Shadow Kingdom

Shadow Kingdom

Bob Dylan has always seemed to take unusual pleasure in turning whatever it is the public thinks he is inside-out. Acoustic to electric, Self Portrait, the bard of American counterculture embracing the repertoire of Frank Sinatra (Shadows in the Night): None of it fits, which is to say that all of it does. The first thing you notice about this early-works retrospective is how sparse and mysterious it is: a “Tombstone Blues” delivered like a radio noir, an “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” with the hovering gravitas of a dramatic reading. At 79, his sexual urgency sounds both funnier and more mortal than it did 50 years earlier (“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”) and his cosmic ease validated by the long road already behind him (“When I Paint My Masterpiece”). In the absence of drums, four guitars organize themselves around an upright bass and an accordion whose reedy wheeze rustles in the drapes like a ghost. The conviction of youth gives way to the ambivalence of age, and what once sounded grave now sounds like a cold beer amid a warm breeze, and in one mellow hour, he makes the past feel like what it probably ends up being: unknown country.

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