It's about time Bob Dylan sings the standards. As an aging rock legend, he's entitled to one holiday record and a crack or two at the Great American Songbook; with 2009's Christmas From the Heart, a surprising continuation of his late-career hot streak, he checked the former box. On Shadows in the Night, the follow-up to 2012's excellent Tempest, the master songwriter plays interpreter, tackling 10 sentimental ballads recorded by Frank Sinatra in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Producing under his Jack Frost pseudonym, Dylan ditches the orchestral fanfare for a more lonesome-cowboy style, with little more than acoustic bass, pedal steel, guitar and brushed percussion.
And, of course, that voice -- one as famously divisive as Sinatra's was universally loved. Over time, Dylan's nasal wail has become a creaky bleat that he artfully wields on record, yet uses onstage to render his classics unrecognizable. But here, there's little melody mangling. Beginning with the noirish opener "I'm a Fool to Want You," he enunciates, sustains fraying notes and softens his Bob-ness just enough. He never comes close to Ol' Blue Eyes' cocked-fedora cool or silky masculinity, but he's a 73-year-old chameleon for whom "crooner" is just one disguise. Even when he's a little rough, stretching hoarse syllables on "Full Moon and Empty Arms" or straining for high notes on "Where Are You?," he's still smoother than many might expect.