strain and unimaginable gusto. But more importantly he gets to the core of every lyric. Bob’s cartoonish Christmas album this is not !.

Last year I visited engineer Al Schmitt at Capitol, walking in on a mix of “Young at Heart”—a song not included here. I promised Al I wouldn’t write about what I heard or the project and I didn’t but he told me then about the recording. On the way out of Capitol I saw Dylan walking just past me wearing that familiar broad brimmed gray hat. As I exited the building Dylan and a body guard were leaving the parking lot. The body guard looked back at me watching me with a concerned look as I took out my cellphone to make a call. What could be the cause for concern? Frankly, I though if Dylan had walked along Hollywood Boulevard how many tourists at this point in time would even recognize him or worse, know who he is?

The record was produced live in Capitol’s Studio B the way Frank used to record but instead of lush Gordon Jenkins string orchestrations Bob used his touring band of Tony Garnier on bass, Donny Herron on pedal steel, Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball on guitars and George G. Receli on drums augmented on three tracks with horns.

The musicians not wearing headphones stood in a semi-circle around Bob with no isolation and plenty of microphone leakage. Schmitt assured me that there were no mix or pitch fixes.

Bob homed in on Where Are You? (Capitol SW 855), recorded and released in 1957—Sinatra’s first in stereo and his first Capitol release without Nelson Riddle’s orchestrations. Frank was 42.

From that album Dylan covers “I’m a Fool to Want You” (the opener here and a song for which Sinatra shares songwriting credits), “Where Are You?”, “The Night We Called It a Day”, and “Autumn Leaves”.

Also covered are “Stay With Me” from the movie “The Cardinal— a prayerful plea:

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

Dylan sings this with not often heard vulnerability and sincerity. But that’s only a warm up to a version of “Autumn Leaves” that should silence skeptics. Dylan’s version of this seasonal metaphor is alone worth the price of admission and it more than makes up for the album’s sole misstep, a mildly C&W version of “Some Enchanted Evening” that starts side two (on vinyl) with if not a thud, then a mild clunk .

But that’s the only mistake on what can conceptually be thought of as Dylan’s version of Willie Nelson’s Stardust. If you like that album you will this too. Hearing Dylan cover “Full Moon and Empty Arms”, which borrows the melody from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, backed by pedal steel is would seem to violate too many accepted musical norms to work, but it does.

That this album was performed live in the studio with Dylan singing in front of his touring musicians adds luster and drama to the proceedings wherein fans can hear and feel embedded in the performances Dylan’s life experiences expressed as only an older man and not a youngster playing one can.

Now about the sound: with Al Schmitt at the board in Capitol’s more intimate Studio B, and with it all recorded live to 192/24 bit resolution (and perhaps as a “safety” to analog tape?) you would expect superb sound and you get it, though it’s under an odd cloud that I can’t explain.

The album inner sleeve credits Doug Sax as mastering engineer yet the vinyl version’s inner groove area has the familiar “RJ/STERLING” stamp. Why would Dylan not have Sax cut the lacquers? It couldn’t be the money. So I emailed Doug and he responded cryptically that he didn’t master the record and that the credit was a mistake. “Talk to Calbi” he told me. So I checked in with Greg. He too was unwilling to talk about it but he too said he didn’t master it!

That is all I know, but I also know this: the vinyl comes with the CD version so I compared the vinyl to the CD because that’s part of my job description.

The CD was produced at among the lowest levels I’ve heard from a CD, but especially since the “loudness wars”. I suspect RJ cut lacquers either from the CD or from the 44.1K/24 bit file HDTracks is selling.

Why a 192/24 bit recording was mastered at 44.1k will remain a mystery because no one with whom I spoke was willing to talk.

So, when I compared the CD with the LP (which I purchased so I was not about to pay for yet another version from HDTracks), what did I hear?

