My response to Fresh Air’s review of Bob Dylan’s “Shadows in the Night”

Here’s the review by Ken Tucker, rock music critic for NPR’s “Fresh Air,” of Bob Dylan’s new album “Shadows in the Night,” which I took on yesterday.  And here’s my online comment on Tucker’s review: 

When Ken Tucker says “I suspect that many people who don’t like this album will ascribe their dislike to — what else — Dylan’s singing, with its aged cracks and croaks and rumbles,” he is engaging in a straw argument intended to portray those who disagree with him as unsophisticated, unable to hear the supposedly great artistry that lies behind Dylan’s vocal eccentricities. Well, I for one am far less interested in the quality of Dylan’s voice than with how he uses it. And what I hear is poor intonation, plodding, metronomic rhythms (e.g., “I’m a Fool to Want You”), haphazard phrasing (note how often unimportant words like “of” and “the” are stressed, thus distorting the narrative quality of the lyrics) and a very limited emotional range. In other words, Dylan does not sing these songs well. He sings them poorly, no better than the average karaoke singer. And how his incompetent non-interpretations permit the songs to be “heard anew” is beyond me, as well as being a meaningless cliche. No, you don’t have to sound like Sinatra to sing these songs, which can survive and thrive on innumerable approaches. But they do require at least a decent level of musicianship, one which Dylan, for all his greatness and importance, doesn’t demonstrate on this album. To say that he does is an insult to the many singers in many styles who deserve the praise being lavished upon Dylan. Can’t we have higher critical standards than that? (And by the way, far from being an unusual selection, “Full Moon and Empty Arms” is a solid pop standard with dozens of different versions on Spotify, if Mr. Tucker would care to check.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s