One Track Mind: Bob Dylan, “Full Moon and Open Arms” (2014)

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With very little fanfare and minimal publicity Bob Dylan recently issued a lovingly crafted cover of Frank Sinatra’s 1945 song “Full Moon and Empty Arms” via his official website. The single was accompanied by what looks to be an album cover image, created using a black-and-white shot of Dylan in the style of a classic jazz recording. Also included was the title Shadows of the Night.

It has since been confirmed that the song was mined from a new Dylan record, to be released later this year. It is unknown whether this album will be a collection of covers, or if it will contain any new original compositions. A covers project would certainly place Dylan in good company among his contemporaries, following similar excursions by the likes of Paul McCartney and Neil Young.

What can also be confirmed is that this cover song has been recorded in the same style that has been Dylan’s modus operandi since 1997’s Time Out of Mind. Dylan has not strayed from the nimble, sepia-toned, 78-record sound that he has spent the last 20 years developing. The sparse and airy Dylan arrangement of the song lends an even more intense and poignant reflection on the original version.

Dylan’s take builds on the Sinatra reading by exchanging a weeping pedal steel for the original strings, and laying down a world weary vocal that illustrates the depth of the Kaye/Mossman-penned popular song. The results play like evening clouds, with the warm pulse of a stand up bass as a gentle initiator. Dylan is deeply invested in his vocals, crooning a transparent duet with Sinatra’s ghost.

It should come as no surprise that Dylan would reach back to earlier musical influences. His recent studio releases have been a conglomerate of such found items, ranging from hallmarks of literature to traditional song forms and motion pictures. His career is littered with cover versions and live interpretations of dusty, forgotten melodies. Whether part of a bigger picture or taken a stand-alone item, “Full Moon and Empty Arms” is a tribute (and, for some, perhaps an introduction) to the deep musical waters of songbooks from the past.

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