Monday, January 30, 2012

Thoughts on covering Dylan

Amnesty International, the human rights organization who has fought for everything from prosecuting George W. Bush for war-crimes to ending "disappearances" in dictatorial countries, is turning 50 this year. In celebration of this milestone, they've released an album called Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan is easily the best songwriter of the last century. Because of this, he's probably been covered more times than any artist still alive today. In a world where 'cover' is a dirty word, the sheer quantity of Dylan covers has made a fair number of decent ones.

Chimes of Freedom is pretty much pure gold.

With four discs, you'd think that there would be a large amount of filler. There are a few songs that are throwaway or just plain weird (Sorry Miley Cyrus and Sting) but most artists stand up admirably. The nice thing about this particular set is that majority here don't try to be Bob; they take their own style and see where it takes Bob's music. Flogging Molly turn 'The Times They are A-Changin' ' into a raucous floor stomper, Adele gets ballad all over 'Make you Feel my Love', Betty Lavette injects her soul into 'Most of the Time' and Rise Against delivers a version of 'Ballad of Hollis Brown' that gets Brown's rage and hopelessness across just as effectively as Bob did. Even Ke$ha (my what-the-fuck-were-they-thinking artist when I read the liner notes) turns in a passable a capella of 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright'.

Overall, the album is a fitting one for AI to release. Dylan has always dealt with the underdog and the beauty in this world that sometimes seems to hate us. This album, with a wide variety of voices paying tribute to a great organization and an amazing man, finds that tone and doesn't let go of it.


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