I started with the LP and played it repeatedly both for the review and just for pleasure (it’s a record you can repeatedly return to) before listening to the CD. The record was pressed at United. My mistake as I originally wrote "Rainbo" because the circled "U" was smaller than usual and clearly the plating was better than usual from United because the STERLING stamp was so cleanly etched. My copy was very well pressed. It was quiet, flat and concentric. I have no complaints there and if United consistently presses at this level on 180 grams it will cause for celebration.

The recording quality is gorgeous and the record produced a vibrantly three-dimensional and tonally vivid picture with instruments and Dylan’s voice all standing out in 3D relief with the sensation of the studio wall behind.

When I switched to the CD I found that tonally it was virtually identical to the record (which speaks to the lacquer cut being done “flat” and the transparency of my front end) but the CD was spatially flat with everything lying against the speakers. There was less air and space, but more importantly, there was clearly less detail to be heard—particularly from Dylan’s voice.

I’d become acclimated to his breaths and changing vocal textures and to the places were his voice occasionally broke, which added drama and meaning. These were smoothed over. The pedal steel transients were smoothed over as well, robbing the backing tracks of some of their potency.

So either the LP was cut from 24 bits or the “improved” LP sonics are “vinyl artifacts” otherwise known as “additive distortions”. Guess what? I don’t care what produced a far more enjoyable and detailed listening experience on vinyl. Cutting to lacquer simply added another layer of mastering to the production or perhaps it was 24 versus 16 bits. Whichever it was I don’t care. I’ll always return to the vinyl version, even if occasional sibilants were slightly more smeared on vinyl—which was the only audible artifact I could do without—but there were fewer than five across both sides of the records and they were very mild and passed quickly.

Another side of Bob Dylan.

Music Direct Buy It Now

David_Cormier's picture

Thank you for the great review! I like to read that this record is full of the "vinyl artifacts" we all crave for. And thank you also to help us live our "fashion statement" to the fullest.

Michael Fremer's picture
About what I actually wrote speaks volumes about your character or lack thereof.
recordhead's picture

I think this guys reply to your review was a positive one. His "vinyl artifacts" comments was in reference to your review "So either the LP was cut from 24 bits or the “improved” LP sonics are “vinyl artifacts” otherwise known as “additive distortions”. Guess what? I don’t care what produced a far more enjoyable and detailed listening experience on vinyl." and "fashion statement" is in reference to grumpy Neil Youngs comments. Maybe a previous post was deleted and I missed an online street fight.

Martin's picture

Of course I'll be getting this one.
And you have no idea if the vinyl is 44.1/16, 96/24 or 192/24???

Somewhere, somebody must know :-)

wao62's picture

What a shame an inferior technology to analog tape was used to record these performances! Bet the LP would sound even better if it were recorded & mastered from tape. I hope that in the future tape (or some pure analog technology) will be developed and/or improved! Anyway, with seasoned musicians such as these one doesn't need to cut mistakes and paste together different performances.

J. Carter's picture

I wouldn't call 24/192 digital recording inferior to analog. In some ways its actually superior and I would argue that most people would have a near impossible time telling the difference between a 24/192 recording in comparison to an analog one pressed on vinyl. Now I would agree that mastering to 24/44.1 is definitely inferior to analog and it should have been mastered in 24/192.

wao62's picture

The music is still masked by a digital haze my friend.

J. Carter's picture

I don't know what haze you are hearing on a 24/192 recording but I don't want what your having. I will agree with you on something like 16/44.1 or even 24/44.1 but not 24/192.

wao62's picture

It's not a haze that someone would notice until the same recording is compared to that mastered direct from tape. A well known example discussed on this site are the Doors reissues done from digital compared to those mastered from tape by Analog Productions. Could you hear the difference? I did.

J. Carter's picture

Because they are different masters and mixes. The better comparison is to compare The Doors Analogue Productions SACDs and Records which I have done also. The only differences I noticed for the most part was an occasional tick and click and all of the other things that differentiate records from any other format. Take those differences away and no I didn't notice a difference.

wao62's picture

The same analog masters were used to produce the 24/192 files for the Rhino editions and the Analogue Productions and Records. I can't speak for the SACDs as I don't have a player in my system, but I think the differences become more apparent as the quality of one's analog front end increases. I have a Micro Benz Blue Ace, which is not the most expensive Benz Micro offering, but the differences between the two editions was very apparent to me. I thought the Rhino editions were terrific until I heard the AP editions.

