Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dylanesque (2007)

A welcome surprise—for me, emphatically, both a surprise and welcome. It was Bryan Ferry's first album in five years, and I had sort of lost track of him, can't even remember the last time he released a full-on covers project—the '70s? Oh, OK, I see he took a Linda Ronstadt/Rod Stewart-like flier at pop standards in '99, which obviously didn't make much impression on me. But putting the focus so squarely on Bob Dylan is the real surprise here. Arguably chutzpah, but what a choice selection it is, from all phases of the storied songwriter's fabled career, including one ("Make You Feel My Love") from 1997's Time Out of Mind, all of which works I think to justify my decades-long sense that Ferry "really meant it" when he covered "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." A lot of pre-punk glammers were Dylan fans, secretly and otherwise (David Bowie, for example, pays his backhanded tribute on Hunky Dory), and a good number of usual suspects show up here such as Brian Eno, Chris Spedding, Paul Carrack, and Robin Trower, to name four (keeping in mind that "one of these things is not like the others"). Reviews of this that I've seen are largely lukewarm, and it's true that the sound here hews closely to the Avalon style that Ferry has rarely abandoned since the early '80s. Nevertheless, it reminds me all over again what a gifted and coverable songwriter Dylan is, a fact established on the top 40 charts in the mid-'60s, with the Byrds, Turtles, Cher, and others stampeding in to get in on this action. For that alone it's worth the price of admission. But, still, it's hard to find a whole lot of clear lines and definition in this sticky bun of an album, whose songs tend to shuffle along and blur into one another—not one particularly steps forth to distinguish itself, though if I had to choose I guess I would point to the more obscure Dylan songs here such as "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" or "If Not for You." But if nothing is an outright hit, neither is anything an outright miss, and in many ways it's a pleasure simply to hear this quasi-collaboration cum tribute go down, and appreciate the fact that it exists at all.

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