I missed out on seeing Shadow Kingdom ‘live’, but learning that it was a video of Bob Dylan miming his way under prerecorded music made me significantly less disappointed about that. The album has officially been released, so now I’m getting the best part anyway!
I find it pretty funny that he’s randomly decided to release an album of Bob Dylan covers – and that’s not a joke, these legitimately feel like him treating his own songs the same way he treats covers. If he spends his live career breaking his old songs, this feels like him fixing them; there is a genuine concern for making even his weathered old voice sound beautiful. “Tombstone Blues” is, for reasons I can’t understand, reworked to sound much like “Black Rider” off of Rough And Rowdy Ways, and it contains the most ostentatious example of him bending an old song into a new melody, but it never pushes him to the point of losing his breath the way so many of his live reworkings have.
If there’s a new wisdom he brings to the songs, it’s that sense of being a comfortable relic that he’s carried for a few, uh, decades now. My favourite song on the album is “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”; one of the worst covers I ever heard of it made the song sound like someone gently carrying a baby bird when it’s more an acidic take-down of a miserable society the narrator is giving up on. Dylan has burned out the acidic contempt and is more amused than anything by the betrayals and insults he’s witnessing. You go your way and he’ll go his. This ‘explains’ the strangely majestic feel of ‘Tombstone Blues” as well – he can see beauty and divinity in something he previously saw as clownish.
I also find it curious how Dylan has all the music seem to flow as one uninterrupted piece of music. Beloved Soluter silverwheel has frequently joked about how the one unifying element across all of Dylan’s live performances is that nobody in any of his bands ever knows when the song is over, and not only does this have that feel, it exaggerates it. The spaces between song feel like like outtros and more like their own small pieces of music between larger songs. Is this the one way he’s allowing himself to ignore traditional structure – this one element in which he is happily ignoring ‘good taste’ for something that risks abrasiveness?