Michael Fremer's picture
The AP 45 Doors box creams the Rhino from 192/24 but there are other variables. The SACD versus vinyl is more useful since same tapes done at the same time etc. However it also is turntable and SACD player variable. I compared a 96/24 bit rip of Oscar Peterson's "We Get Requests" from AP's 45rpm reissue with their SACD and the PCM vinyl rip creamed the SACD. The engineer in the Harman room in Munich said "I'm not surprised". He's not an SACD fan....doesn't like the noise shaping....everyone in the room preferred the vinyl to PCM over the SACD...
Martin's picture

is that they were all done using a Massenburg GML 20 bit D/A converter. The 48/20 bit conversion doesn't use half the resolution capability of the SACD.
I actually played the Analogue Productions 45 rpm of Ben Webster meets Oscar Peterson for some friends a week ago. I played "The Touch of Your Lips" from the LP, then put the SACD on. The SACD was utterly lifeless in comparison. The reaction was "that's awful, put the record back on!!!". And that SACD is actually pretty good for a CD. The Blue Note SACDs done by Hoffman and Gray are much better by the way.

J. Carter's picture

It is all very dependent on your vinyl and SACD playback gear. Admittedly my SACD playback gear is better (in the spectrum of comparison) than my vinyl rig. They both cost about the same amount of money and in turn for me The Doors SACD from AP sounded about the same as the vinyl did with maybe a little bit of an edge going to the SACD but it would be splitting hairs. Maybe if I had $5K-$10K to spend on improving my vinyl rig I would possibly hear an improvement in the vinyl but that just isn't in my future. I also think much of it is what you are comfortable with. Tape and vinyl both add color to the sound where hi res digital arguably doesn't. Some people love what vinyl and tape add to the sound some people don't, neither person is wrong it's just an opinion. I definitely prefer a well mastered well pressed record over a CD but admittedly I prefer hi res digital to vinyl for sound quality. I'll take the experience of vinyl over hi res any day though ;-)

Toptip's picture

Can Bob Dylan be the ultimate "emperor's new clothes?" Does anyone actually enjoy that whiny, pseudo-country voice or is just afraid to call the emperor naked? I could not stand it in 1969, cannot now. I played it to my music-obsessed 14 year old, he found it so awful he burst out laughing.

audiof001's picture

Admittedly, my favorite albums are 'Self Portrait' and 'Nashville Skyline' - Yep, you read that right. I do enjoy 'Blood On The Tracks' on occasion. Way back, I bought 'John Wesley Harding' when it first came out (on LP in the 1960's) to see what all the hype was about and didn't get him at all. This latest project is something different. I've enjoyed what I have heard and will be picking this one up.

Michael Fremer's picture
A lot of people enjoy him and his voice and his songs and his guitar playing but obviously not everyone!
readargos's picture

until I bought MoFi's "Blood on the Tracks" LP. He's a poet and rancoteur, which is to say it's the lyrics and the momentum of his storytelling. Of course vinyl, for me, has made a lot more music accessible, which is one goal of high fidelity in the home.

Martin's picture

try slowing the speed down 2% when playing Blood on the Tracks.
Makes quite a difference to the emotional content with everything on pitch.
Dylan ordered it sped up. Apparently the whole thing was just a bit too emotional.

The CBS half-speed master from 1980 is the correct speed by the way.

Michael Fremer's picture
I will ask someone who definitely would know if this is true or an urban myth....
Martin's picture

I have from a number of sources that Blood on the Tracks is 2% fast. Slowing it down makes it sound, to me at least, more "real". Or more emotional. To me it's plausible. It sounds better.
Like Beggars Banquet, that to me sounds better speeded up 2%. The Decca at 33 1/3 does sound a bit muddy.

