Everybody Sings Dylan

How many Bob Dylan tribute albums have there been – just in the last decade or so?

There was the international cast on the soundtrack to his “Masked and Anonymous”; the terrific covers on the soundtrack to “I’m Not There”; the gospel, blues and reggae salutes to his songbook, the live covers on the “30th Anniversary Concert” collection. There seems no end to it.

But it’s probably likely there’s never been a collection as packed with tracks as the four-disc “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan” released this week as a benefit for Amnesty International. (A bargain in its $24 list price; it’s $19 or less at Best Buy and discount places).

What other artist could even sustain a 76-cut tribute album than the prolific and mercurial Dylan? The 60s material may predominate, just as it does in his live performances, but there are enough inclusions of lesser known later material to warrant new appreciation for his later, pre-Grammy catalog as well.

The list of performers is mind bogglingly broad. Indeed, its subcategories could have produced a wholly pop album from Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, Maroon 4, Natasha Bedingfield, Darren Criss and the like; there would have been a classic rock disc from Pete Townshend, Eric Burdon, Bryan Ferry, Paul Rodgers, mark Knopfler, Carly Simon, Jackson Browne and Marianne Faithfull; a new wave generation from Elvis Costello, Billy Bragg, Patti Smith and Neil Finn; a world music flavor from Ximena Sarinana, Zee Avi, Ziggy Marley, Nabil Khayat, Angelique Kidjo and Mariachi El Bronx; a roots rock section with Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Avett Brothers and My Morning Jacket.

The great thing is that they all fall together, united by the visionary and heartfelt words of Dylan and his supple melodies, much of it familiar, more of it seeming refreshed by the new performances.

Here’s today’s No. 1 performer, Adele, doing her version of “Make You Feel My Love” from a radio station appearance; live concert versions of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” from Sugarland and one of Dave Matthews Band’s many many versions of “All Along the Watchower.”

Especially eye opening for me were renditions of songs scarcly played. With The Gaslight Anthem doing “Changing of the Guards,” Costello doing “License to Kill”; Blake Mills and Danielle Haim doing “heart of Mine”l Joan Baez rying out “Seven Curses” and the Belle Brigade doing “No Time to Think.”

It’s a concept to have the oldest recording artist represented, Pete Seeger, do “Forever Young.” But the real revelation may be hearing Dylan himself, closing out the 76 songs with one of the most effective renditions of anyone – with his straightforward, heartfelt and still shining title song, “Chimes of Freedom.”

This entry was posted in Music, Review. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.