Sunday, August 21, 2005

If I was a master thief, perhaps I'd rob them 

The latest issue of Brit music (and, occasionally, film) mag Uncut is packaged with an interesting-but-fated-to-be-disappointing cd of the entirety of Highway 61 Revisited covered by various artists. Highlights: Westerberg's "It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry," Dave Alvin's title track, and, intermittently over its six minutes, the Drive-By Truckers' "Like a Rolling Stone." "Queen Jane Approximately" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," by American Music Club and The Handsome Family (these limeys love the pseudo-Americana, don't they?), are two songs lovely enough to be basically unfuckupable, despite both artists' seeming shared conviction that what this near-perfect album needed was to be, you know, a little boring.

Before Songdog's intolerably twee "Desolation Row" had reached Ophelia 'neath the window, I removed it from the stereo and replaced it with the lovely and probably justly obscure Robyn Hitchcock double-album Dylan cover project, Robyn Sings. It's a beautiful album, especially the acoustic side, though I admit I bought it to hear Hitchcock's live cover of Dylan's infamous 1966 Manchester show. And Hitchcock, unlike Rolling Stone partisan Greil Marcus, agrees with me that "Visions of Johanna" is Dylan's best.

stolen from an oooold Fark photoshop contest

Which got me to thinking about Mr. Dylan's oft-pondered and pontificated-on status as an artist meant to be covered.

Frankly, I don't see it. I still have friends who repeat the old line about loving Dylan but hating his voice, which just means that you don't really like Bob Dylan that much; that's perfectly fine -- I hate Joy Division, among plenty of other Great and Important and Influential Artists.

And, if you are an artist covering Dylan, and you've decided to enunciate and emphasize the melody, could you at least give some sort of shit about interesting phrasing, especially if you're Marc Carroll covering "Tombstone Blues," which, I'm sorry, has no melody and relies entirely on delivery? These are long songs with no choruses, people, let's all pitch in to make this, Uncut's 50 millionth Dylan cover cd, at least half-listenable.

Which is all a long, pointless way of getting to my music nerd point, which is that I could curate a better tribute album with one earbud tied behind my back. Off the top of my head, here are examples of actual, good Dylan covers:

The Box Tops -- "I Shall Be Released"
Paul Westerberg -- "Positively 4th St." (alt: "All I Really Wanna Do")
Nina Simone -- "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
The Mekons -- "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (Hoboken, 2004 -- was this recorded?)
Robyn Hitchcock -- "Visions of Johanna"
Rod Stewart -- "Mama, You Been On My Mind"
Them -- "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
The Byrds -- "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (if repeating a track isn't allowed, I sub "Nothing Was Delivered")

So -- for the three or four you of hanging around while Roy Edroso's off secretly Fringe Festing, what's yer favorite Dylan cover? First person to mention the Dead will have their trackbacks deleted.

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