2012, Music

Chimes of Freedom: the Songs of Bob Dylan (2012) by Various Artists

This is, I guess, a fitting tribute to the greatest English-language singer-songwriter of the second half of the twentieth century (of the whole century? of any language?). It is extremely vast, though that is appropriate, as there are over 70 songs.

The problem with all tribute albums, but especially one that attempts to deal with so much of such a large oeuvre, is that this is really hit and miss.

The music falls into several categories:

  • Decent performances that fail to move beyond the original or the definitive version (not necessarily by Dylan):
    • The Belle Brigade: “No Time to Think”
    • Dierks Bentley: “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)”
    • Billy Bragg: “Lay Down Your Weary Tune”
    • Jackson Browne: “Love Minus Zero / No Limit”
    • Daren Criss and Chuck Criss: “New Morning”
    • Miley Cyrus: “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
    • Brett Dennen: “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”
    • Steve Earle and Lucia Micarelli: “One More Cup of Coffee”
    • Fistful of Mercy: “Buckets of Rain”
    • Gaslight Anthem: “Changing of the Guards”
    • Thea Gilmore: “I’ll Remember You”
    • Jack’s Mannequin: “Mr. Tambourine Man”
    • Maroon 5: “I Shall Be Released”
    • Blake Mills: “Heart of Mine”
    • RedOne featuring Nabil Khayat: “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
    • Paul Rodgers and Nils Lofgren: “Abandoned Love”
    • Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project: “Shelter from the Storm”
    • Raphael Saadiq: “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”
    • Patti Smith: “Drifter’s Escape”
    • Pete Townshend” “Corrina, Corrina”
  • Covers that imitate Dylan too much:
    • Mick Hucknall: “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”
    • Lenny Kravitz: “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35”
    • My Morning Jacket: “You’re a Big Girl Now”
  • Covers that make you rethink the original or even improve upon it:
    • Adele: “Make You Feel My Love”
    • The Airborne Toxic Event: “Boots of Spanish Leather”
    • Zee Avi: “Tomorrow is a Long Time”
    • Joan Baez: “Seven Curses”
    • Band of Skulls: “It Ain’t Me, Babe”
    • Eric Burdon: “Gotta Serve Somebody”
    • Cage the Elephant: “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”
    • Carolina Chocolate Drops: “Political World”
    • Johnny Cash and the Avett Brothers: “One Too Many Mornings”
    • Elvis Costello: “License to Kill”
    • Sussan Deyhim: “All I Really Want to Do”
    • Marianne Faithful: “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”
    • Bryan Ferry: “Bob Dylan’s Dream”
    • Neil Finn and Pajama Club: “She Belongs to Me”
    • Flogging Molly: “The Times They Are A-Changin'”
    • Michael Franti: “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
    • Kesha: “Don’t Think Twice, it’s All Right”
    • Angelique Kidjo: “Lay, Lady, Lay”
    • Mark Knopfler: “Restless Farewell”
    • Diana Krall: “Simple Twist of Fate”
    • Kris Kristofferson: “Quinn the Eskimo”
    • Kronos Quartet: “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright”
    • Bettye LaVette: “Most of the Time”
    • Oren Lavie: “4th Time Around”
    • Mariachi El Bronx: “Love Sick”
    • Dave Matthews Band: “All Along the Watchtower”
    • Ziggy Marley: “Blowin’ in the Wind”
    • The Nightwatchman: “Blind Willie McTell”
    • Sinead O’Connor: “Property of Jesus”
    • Joe Perry: “Man of Peace”
    • Queens of the Stone Age: “Outlaw Blues”
    • Rise Against: “Ballad of Hollis Brown”
    • Carly Simon: “Just like a Woman”
    • State Radio: “John Brown”
    • Sting: “Girl from the North Country”
    • We Are Augustines: “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind”
    • Lucinda Williams: “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven”
    • Charlie Winston: “This Wheel’s on Fire”
    • Evan Rachel Wood: “I’d Have You Anytime”
  • Covers that really don’t make much sense:
    • Bad Religion: “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”
    • Natasha Bedingfield: “Ring them Bells”
    • Taj Mahal: “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”
    • My Chemical Romance: “Desolation Row”
    • Seal and Jeff Beck: “Like a Rolling Stone”
    • Pete Seeger with the Rivertown Kids: “Forever Young”
    • Silversun Pickups: “Not Dark Yet”
    • Sugarland: “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You”
  • Covers that completely miss the point and among the worst I’ve ever heard:
    • K’naan: “With God on Our Side”
  • A song performed by Dylan himself

As you can see by the list, the organizers of this comp seemed to be too ambitious. There are tons of no-names – and a number of what-the-fucks – on this list and it’s hard to understand how they had trouble getting name artists to cover Dylan. But when you decide to put together a collection of 70+ songs, I guess there’s bound to be a few bands you’d want back.

Of the good stuff – which is fortunately a slight majority – there is nothing here that will change your life, but there’s enough to make the thing enjoyable. And there are some major surprises: Carly Simon for one. Or Kesha; sure her cover is melodramatic but it still surprised the hell out of me. And I can’t say the same for the Miley Cyrus cover (though at least now I know she can sing).

Of the bad stuff there are some real head-scratchers:

  • There are the artists that thought they should sound like Dylan.
  • There are the bands that they should make Dylan their own:
    • Bad Religion decides he really deserves the pop-punk treatment;
    • Bedingfield decides his lyrics need to be oversung;
    • Taj Mahal does I don’t know what;
    • My Chemical Romance excise most of the lyrics because their fans can’t handle an 11 minute song;
    • Seal and Jeff Beck take the first ever extended-insult-as-hit-single and turn it into adult contemporary;
    • Pete Seeger speaks over a children’s choir;
    • the Silversun Pickups try to make Dylan their own so much so that it sounds like they wrote it;
    • I don’t know who Sugarland are but I won’t be finding out.
  • And then we have K’naan.

K’naan takes a song about religious hypocrisy and turns it into a celebration of religiosity. Now, I don’t know if K’naan missed the point of the song or if he decided he didn’t like it, and I don’t know which is worse. Probably the latter, and the latter is probably worse. One of the worst covers I have ever heard in my life. Possibly the worst. Because at least musically incompetent covers of great songs have the appropriate feeling behind them. K’naan forgot to read the lyrics. This cover combined with “Waivin’ Flag” have to make him one of the great blights on modern music. Jesus tap dancing christ he’s horrible.

But on the whole, if you can skip over the 7th of the album that is terrible, you are left with a decent tribute album. Dylan deserves better, but this is the best that has been done up to this point, and that’s okay.


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