Yesterday was bookended by a pair of unexpected releases. In the morning, Morrissey unveiled his first new studio material in almost five years, then just as we were packing up for the day, a new track appeared without fanfare on Bob Dylan’s website. Admittedly, we had been expecting some new music from Morrissey; Dylan, however, caught us entirely by surprise, and not for the first time…
So, what are we to make of Dylan’s “Full Moon And Empty Arms”? And what clues – if any – does it divulge about where the artist’s capricious muse will lead him next? The facts are thin on the ground at this point. What we do know for sure is that song dates from 1945 and was written by the team of lyricist Buddy Kaye and composer Ted Mossman and that Frank Sinatra had a hit with it that same year. Dylan’s version, driven by some beautiful slide guitar, is a bruised, atmospheric affair.
Questioned by Rolling Stone, a spokesman for Dylan confirmed, “This track is definitely from a forthcoming album due later on this year.” Is Dylan prepping, then, an album of covers, specifically Sinatra covers, or a mix of covers and originals? And is it simply coincidence that the track went live on the anniversary of Sinatra’s death..?
Let’s start with Ol’ Blue Eyes. Dylan is a long-standing fan, of course. He covered “All My Tomorrows”, from Sintra’s All The Way album, live in 1986 and delivered a moving version of “Restless Farewell” at Sinatra’s 80th birthday tribute in 1995. Broadening it out slightly, Dylan covered “Return To Me” for The Sopranos and “You Belong To Me” for the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, both of which Dean Martin recorded. We know, too, from anecdotal evidence unearthed in Uncut’s 2008 Tell Tale Signs cover story that during the making of “Love & Theft”, Dylan would play old records by artists like Dean Martin and Billie Holiday to his band to indicate the kind of mood he wanted to get for a particular song, and would often also get them to play the songs themselves. This was confirmed further by David Hidalgo, who told Uncut in late 2009 that during sessions for the Christmas In The Heart album, Dylan and the band listened to Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé.
Meanwhile, Dylan is certainly no stranger to cover versions. Apart from “Talkin’ New York” and “Song To Woody”, the 1962 debut album consisted of traditional material, and he released two albums of blues covers in the 1990s: Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. There are covers, too, on Self Portrait and Down In The Groove, and let’s not go into how many cover versions of other artist’s songs he’s played live through the years.
While we may not be entirely certain about the content of the album, there is the possibility we might, at least, know the title. The front page of Dylan’s website currently displays what looks suspiciously like an album cover: a picture of Dylan’s face (perhaps dating from a 2006 William Caxton photo shoot) with the words ‘Shadows In The Night’, rendered in the style of a Blue Note LP cover.
From what we know about Dylan’s working practises, he doesn’t dawdle in the studio. Engineer Chris Shaw told us for the Tell Tale Signs story that the 12 songs on “Love And Theft” were recorded in 12 days, with another 10 days for mixing, and we believe that is still pretty much how he continues to work to this day. Looking at the maths, if the previous leg of the Never Ending Tour finished last November at the Royal Albert Hall and resumed in Japan on March 31, those three months off are more than enough time for Dylan to record a new album. We know that Dylan has certainly been in the studio while off the road: he’s cut a track, rumoured to be “Things We Said Today”, for a forthcoming Paul McCartney tribute album.
I’m aware it’s easy enough to tie yourself in knots trying to predict what Dylan will do next: which is certainly part of the fun. A new album, whatever it consists of, will certainly be most welcome. I can’t help, though, thinking that the release of “Full Moon And Empty Arms” comes so soon after Neil Young‘s own album of cover versions, A Letter Home. A mere coincidence? Surely, to think anything else would be madness…
Anyway, what do you think of “Full Moon And Empty Arms“, and what would you like from a new Bob Dylan album..?
Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner.
Thanks to: Damien Love