Ghosts in the shell: Ne-Yo and Bob Dylan

Ne-Yo – Non-Fiction

A masochist who uses kindness like he’s baiting a mousetrap, Ne-Yo’s been around the biz long enough to start writing songs about the biz: the biz is another woman he has to fool with his nice dude routine. This includes scenarios like “She Said I’m Hood Though,” where a chick in a bar says she prefers his older stuff; or feigning shock when his threesome request (he’s even got the other girl’s number) is countered with the hope that he wants a guy to join them (“Storytime”). With its talk-sing cadence, harmonic shifts, and monologuist’s flair, “Storytime” wants to be a chapter in “Trapped in the Closet,” which should tell you about Ne-Yo’s ambition. Now that R. Kelly is out of the scene, perhaps indefinitely, Shaffer Smith wants in on the radio play, before it’s too late. Still, he’s recorded his best album since 2008’s increasingly epochal Year of the Gentlemen. “Coming With You” is electronic pop on Ne-Yo’s terms, not Pitbull or DJ Mustard’s, garnished with a backbeat indebted to “It Takes Two” and horns indebted to Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” a midtempo move as insinuating as “One in a Million” and “Closer.” For those of us who love “Because of You” and “Fade Into the Background” best, there’s the closer “Congratulations,” a grenade hidden in a glove, with the line “But I must admit, I’m kind of mad” — a Ne-Yoid mantra for the ages.

Bob Dylan – Shadows in the Night

Ben Greenman:

Dylan’s version, aware of all previous incarnations, forges its own character. It opens with a horn that sounds like it’s taken from Jimmy Webb (though really it’s from Sinatra’s solid if over-enunciated 1949 version of the song), and what follows is sadder and more exhausted than Charles, wise but unsure what the benefits of wisdom really are. Like Cash, Dylan struggles when he’s lifted to paradise. Like Sam Cooke, he seems to believe that his troubles might be washed away. Like Brian Wilson, he is determined to turn his nostalgia to productive ends. The final verse is all Dylan’s, and it’s powerfully valedictory. The recording is noticeably different than the rootsy, tough live version of the song that Dylan has been performing recently, and it’s a reminder of how much interpretive singing has in common with acting.

What attracts me to Dylan’s version is its quietness. Reverent to the point of tentativeness, he takes the measure of every verse; he doubts the sincerity of his own prayer. In a sense, recording “That Lucky Old Sun” is redundant, for 1997’s “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” exists, and also couldn’t rouse itself into finality: the door’s going to close before he gets there, hence the inapposite swing in Dylan’s performance.

Shadows in the Night is competent. The arrangements are quiet: a gentle breeze on some enchanted evening disturbing centerpiece candles. Donnie Herron’s pedal steel and Alan Kaplan’s trombone are subtle to the point of vanishing. Leading the album with one of Sinatra’s few co-writes establishes the genealogy if not full kinship, one popular interpreter to another. I’m not fond of Sinatra’s version of “Where Are You?” although this may be my fault: Gordon Jenkins’ arrangements are gushier than Nelson Riddle’s. Dylan however just turns it and “Autumn Leaves” into bathos. When I read about the project a few months ago, I expected Dylan to come to the songs – banjo, e-bow, barrelhouse piano, anything. When Willie Nelson recorded Stardust, Booker T’s prodding and Nelson’s guitar polished the standards into a burnish undreamt of in the Stax. But Shadows in the Night is respectful to the point of piety. It reminds me of Bryan Ferry’s As Time Goes By: a gesture of gentlemanly respect, a reminder to skeptics that he’s always loved this material, ephemeral.

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