From the strange mind of Harry Rossi . .. .
From the strange mind of Harry Rossi . .. .
5 Stars — Stunning yet heartfelt view of the harsh American West
This is a moving and exciting story that is worth [being] recognized more widely for its literary quality as well as its roaring story line. The style is economical but flows seamlessly. The novella reads like an exciting movie with non stop action and movement. Lloyd Fonvielle writes like a screenwriter, which he is of course, and it is amazingly rewarding and effective. In fact, everything I have read by Fonvielle has been outstanding. His style is sparse and slightly detached, yet draws the reader directly into the mind of the protagonists and the way they think, feel and experiences the frontier life and its harsh living conditions. Get this and Fonvielle’s “Fourteen Western Stories” for a fresh and piercing experience of the American West. I promise you these stories will stay with you long after you have closed the book or your kindle.
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This version of the song was recorded for Columbia Records in 1949, before Sinatra had his amazing breakthrough as an expressive artist at Capitol Records, where he began his legendary collaboration with arranger Nelson Riddle.
At Columbia he was still using his longtime arranger Axel Stordahl, whose backing of Sinatra could be a little syrupy at times. Still, you can sense here the beginnings of the almost conversational phrasing and emotional directness Sinatra brought to his great work in the Fifties.
Sinatra recorded the song twice more in the Sixties for his own label Reprise after he left Capitol. One was a decent but uninspired duet with Rosemary Clooney, the other a dreadful, punched-up hipster version which doesn’t convey even a trace of genuine emotion.
It’s easy to overlook how great the song is. Many people think of it in the versions from the Broadway play and its film adaptation (above), in both of which it’s sung in an overblown operatic style that subverts the simple conversational perfection of the lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Sinatra serves the lyric pretty well in his Columbia recording, but Dylan serves it perfectly in his new version on Shadows In the Night. He makes it simple — you see a stranger who sweeps you off your feet . . . you need to go talk to her before it’s too late and you lose her forever. Dylan sings about this as though he’s someone who knows all too well what it’s like to let a golden moment pass you by.
Adolf Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Jerusalem for war crimes was captured on video in its entirety. It was broadcast live within the trial venue for reporters who couldn’t be accommodated in the main courtroom, which had been remodeled from the auditorium of a community center.
It was recorded simultaneously on videotape and made immediately available to broadcasters around the world. Almost all of these recordings are now available on YouTube, and I’ve been watching them — have gotten through about 30 hours of the tapes so far.
Eichmann was placed in a bullet-proof glass booth, for his own protection, and sat impassively through the testimony of witnesses, mostly Holocaust survivors describing their fate in the system of relocation and murder which Eichmann, as a high-level SS bureaucrat, had played a central role in organizing.
He did not look frightened, or regretful, or sympathetic to the survivors. He had a curious expression most of the time, which might be described as one of mild annoyance or distaste. Of course it’s tempting to try and analyze this attitude.
It may have been that he felt annoyance and distaste at being surrounded by and in the power of so many Jews, which to him would have been a perversion of the “natural” social order. It may have been that he was offended by the messiness of the violence suffered by so many of the survivors. Eichmann enthusiastically supported the liquidation of the Jews of Europe, but he had the soul of a German bureaucrat — he wanted the process carried out efficiently and “correctly”, with as little overt violence as possible.
As I’ve watched the videos, only once so far have I seen Eichmann’s expression change. It was during the testimony of a stern and dignified rabbi’s wife as she told of being smuggled out of Norway with her children in a truck carrying potatoes. The driver, hiding her and the children in the back of the truck, said, “You must not move or make a sound. You must become potatoes.”
Eichmann smiled, in spite of himself, when she said this. (She was speaking in German, so he did not have to use his headphones for a translation.) If you could disregard the context, it was amusing to hear this stern and dignified woman describe being told to become a potato. Perhaps, too, Eichmann liked the idea of one of this accusers being turned into a potato. It is, after all, an image of a process that Eichmann seems to have enjoyed taking part in — turning human beings into inanimate organic matter.
But who knows?
There is no such thing.
People don’t come here from other places and become American. They come here and make America a little bit like the places they came from.
I believe I am part Irish because I love George M. Cohan and John Ford and James Cagney. I believe I am part African-American because I love Louis Armstrong and Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix. I believe I am part Jewish because I love George Gershwin and Arthur Freed and Bob Dylan.
I don’t mean this figuratively — I mean it literally. Irish and African-American and Jewish blood runs in my veins because tributaries of those cultures have coursed through my heart, defined who I am.
“Foreign” influences aren’t assimilated into America — America is assimilated into foreign influences. American exceptionalism is a dubious concept on most levels but not on this one. There has never been a country like America in the history of the world.