I have the CBS half speed master, but it's a recent acquisition I haven't gotten round to cleaning yet. That will be interesting, apparently it was done from a different or earlier tapes.

A really interesting and emotion-laden listen is a European Boot from a few years ago, "Blood on the Tracks - the New York Sessions", a Swingin Pig release. It has all the New York tracks, at the correct speed. It's pretty good, better sound than a CD. I would guess it's a 48/24 transfer.
You can really hear the turmoil in that one. More than the released BOTT. No wonder Dylan decided to re-record a lot of the stuff and speed it up. The New York sessions would be a bit too much naked exposure for me too.

David_S's picture

After several frustrating in-person experiences listening to Dylan croak his way through muddy versions of selections from his catalog, I vowed never to see another Dylan show. A friend persuaded me to accompany him to a November show in Chicago, and I found myself thrilled to be at a most satisfying and sublime show. Your great review confirms what I felt after that concert: that Dylan is again--astoundingly--treating us to another late career reincarnation. I can't wait to hear this one.

VirginVinyl's picture

I've listen to this album and don't get it. I appreciate Dylan and all the great albums he's done, but Jazz classic, help me out. No disrespect on Dylan, but I think this was a big undertaking on his part. I don't like Dylan's phrasing and his voice is worn and scar. The musical composition is A+ but that voice doesn't sit right and lacks conviction. Would we except a nobody to step up and lay a lack lustre vocal performance on a jazz composition and truly say that's amazing. Or would we just talk about 192kHz vs Analog all day. This Earth is full of choices, so choose you poison. Dylan voice is great on R&R, blues, folk and country. This is what separates the Jazz master from 3 chord masters. I don't hear the expressiveness or the panache. IMHO this is as bad as Rod Steward great american jazz recording.
I would rather listen to Michael Buble Vocal track all day every day ( silky and sexy vocal). If we are going to compare Blue Eyes then deserving artist like this kid is a runner up. Capitol Records you suck.

azmoon's picture

..Michael Buble? About as interesting as watching the grass grow...cookie cutter scmaltz....with no soul what so ever.

VirginVinyl's picture

Exectly, I pick Michael Buble to drive the point that you would say that. Yes cookie cutter.. tiny pop idol. Yes, MICHEAL BUBLE.. that's what came to my head at 1:00am. But now I would to sub in Amy Winehouse... Bubble gum yum yum sweet as .... ; )

firedog55's picture

I don't think Dylan adds anything to these songs. His voice is basically shot, and his phrasing can't make up for it. Sounding tired ("Some Enchanted Evening") is not the same thing as sounding world weary and experienced. There are a couple of okay songs here ("That Lucky Old Sun"), but most of them miss the mark.

I like the idea of the spare arrangements, but other than being spare, I don't think they are creative or interesting.

When Willie Nelson did Stardust my reaction was the opposite. His phrasing and voice added something to the songs that other versions didn't, and his simple arrangements were creative and interesting.

Ditto Paul McCartney, when he did "Kisses on the Bottom": His voice is largely gone, but he used the phrasing and arrangements to put his own stamp on the songs. He even wrote a good new song for the album that you could have sworn came from his parents' generation.

I still listen to the Willie and McCartney albums, but won't be listening to this one repeatedly.

Paul Robertson's picture

Not me though! Can't wait to tear the wrap off of mine tonight and place it gently on my table, on the heals of this GREAT review. Love this site, but honestly for me the music reviews are what make it. They might not always be artists that move me personally (like sir BOB), but when they are it's so refreshing to read real insight that's relative to what we care about. That, and when we get turned on to something we might not have known's like finding a gem in the used vinyl bin. Just as an example, can you say VOLTO INCITARE wow!

elliotdrum's picture

The only reason I read your site is to get an idea how certain
vinyl recordings sound before I lay down the cash.
You seem to have pretty good ears.
As a equipment reviewer you are FANTASTIC.
As a music reviewer ???????

al's picture

Fremer's record reviews are informative and interesting. On the other hand, who cares about "more air around the cowbell?"

my new username's picture

... is always a curious thing to us because we know it's capable of making a difference in sound quality. But to artists, provenance isn't usually relevant. No one will get answers from Dylan if he even knows them, and of course Sterling nor Columbia won't utter a peep here.

