Monday, May 16, 2011

BobFest: 15 Great Dylan Covers

Eddie Vedder nails the vocal on "Masters of War."
Fifteen more, that is, besides the ones Rolling Stone picked. All of which are truly great Dylan covers, but except for the Roger McGuinn track, you've probably heard them plenty of times. But how about these?

The Roches/Clothes Line Saga
That's Suzzy and Maggie, anyway - two of the three Roche sisters – giving a typically droll reading to one of my favorite overlooked gems. It appears on the delightful folk musicians' tribute A Nod to Bob, on Greg Brown's Red House label, issued to commemorate Dylan's 60th birthday. And when I added that last link, I just found out they did a Volume 2 that's being released tomorrow. I look forward to hearing Peter Ostroushko's take on "Mozambique."

Susan Tedeschi/Lord Protect My Child
I picked a lot of lesser-known songs for this list, because a good cover serves the purpose of making you listen with new ears. Tedeschi's powerful reading of this track, from her 2005 album Hope and Desire, really brought the song home for me.

Robyn Hitchcock/Trying to Get to Heaven
Hitchcock has done a lot of Dylan covers over the years, but, again, this one (from 2004's Spooked) shines a light on a dusty corner of the catalogue – with the help of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. This song from Bob's Time Out of Mind is not just a wordy remake of "Knockin on Heaven's Door" – it's more in the vein of Elder Bob, wanderin' and wonderin'.

Youssou N'Dour/Chimes of Freedom
Senegal's heavenly vocalist Youssou captures the yearning in Dylan's melody and words, even though the verses are sung in his native Wolof tongue - only the line "we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing" is sung in English. Here's a video of it. You know who else did a great version of this? Springsteen.

Madeleine Peyroux/You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
One of the gentler numbers from Blood On the Tracks sounds even more wistful when Peyroux wraps her larynx around it. Hard to believe was written the same time as "Idiot Wind," but then Bob encompasses multitudes, don't he? Her version is from 2004's Careless Love CD. And here's a video of that.

Cat Power/I Believe In You
Chan Marshall solidifies this gospel number, taking it to a transformative personal level. If you like Dylan covers, you absolutely need the I'm Not There soundtrack, and this is one of the best of a great bunch of tracks.

Black Keys/The Wicked Messenger
Putting the "wicked" into John Wesley Harding's "The Wicked Messenger," one of the finest bands working today - also from the INT soundtrack album, You know who else did a great version of this? The Faces.

Solomon Burke/Maggie's Farm
The late great Mr. Burke released this as a single in 1965. Dylan returned the favor for Burke's excellent 2002 comeback album Don't Give Up On Me, handing over the unrecorded composition "Stepchild."

Eddie Vedder & Mike McCready/Masters of War
Eddie absolutely nails the vocal - as is his wont - in this highlight from the concert honoring Dylan's 30th year in showbiz (Eddie also nails the vocal on "All Along the Watchtower" on the INT soundtrack). The Roots do a terrific version of this where they sing Dylan's lyrics to the tune of "The Star-Spangled Banner" before lurching into their devastating cover with his melody. Speaking of the melody, John Scofield does a sublime instrumental version.

Red Hot Chili Peppers/Subterranean Homesick Blues
Many have cited Dylan's original as an early rap progenitor, so the Chilis merely took it to the logical next level on 1987's George Clinton-produced The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. Their churning punk-funk feels utterly natural as Anthony Kiedis spits out the lyrics, including an ad-lib that rhymes "Dylan" with "chillin'." Here's a live version.

Beck/Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat
Oh gawd I love this one. Video here.

Steve Forbert/Watching the River Flow
Forbert was one of the endless stream of singer/songwriters cursed by critics with the "The New Dylan" kiss of death, which some managed to transcend better than others. Either way, he manages to inhabit this song like a well-worn pair of jeans. This is from the second volume of a cool project called The I-10 Chronicles.

The Everly Brothers/Abandoned Love
Dylan always says that Elvis Presley's version of "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" is the single cover version he's most proud of. I bet if you asked him, he'd be pretty proud of Phil and Don tackling this one, too. Their Celtic-flavored take is true to the spirit of the obscure original. Bob has a habit of tossing away masterpieces like "Dignity," "I'm Not There," or "Blind Willie McTell" – songs any other singer could build a career on. This one is another of those orphans, unjustifiably neglected by its creator.

Dirty Projectors/Dark Eyes
This was a tough choice, because the version of this song by Iron & Wine and Calexico is my single favorite track off the INT soundtrack. But the Dirty Projectors are my new favorite band, and their spooky harmonies completely shatter me on this track. Here's a video. (They also do "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" and "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" pretty well, too).

Transvision Vamp/Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window
Tip of the hat here to Tucson's greatest DJ, Kidd Squidd, who burned me a CD of his favorite Dylan covers and turned me on to this track. You know who else did a great version of this? The Hold Steady, on, what else, the INT soundtrack.

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