You want to know what American culture really is — ask me tomorrow. We’re still working on it.
This song has a brilliant title — the lyrics are not quite so inspired, but Sinatra makes you forget that with his emotional commitment to the number.
Dylan covers the song on his new album Shadows In the Night and somehow improves on Sinatra’s version, dramatically if not musically, singing in a persona simpler than Sinatra could plausibly adopt. The obvious images become convincing in Dylan’s rendition — bewilderment replaces sophistication as the dominant mode of the performance.
Dylan sings in the voice of an ordinary man leveled by a romantic catastrophe, searching about through the clichés in his mind for a way to express his devastation, failing to find it, and all the more bereft for that.
Trev Gibb and band, Newcastle Arena, a few days ago.
Sinatra co-wrote and first recorded this song in 1951 — it’s said to be about his troubled relationship with Ava Gardner. The recording above, from 1957, with an arrangement by Gordon Jenkins, is one of the pinnacles of American popular art. Sinatra brings an emotional intimacy to his interpretation which is devastating, but he also sings beautifully, with a power that suggests he still might turn the hopeless love affair around.
Dylan covers the song on his new album Shadows In the Night with the same emotional intimacy but with a hopelessness and weariness that suggest nothing is going to get turned around — that the singer’s longing is just going to echo endlessly down through time. Dylan’s version is another pinnacle of American popular art.
Bob Dylan’s vocal instrument is not what it used to be but it’s still an expressive tool of great subtlety and power — still capable of the raspy lyricism of a Louis Armstrong or the growling fierceness of a Charley Patton. Armstrong and Patton were of course two of the greatest singers of all time, even though you wouldn’t describe either of their voices as dulcet. Dylan in his later years has taken his place in their company and his new album Shadows In the Night proves that.
Dylan is no longer capable of the effortless crooning he could pull off when he wanted to in his youth, so there’s something conceptually exciting about his decision to make an album of songs suited to a crooner — songs from The Great American Songbook associated with Frank Sinatra.
In the 50s Sinatra himself moved from sweet-toned crooning to a more conversational and dramatic approach to songs, but his pipes had never been better. Dylan shows what you can do with a Sinatra song without the pipes — with timing, inflection, breath, total emotional commitment.
Total emotional commitment is the key factor — the sort of embrace of a song’s dramatic meaning that puts the singer in its service without reservations of any kind. Dylan once said that Sinatra was one of the only singers who sang without a mask — meaning, I think, without the stylistic flourishes that distance a singer from the purely expressive task at hand. (This wasn’t always true of Sinatra, but it was almost invariably true of the albums he recorded for Capitol in the 50s.)
Dylan sings without a mask on Shadows In the Night. To call the results astonishing is to put it mildly. Part of what’s so moving about the album is that Bob Dylan, an iconic rebel, a great though eccentric songwriter in his own right, surrenders utterly to the lyrics and the melodies of songs written for mainstream audiences. It’s his way of honoring the greatness of these songs, honoring them in the highest way possible by giving them everything he’s got as an artist.
The songs Dylan chose for the album are mostly slow and melancholy numbers — songs of longing and loss. When Sinatra recorded his best versions of these songs he was a man in the prime of life, which gave his expressions of longing and loss a particular kind of poignancy. Dylan sings them here as an old man, which gives them another kind of poignancy, the poignancy of longings for things that may never be possessed, losses that may never be recovered.
Dylan has said that he knew he could never measure up to Sinatra’s performance of these songs, but he knew he had something of his own to bring to them — something Sinatra didn’t always bring to them when he grew old, when his instrument began to fail. In his later years Sinatra got saucy and flip with standards at times — he put on a stylistic mask in that sense. (Listen to Sinatra’s last recording of “Some Enchanted Evening” done for his own label Reprise, a song Dylan sings so sublimely here — Sinatra’s last version is an upbeat, jazzy rendition that completely eviscerates the emotional burden of the song.)
Dylan, standing shockingly exposed, cuts deep on every track of Shadows In the Night — cuts to the bone, carves these old songs into the fleshy tablets of the heart. They have an unsettling intimacy — as though Dylan has decided to sit you down in person in the booth of a deserted saloon and tell you how things really are, how they’re going to be.
Singing is often about making pretty sounds, but not always. Sometimes it’s just about breaking your heart. When a singer’s instrument starts to fail, when the dulcet tones don’t come so easily, you find out what he or she really knows about singing. Every breath, every inflection, every hesitation has to count — the way things will count on judgement day.
Bob Dylan knows everything there is to know about singing. Listen to this album and take a lesson in the art and craft and mystery of it.
Click on the image to enlarge.