Shadow Kingdom – Bob surprises all of us, or at least he surprises me

By Tony Attwood

So here we go with Shadow Kingdom.

I’d already heard that this was not really a live concert as we had been told, but a set.  Some already seem not to like it.  I don’t mind, because it is Bob and I am always fascinated with how he chooses to rework his music.

But this time what overwhelms me is his voice – that 18 month rest seems to have done it a lot of good.

Paint my masterpiece

Wow – if I hadn’t been told I would have thought this was cover version from a singer with a better voice than Dylan in his old age.   The re-arrangement is superb; Dylan does not normally take this much trouble with re-arrangements – it is not just the speed and the melody but he’s also changed the chord sequence too, at times.  And the accompaniment is fully and utterly rehearsed.  Only oddity is that some of the solo runs of the lady bass player can’t be heard.  That’s odd mixing and I was enjoying what she was doing.   I’ve always enjoyed the fact that Bob mostly prefers the double bass to the electric bass.

False endings too.   Whatever next?

Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine

Now Bob doesn’t stand on stage and do movements does he?   Well apparently he does.  But just listen to the accompaniment on this piece.  I have never ever heard Dylan use an accompaniment like this.

Mind you I have also never heard him do “Well the judge” middle eight like that – sudden change of beat and accompaniment and then BOB SINGING UNACCOMPANIED for a couple of bars.   Honestly?  Yes indeed, and it works.

This is original and inventive and above all 100% entertaining.   In fact it is bloody amazing (and you will have gathered by now I am writing this as I hear it, exactly as we do with the Beautiful Obscurity.  It is the verdict as I hear, not after I’ve had time to add clever anecdotes and afterthoughts (not that I get any of those anyway).

Queen Jane

Gentle, slow and Bob doing hand gestures.  No this isn’t Bob is it?  Well, yes it is.  He’s turned his whole act upside down and become a night club entertainer with an audience that can’t always be bothered, and well, why not?   I must admit that when I got up this morning (in the UK) ready to listen to the recording I thought one or two of our regular contributors might have written in with their commentaries- but maybe they are as stunned as I am.

I am not in any way saying this ain’t good – it is bloomin’ incredible – I mean has he always been able to sing like this but simply not bothered to do it before?

I’ll be your baby tonight

This is where it gets weird.  I don’t mean the arrangement or Dylan voice but the filming.  I’m a bit lost here – not that I am looking for a direct meaning (I know enough about art and have created enough of my own not to think that way) but something isn’t right for me.

Mind you, nor do I get the music with the sudden slow down.  I know I have no right to criticise Bob and his musical arrangements, but this sounds to me like a “hey guys lets suddenly slow down at that point – we haven’t done a sudden pointless slow down yet have we?” and the band says “no Bob, whatever you say Bob, you’re the boss Bob.”

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

And then he redeems himself totally – this is a beautiful arrangement.  It works to perfection, by which I mean one could think this was not how it was originally written.  Bob sounds as if he utterly believes in this song and this music and this arrangement.  It moves gently from verse to verse and the accompaniment sounds as if this is the original.

Even we when Bob changes the melody on “housing project hill” it works sublimely, and he builds up from there – not to frenetic excitement of course (not Bob!) but in a gentle musical form.

So far (and I am still writing this as I hear it for the first time) this is the song that shows the validity of the whole approach; the style, the band, Dylan’s signing…. and yes on the singing front Bob continues to  sound like he means it – not like he is trying to do a new arrangement.

Tombstone Blues

So I am enthused and enthused even more by the opening of Tombstone Blues – he’s completely rethought is.  No change of lyrics, it is the music that is reworked.  And through that first verse we are wondering if he is suddenly going to bounce into the original beat for the second verse.

But no he is taunting us.  Hey guys you were expecting a beat in verse two, but no I ain’t giving you that.   Oh that is really good.

And we get to the third verse and it becomes clear he’s running the whole song like an accompanied monologue.  And what a song to choose – a song with a chorus no less.

Best of all the band are controlled.  I’ve played on songs like this, and the temptation of everyone is to have a little bit of moment for each instrument – and then the result is we all start fighting each other (musically, not literally).  But none of that for Bob.  Everything is as controlled at the end as it was at the start.

And then he really bemuses us with a brief instrumental break, before we are back in with the “roadmaps for the soul” verse.  And those words, which we surely all know so well, are now given new strength, new meaning, new life.   How can that be after all these years.

I’ll be back anon with more from the show, but my advice, for what it is worth, is that if you ain’t watched it yet, find a very quiet space where you are all alone and give yourself time.   This is something very different and needs to be appreciated as a whole.   Or at least in a couple of parts.

