An old bag lady waits for the COTA bus downtown. She gets on at 11 a.m. She rides it as far as it goes and gets a transfer to another bus and repeats the action. She rides 10 buses through the course of the day. Eventually she ends up in the same spot where she started. She is older when she finishes than when she started out. End of story.

  This, my friend, is what the new Bob Dylan album, Shadows In The Night, is like. Nothing more. Maybe a little bit less. Except it's not circular, it's flat like Kansas.

  But here's the riddle, if not the punchline, and it is so goddam Zen it makes you love Bob even more than you already do: He's doing entirely Frank Sinatra songs!

  It's a joke, right?

  No joke, chump. The joke would be if he did Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers album in its entirety. That would be funny. Nope, the Chairman of the Croak does the Chairman of the Board. Fuggettaboutit.

  For some people, Dylan is beyond criticism. I am not vegetarian and I eat cow and the more sacred, the better it tastes. So let's tell it like it is: the idea of Bob Dylan doing Sinatra is, oh, 70 times so bodaciously better than actually hearing him do Sinatra.

  How bad can Shadows of Night be? Eh. Anybody who says they like it is full of shit. Can Barnabas Collins pull off an even adequate impersonation of Bela Lugosi? Dylan's performance ranks with Rhino's Golden Throats, Leonard Nimoy in particular.

  This, this is...decomposing Dylan in real time, set to dirge pace. Almost but not quite exactly like a can of spam left over from World War II. Suspect to begin with, once you start listening you lose your sympathy and at some point it becomes a rancid idea.

  A couple of songs are OK, a couple times he comes off genuinely tender. And for that we can be grateful. Seeing how every one of the 10 tunes is a relatively obscure or less well-known Frank ballad, he'd better get the sentiment straight because Shadows In The Night is one very sentimental album. If you think sounding tender on only two of ten songs makes for a bogus bus transfer, you'd be right. Obviously Shadows does not swing a la Nelson Riddle. Aside from banging Joan Baez, neither has Dylan--ever.

  I expect he got a free bag of Viagra from Harry Belafonte for having renewed his AARP membership. And yet the very idea of Bobby D doing Frankie S is not that farfetched. Nothing, and I mean nothing on Shadows comes close to Dylan's cover of Dean Martin's Return To Me, the super-sentimental Dino tune used to such great counter-intuitive effect on The Sopranos episode where Jackie Jr. meets his maker. Dylan sings it with plaintive feel and it works. What makes it special is that the idea of him singing it is nothing special. Which of course is the opposite of Shadow's point.

  What I'm sayin', yo, is that Bob has done tender and sentimental better. Here, it's funereal.

  Ok, let's get it over with and tramp all over this damn thing:

I'm A Fool To Want You--Two things: he doesn't sound that bad--at first. Second, I never realized how much Tom Waits was really doing an impersonation of Dylan doing Sinatra. Fool is nice song. Think Waits doing his tune Alice and you'll be prepared for Bob doing this.

The Night We Called It A Day--Some singers fade away. Not Dylan. He's financing his own Catskills rest home for no-longer-wandering-Hebrews with this Sinatra project. Despite his voice stretching and straining the last words of the song, one could be forgiven for enjoying hearing it and like it if it were the only Dylan song you heard that week. Rumor has it he was technically dead by the last verse but the tape kept rolling and the show went on. A real trouper, Bob.

Stay With Me--OK, ok...what should've been just a B-side lark has now had to have gotten the ghost of Frank a little perturbed. One imagines that a hit is being called in from the other side and I don't mean Top 40 payola. Paulie Walnuts with wings in his hair and heat on his person has just been dispensed from Hoboken in Heaven.  The Chairman don't like it.

Autumn Leaves--Just Dylan's intonation of the song's first three words"...the...falling...leeeeaves..." pretty much makes one hang one's head because Uncle Bob thinks retirement is for losers. Bob is beautiful, yes, but I once told my mother I couldn't stand her perfume and she never forgave me. Still I wish she hadn't worn it and Bob hadn't sung more than two Sinatra songs.

Why Try To Change Me Now--Kind of cheery, not morose like the last two. Yet I keep thinking him singing in a French accent is what's missing.

Some Enchanged Evening-- The single biggest hit to ever come out of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (South Pacific), Dylan makes me love Tom Waits even more. He'd know how to sing this with more rough humanity than what the Skipper really wanted to do to Gilligan on Gilligan's Island.

Full Moon and Empty Arms--Lovely song, I'll bet Frank killed on it. Dylan's hobo lullaby version is full of splinters. Woody Guthrie is a little embarrassed by it I'll bet--as well as Bob's phone-book-sized quarterly royalty statements from Columbia. What does he do with all that money?

Where Are You?--Seeing how every song is done at a metabolic rate of a frozen tadpole, Right about now I wish he'd done a complete re-reading of Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love.

What I'll Do--Almost sounds like My Way and then I realize Dylan avoided famous Sinatra classics because he really would have sounded ridiculous.

That Lucky Old Sun--No, no, no, no, no, no.

Bobby, next time include These Boots Are Made For Walkin'.