The situation of 192 vs 44.1 resolution is interesting. To me it says they value higher resolution for both capturing the music and for working the files but not for the end product. "Practical" considerations of storage and/or user acceptance/understanding or policy or moon phase? dictate the lower resolution. It's arbitrary and weird.

I still maintain that HDTracks can and should play an ambassador's role here and ASK Columbia why the lesser resolution, at least for the benefit of their customers if not as indirect insight into how the LP was made.

J.D.'s picture

Dylan is legendary for Music and Lyrics. There is no Dylan music or lyrics in this recording.

His 'vocal' qualities were only ever just bearable, even at his best. We have here an old man taking a last scrape of the money barrel, who sounds winded and tired.

As noted above, tired doesn't equate to world weary & wise; it equates to tired.

Skip this record; it may be well recorded, but it's a poster-boy for that audiophile recipe-- wherein the sound is great, spare and three dimensional, but the musical content is the downside, something a faded artist has released to keep the income level consistent.


rakalm's picture

Saw right away that the 45 is "Walk The Line" by Johnny Cash. Just picked up the LP today, will have to clean it and play it. Looking forward to it.

mysticisgod's picture

The cynic in me knows why they recorded in 192/24 but only produced the vinyl and dl version only in
44.1/24. To the labels if hi-res really takes off in the next few years and becomes more mainstream it now gives them the option to resell the records again at a previously unavailable quality. I have a feeling this thought process is happening a lot within the labels right now and I'm kinda done with paying $30 for an lp pressed from cd (I know not all are, but I bet the majority of modern releases are). I've been collecting vinyl for over 30 years and my collection is over 4000+, but I've never seen the jump up in prices as I'm seeing these days and for a 3rd of the cost for more and more releases, I'm happy purchasing the CD... and this is difficult coming from a lifelong vinyl junkie.

J. Carter's picture

I meant to reply to you with this but I added as another post by mistake. So here its is again:

Although I agree with what your saying as usually being the case it isn't the case here. The LP/CD combo is only $17.99. Seems like a worthwhile investment to get both for $18.

Archimago's picture

Guys, realize that even the high-resolution 24/44 release isn't even true 24-bit!

J. Carter's picture

Although I agree with what your saying as usually being the case it isn't the case here. The LP/CD combo is only $17.99. Seems like a worthwhile investment to get both for $18.

mysticisgod's picture

Yes, $18 is a good price. I was talking more pricing in general. If most 1lp records were at this price I wouldn't have an issue, but you have to agree that this isn't the norm these days. For example all Sub Pop releases used to be in the $16-18 range now they are $22-30 (plus now special edition box sets for $40-45) and these price increases were just over a year or two and what I'm afraid of is labels NOT thinking long term but rather grabbing as much cash in the short term and basically killing this vinyl resurgence.

mysticisgod's picture

I set a goal for myself last year (which I failed), to not spend any more than $20 on a 1lp and $25 on a 2lp set. In my opinion records should not cost anymore than that... so far this year I've bought 4 records. Previous years I'd be buying 1 or 2 records a week.

atomlow's picture

I agree. We should all do this. We are getting hosed.

Martin's picture

Anybody know where we can get the all 23 of the 192/24 files recorded??
Opportunity knocking for the enterprising bootlegger with connections.
Or the music lover with connections.
I'm getting the LP but hoping for someone making the original files available somewhere. It should only be a matter of time. It's just a matter of copying a set of files. Don't even have to pinch the tapes and copy them anymore, just stick a USB stick or a couple of USB sticks in and you've got 'em.
Can't be that hard.

But more seriously, if Lyn Stanley, on what I presume is a shoestring budget, a no-name start, can do 192/24 recordings and press them on 45rpm vinyl, plus get the end result to sound fabulous, why not here?.
I've got that 45rpm double set and it does sound fabulous, just what is impeding team Dylan from doing the same thing?
Seriously folks, welcome to the 21st century, get it together.

