There are a number of surprises surrounding the release of the new Bob Dylan track, “Full Moon and Empty Arms” (click here). The first is it’s out from nowhere release — it was dropped yesterday with no prior indication or fanfare. The second is that it came alongside the announcement of a new studio album — his second in two years, which represents a hurried, late-period pace for the legendary roots singer/songwriter. The third is that it is a faithfully dedicated reworking of a 1945 Frank Sinatra cover — albeit one that wouldn’t sound out of place on Dylan’s masterful 2006 release, “Modern Times.”
The biggest surprise, however, has to be the performance. Dylan strips his voice of all forms of artifice. Gone are the gargling with gasoline, Tom Waitsian growls that marked his last half-dozen releases. Forgotten is the nasally high-pitched twang that preceded that.
Instead, we find Dylan singing an honest, naked, almost wounded sounding vocal that hovers slightly above lightly plucked rhythm guitar, a wandering pedal steel, and a barely there stand-up bass.
If he is going for the heartstrings, it appears his aim is true.
At the age of 72, Dylan has reminded us that he is still full of surprises — and still capable of new ways of expressing his muse.