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3 Responses to Shadow Kingdom – Bob surprises all of us, or at least he surprises me

  1. Filip Łobodziński says:

    It was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience of sorts. Originally heralded as a streamed concert, turned out to be a TV special, with carefully designed setting and actors on the set.

    But, to be sincere, I didn’t mind it at all. I suspected it would be a pre-recorded affair because nobody would want it to be a failure in case something went wrong, technology- or performance-wise. People responsible for the event – producers, managers, Bob Dylan himself? – opted for the safe way and it’s all right with me. I watched from my sofa sipping Heaven’s Door with green olives and I didn’t need to feel pretending I’m at a live concert.

    Perhaps one thing was disappointing to me. The players apparently were just acting. I noticed the guitar players hitting notes and strumming rhythms different to what I heard. And with the two guitarists overacting, prancing and rocking a bit too much, I found it unnecessary.

    But as far as my hearing and sensibility go, the Man sang live. I mean, live-to-tape. It was probably not so in the case of his harmonica – sometimes I could see the sound came ahead of the vision.

    Eventually, all this means nothing when compared to the core of the experience, i.e. songs, their choice, their sequencing & their performance.

    What struck me immensely at first sound was the overall feel. Sans drums and sans keyboards, it gave a totally different feel to the whole set and to what we’ve been used to. I thought this soft, meditative approach might echo the I Contain Multitudes/Murder Most Foul concept for the arrangement. It was smooth, it was unhurried – and yet full of an inner energy & conviction, and very vital.

    I liked the idea of having it all commenced with When I Paint My Masterpiece as an artist’s statement. I liked the idea of waving us goodbye with It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (with an instrumental Watchtower as an aftertaste/digestive). The subtitle Early Songs of Bob Dylan suggested the content so it was a surprise to hear What Was It You Wanted among the songs hailing mostly from the sixties.

    What I especially loved was a superb rendition of the song that had become my favourite on its original album when I’d first heard it. To Be Alone with You remains one of my hidden personal gems of the mid-Dylan era. And it was thrilling to hear a new verse and a new middle-eight.

    The “Sinatra years” have paid off. His voice was clear, rich in melodic nuances, and in spite of the new, sometimes surprising arrangements one could immediately recognize the songs even if you didn’t read the titles displayed on the screen.

    All in all, I was moved by the whole thing. The good and marvellous aspects over-kingdom-shadowed my initial disillusionment when I’d realized it was all prepared and staged.

    I liked it. And it will stay with me.

  2. denise konkal says:

    Thanks for your review Tony, I really enjoyed it!

    As for Bob’s Shadow Kingdom I really thought it was wonderful and like an old movie! I am still enjoying it! It was a very organized choreographed performance. The staging and cinematography was similar to his 1964 CBC Quest appearance. To me, it was like full circle; a then and now kind of feel, with Bob in the now drawing back to the 40’s when he was only a little child! So many of the songs Bob has knowledge of and featured on many of his Theme Time Radio Hour broadcasts predate his own adulthood. I understand it though because I was drawn into what my parents and my many older siblings listened to.

    I think it was surprising too, but not so much beacause of Bob’s beautiful vocals because I think his voice throughout Rough and Rowdy Ways is superb and also most of his 2019 tour concerts. Still, you are so right the rest has improved it even more I think!

    What surprises me most is that he even did it! I remember begging for him to do a virtual concert in so many of my comments last year! : ) It also surprised me at how much political correctness it threw out the window but at the same time showed an equity that is still lacking in our modern world and certainly back in the days this setting suggests. Along those same lines it may just be reinforcing what Bob’s art (musical/visual) has always tried to convey regarding breaking down the barriers of prejudice in our world. Great music and indeed all genres of art have the ability to provoke and transform and I know that Bob is very much aware of this and he has been quite vocational about it throughout his career.

    What I think will be interesting is when (my mind won’t accept ifs) he gets back on tour does he plan to change his old band for this new style and sound. Personally I hope he doesn’t but I will accept his choice. Perhaps he is ready for more change. I have to say that the few times I could simply sing with people backing me and not wearing a harmonica holder for example but just sing and play freely it was more enjoyable for me. It could be that Bob is just trying out new arrangements as he is prone to do (which I love) and maybe even test the waters for audience reception. I think Bob has conducted many such experiments in his time! I think he even conducts social experiments too but that is another topic. : ) Good for him he should do what he wants to and feels comfortable with and I will always cheer him on! Bob models to us all about how to “Keep on Keeping on”! He also shows us how to “be busy being born”.

    Bob Dylan is living art to me!

    denise

  3. Larry fyffe says:

    Yes, indeed it brought back the black-and-white memories of that no-drums ‘lonely log cabin’ up in the Canadian north woods

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