Desperate to hear Bob Dylan perform his greatest tracks in a live showcase in his twilight years, Shadow Kingdom operates on this specific level. A chance to hear the man himself rattle off the first half of his career, the finest tracks he believes he has to offer, in a setting befitting of his new style. Colliding worlds, atmospheric approaches to tracks of old and a sincerity which flows through a new vocal style, which benefitted Rough and Rowdy Ways. Those attending his run of no-phone concerts will surely have loved to hear how those tracks sound in his crackling, reflective new voice. Here it is. A different power is presented over a generous fourteen songs, with a different quality to each. Tenderness is on the mind though, as opener When I Paint My Masterpiece reveals.
Dylan and his collection of fine musicians collect some shanty-like styles, an urgency which spills over from track to track and provides a story-like continuation. Impactful workings on When I Paint My Masterpiece blow toward the stormy cries of emotionally charged acoustic flurries on Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine). Dylan uses Shadow Kingdom as an experiment in taking his American songbook style, his move away from country consistencies to dusty, seasoned songwriter. An hour of impressive hooks which tie tracks together, those who enjoy the recent works of Dylan and his current vocal impression are in safe hands. Shadow Kingdom has more than enough reflection and well-considered choice when it comes to which tracks are where. It is the weaving into them, from one track to the next, which provides real interest.
Shadow Kingdom feeds off the mood of a listener. It is a live piece which can shift the feelings of the day. Anxieties and fears that bubble to the surface are ripped through by something as good as this. Sincerely, an album which takes itself front and centre and brings about an essential, moving experience. Tombstone Blues is where this comes to life, but signs of it are found before and after this high point. Shadow Kingdom may be stocked full of old classics but the experience feels brand new. Take note of What Was It You Wanted, the Oh Mercy deep cut which sounds as surreal as it does intimately sinister. Coasting guitar work, those little flickers of string sections, the violin which holds it together as Dylan begins to make a claim to new vocal sharpness.
Striding through with formidable courage into Forever Young, Difficult it is to envision any better way to listen to Shadow Kingdom than on a gorgeous, sunny day, it really is an album for all seasons. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues is the perfect track for cosy listening. Dylan strips back his best efforts of his first thirty years in music and the resulting spectacle is a real, relaxed treat. It takes great effort to make a live set sound so intimate and sincere, but Shadow Kingdom delights time and time again with its merit and focus on being as real as can be. Those winds of change Forever Young teases are in firm sway now. Dylan reflects on this, gives himself the chance to explore his previous meanings and flow, and comes out of it all with a monumental record. A chilling feeling rises in the latter moments, similar to David Johansen’s Personality Crisis, as the musicians kick into full swing and Dylan is left there, on stage, wondering about his place in the public eye. Still as good as his glory days, and nothing to worry about, Shadow Kingdom plays well with the well-received intimacy.