Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Were you a Dylan fan from the very beginning?

I must admit that I've been a Dylan fan from the very beginning. I mean here was a guy who was saying things that I wanted to say, and he didn't need a whole band to do it. Why, I thought, I could do that. Well, by the time I figured out that I couldn't I was already hooked big time. I bought all the albums, even haunted head shops on Huntington Avenue to buy bootlegs, from "Great White Wonder" on, from the cardboard boxes hidden below the record bins.

Why is this new collection, The Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan, important to an old Dylanite like me? Certainly there have been impressive collections of covers of his music before. Red House Records issued "Nod to Bob" albums on both his 60th and 70th birthdays. In the 90's the Indigo Girls and their Atlanta friends did an album of Dylan songs and for a second volume roped some other folks, like Ellis Paul and Richard Shidell, in to contribute. There's been Blues tributes to Bob and of course the inevitable "Pickin' on Dylan" bluegrass collection. Amazingly there were actually several of those.

What makes this album different is more than just the size, which is impressive with four discs featuring more than 80 artists. What makes it impressive to me is the diversity in styles of the artists represented. Certainly there are some folks you'd expect to be here, like Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Billy Bragg and Jackson Browne. There are artists that will make a Highway 61 Revisited fan smile like Jeff Beck, Marianne Faithful and Paul Rogers (remember Free and Bad Company?). Even Pete Townsend turns in an amazing version of a song Dylan once recorded. Celtic Twilight fans will appreciate a performance of one of Bob's songs by Flogging Molly.

The writers who wear the Dylan influence proudly are here as you might expect: Steve Earle, Michael Franti and Tom Morello. From Jazz (Diana Krall) to ReggAe (Ziggy Marley) to Blues (Taj Mahal) and beyond it's all here. The punk poet PattI Smith contributes and  there's a good sampling of the more intellectual indie bands like My Morning Jacket and Maroon 5. Even the Kronos Quartet contributes and try to listen to Johnny Cash's version of "One Too Many Mornings" without a tear in the eye.

There's also a goodly number of bands that I, being a certain age, never heard of, but  what surprises me most about this collection is the contributions of "main stream" stars. (And you can read that as multi-million selling artists.) Sting, Dave Matthews, Miley Cyrus and even main stream country music favorites like Sugarland.

While Bob Dylan was originally hailed as "the voice of his generation" what this collection makes clear is that his is a voice for all generations, and that his influence has reached into every corner of popular music.

If you already have a copy of the CD, what do you think of it?

If you don't have the CD yet, then for more information on getting your own copy of this landmark collection while supporting WUMB at the same time, click here:

-Dave Palmater

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