2012 four CD collection containing music from Patty Smith, Rise Against, Pete Townshend, Diana Krall, My Morning Jacket, Sting, Lenny Kravitz, Jackson Browne, Sugarland, Joan Baez, Flogging Molly, Joe Perry, Bad Religion and many others. Two iconic forces … see full wiki
I finally got a copy of this homage to Dylan, on the occasion of Amnesty International's anniversary, and as probably the biggest Dylan fan on this or most posts you had to know I was going to come to this conclusion.
The power of these songs is so amazing. The withstand the intense examination of all these different musicians and styles and performances--even when they don't live up to the songs, the power of the songs shines through. in general, when tracks fall short (there are over 70 songs on four CDs!) it is the performance that does it, confirming that in on an very high percentage of the the vast recorded output of Dylan's studio and many varied live performance, he makes the right musical choices and commits himself to the performance like few other surviving musicians have. Dylan isn't singing songs for entertainment' he's working out his demons. As I've said in reviewing another Dylan album, the Rolling Stones wrote the lyrics to "Its only Rock and Roll" ("If I could stick a knife in my heart Suicide right on the stage"} , Dylan actually performs it,
So, if you are going to cover a Dylan song:
Sing it like you mean it. Faking it won't work. Sorry, the first time I heard Kesha's much-lauded wailing of "Don't Think Twice", I hated it, and still do listening to it again. Obviously faked and over-wrought emotion is not passion, and isn't even a poor substitute, but a tawdry, cynical, and worthless opposite.
Perform it to the end of passion. Don't leave anything on the stage, in the mike or the instrument. As bad as Kesha's cover is, Sugerland's "Tonight, I'll be Staying Here with You" is worse, and for me the worst song on the album. This is the worst king of programmed country crap, with ZERO hint of passion--and it was recorded live. I feel sorry for fans who attended that concert (or any Sugerland concert if they never rise above this level). And on this of all songs this is inexcusable. Listen to Dylan's live version from the Rolling Thunder tour (Bootleg Volume 5) for the passion this song should be performed with.
There are several great examples of performing with passion here, and they are the best cuts in the set, spanning every genre possible.
Pure country (I'm not opposed to the genre, just to fakers like Sugerland who would desecrate any genre they sang) shows its passionate roots in Blake Mill's "Heart of Mine".
Adele's full-bodied pop vocals drive "Make You Feel My Love", and we can.
The bluegrass "Buckets of Rain" by Fistful of Mercy and "Political World" by Carolina Chocolate Drops (who ever heard of these groups?) take on a ringing, precise passion in the high-lonesome twang.
The straight bar blues of "Leopard-Skin PillBox Hat" and "Outlaw Blues" highlight the lyrics on top of the devil's own music.
You want a rip-roaring Irish jig? Its here, and the Flogging Molly's "The Times they are a changing" was a clear best of set for me . . .
. . . .until I got to the punk-metal-rap version of "John Brown" by a band called State Radio. I've never heard of them before, but this is passion left to stand on its own, and it is my favorite, and I'd bet Dylan's too.
And then there are cuts that can't be classified. I was prepared to dislike Sinead O'Connor's ill-mannered wail on "Property of Jesus", but it works. Lucinda William's scratchy barmaid voice turned "Tryin' to Get to Heaven" into a literal last-call anthem. Seal and Jeff Beck turn in a solid "Rolling Stone", probably the hardest cover (messing with perfection is a dangerous task) on the album. Taj Mahal turns "115th Dream" into his own song with his horn-driven band framing his famous growl. Even Pete Seeger, obviously too old to carry the beautiful melody line of "Forever Young" enunciates with a heartfelt passion made all the more poignant by the contrast of the lyrics with his failing health.
In front, behind, above, and the foundation underneath, always--the power of the passion of Dylan's lyrics and music. It survives the worst performances here and drives the best to the power of passion that makes Dylan the most important songwriter of the recorded era.
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