Devil Doc's picture

Sometimes your B&M owner is wrong. He actually tried to talk me out of buying this LP. "You won't like it", he said. "It's the worst thing he's ever recorded". He even played the CD for me on the store system. Which sucks, btw. I bought the record. Thank you Michael. There's nothing like affirmation form someone of you stature.

al's picture

Amazing thought that Dylan's croak is a put-on! With Bob, one never knows...
For all the non-audiophiles here for the wonderfully perceptive reviews, I can say the CD sounds great on my NAD/Paradigm gear.

atomlow's picture

Dylan's Christmas in the Heart is just a fantastic Christmas record. He adds the right amount of grit if you ask me, but I'm a Dylan diehard. I understand why people don't like him but for all the reason they don't like him are all the reason why I like him. I heard the Freewheelin' first and just fell over for it. I feel sorry for people who just can't get over his voice etc. because I don't really think it's something you can let wear on you, it has to happen right away.

elliotdrum's picture

If this was an unknown Robbie Zimmer record would it get a 10 for performance?
I have been a folk fan since first grade when teachers played Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie recordings on Folkways that was around 1951-52. When Dylan's first recordings came out on Columbia I had them all. I love the earliest recordings and consider them to be extremely important for us humans.
These classic American songs were really meant for the better singers of the time. I really do feel Dylan has had a great voice
for the type of music that he normally sings. I remember when Ray
Charles was compared to Frank Sinatra and some critics said Ray
had a terrible voice. He had a great voice for the type of music that he created. The backup band is first rate but sorry Bob please get back to the type of music that fits you.
I will now pull out Frank Sinatra's Songs For Swingin' Lovers!
I'm glad Sinatra didn't do The Times They Are A-Changin'

SimonSlacks's picture

I can say with 100% certainty it was pressed at United. I had the joy of seeing it on press.

Michael Fremer's picture
Yes, I just corrected the review. I missed the "U" circled in the lead out groove area. The United folks seem to hate me for honestly reviewing their pressing quality. When it's good I SAY SO. When it's bad I SAY SO. This one—at least my copy—was well pressed, reaching the new and improved Rainbo pressing level. If they maintain this level that would be great!

I am still going to try to get their pressing total for 2014. Every other major pressing plant has cooperated. If you know someone there, which is how I assume you got in, if they won't give me the number, can you ask?

atomlow's picture

I just listened to my copy today and I agree a 10 all the way for sound. I haven't listened enough to give it a music rating but this is by no means a cheesy record, very well done again Mr. Dylan. My copy is pretty quiet with slight surface noise here and there when the volume is turned up. My record also came with odd smears in the vinyl which I see quite a bit, most of it came off with a cleaning.

I was going to pass on this until I saw this review. Thanks!

elliotdrum's picture

Could you imagine......... Sinatra the lead singer for Zep?

Songlist Samples-just click.

Good Times Bad Times.
The Lemon Song.
Gallows Pole.
Stairway To Heaven.
Rock and Roll.

Now that would have been somethin'

andyo5's picture

Since my turntable was packed away for moving, I listened to the CD that was included in this package. I must say that I was disappointed. The album cover lists the many musicians that participated in the sessions. There were horns and strings on the list. But almost everything I heard was Bob and a pedal steel guitar. I heard a cello briefly, but it was soon drowned out guessed it...the pedal steel guitar. At least you could hear his voice clearly, but I would definitely not call it pitch perfect. He warbled and went off key several times, as is typical for Bob Dylan.
If you are expecting to hear Dylan backed by lush orchestral sounds, you will not find it here. It a simulation of an orchestra provided mostly by (one more time) a pedal steel guitar.
But the tune selection was good and it is mostly a good listen.
If you are an uncritical Dylan fan then you will probably eat this up. But as a stand alone recording, I just can't echo Mikey's enthusiasm.