Rehashing Dylan’s Ghost Through Other Ghosts
“I’m Not There” just lost all possible Oscars that it was nominated for, and there was no one more thankful than me. It’s not because Cate Blanchett isn’t incredible and was able to do such a great performance in such a crap film. My disdain for the film stems mostly from the soundtrack.
The soundtrack was pretty much loved by all the press. It was a gem of a soundtrack, featuring contemporary artists doing amazing covers of Dylan songs. I seem to remember that formula not working out too well with “I am Sam.”
The collection of artists on the soundtrack is quite impressive. However, at the same time the choice of artists is a glaring misjudgment on the part of the director. He more or less picked a few artists under the radar mixed with a couple favorites and a couple of miserable wretches that have no right to even think about Bob Dylan, like Jack Johnson. Overall, it’s too glossy and too thoughtful for its own good.
In Response: a Bob Dylan Covers Album that rivals any concoction made by a major motion picture production team. Perhaps if they had stuck to the old favorites Cate Blanchett would be carrying around Mr. Oscar.
1. Ministry: “Lay Lady Lay”
Who knew this song could be dark? Who knew it could be dark and still sexual? A kind of dark desperation is key to this cover, it takes what Dylan did and goes as far away from it as possible. Al Jourgensen doesn’t try to do his best Bob Dylan impression, he takes his gruff voice and slams it on the table and says “this is what I got.” Dylan goes Industrial. It’s off the album “Filth Pig.”
2. Jeff Buckley: “Mama You’ve Been on My Mind”
Now you can argue Jeff Buckley wrote some pretty amazing songs but he was also a rather good cover artist. You can find this little gem on the expanded “Live at the Sin-e” but the version I’ve had a love affair with since 2000 is out there somewhere on Napster or whatever I was using at the time. It’s a grainy, awful quality live performance on the Music Faucet. So sad and beautiful and true Buckley slows it down to a kind of jazzy folk tune making it more heartbreaking than the rushed pace of the original.
3. Richie Havens: “Just Like a Woman”
This cover has a really great piano arrangement. Dylan always sang like pins and needles even when he was singing about women. What makes this version so great is that Richie Havens’ voice is like the distant mellow crackle of a campfire. Most important he doesn’t try to make the song more than it is. Sometimes an artist can sound too aware they are singing a Bob Dylan song, and it sounds like a third grader trying to pull their own weight in a fourth grade spelling bee. Maybe it was because Havens was a contemporary but that shouldn’t downplay how impressive his version is.
4. The White Stripes: “One More Cup of Coffee”
The lack of Emmylou Harris does not ruin this one. Not even Jack White’s inability to hit the high notes Dylan couldn’t even hit himself ruins this. While it isn’t especially different from the original, the White Stripes are able to make it their own by making it far more bluesy and raw than the original. The song can be found on their self-titled debut.
5. Johnny Cash: “It Ain’t Me Babe”
Predictable, I know. But there is no denying this is one of the best. The horns, the honky-tonk rhythm, the strange emphasis on “Babe” make it quite enjoyable. Not all that obscure but a great listen. It’s on basically every greatest hits album Johnny Cash has. Don’t buy into that “Walk the Line” version.
6. The Beatles: “Rainy Day Woman 12&35”
This is found on a bootleg collection called “Corn of the Apple” and this particular recording is of the Beatles basically having a laugh. But if anything is proven here it’s that even when the Beatles weren’t serious they were gold! The song lasts all of a minute but every second is so much fun to listen to, especially when the song breaks down to mumbling and feedback as John screams in a kind of evil cartoon voice “GODDAMN YOU! Little microphone!”
7. Rage Against the Machine: “Maggie’s Farm”
It took a lot of distortion and assorted effects pedals to really make this song angrier than I thought it could ever get. While it still has the Dylan-esque one-note verses, Zach de la Rocha is able to emit so much raw energy that either Dylan didn’t think necessary or hadn’t thought of. Fantastic. Rage Against the Machine do to Dylan what a lot of artists should do, break it to pieces and keep what’s relevant: the lyrics.
8. Bob Dylan: “Shelter from the Storm (from Hard Rain)”
No one can cover Dylan better than Dylan himself. A movie about a group of people pretending to be Bob Dylan while pretending to be other people who aren’t really Bob Dlyan wouldn’t be complete without one by the man himself. This takes the humble, soft “Shelter From The Storm” and kicks it up a notch. It’s no longer the soft love song it was on “Blood on the Tracks” but a mountain jam full of high hats and phaser effects.
9. Michael Rose: “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”
It’s not that big of a stretch for a reggae version of some of Dylan’s greatest “protest” songs. This cover is mellow, and intense at the same time, just as “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)” by Bob Marley is. There’s a real lonesome tone to this one, just as in the original but there’s a bit more hope.
10. Elliott Smith: “When I Paint My Masterpiece”
I found this on YouTube and was quite surprised at how great it was. A bit grainy and the sound quality is crap but Elliott Smith is able to make a loud bouncy tune into a toned down half whispered ditty. It was covered in a record store in Boston; the very store I would visit in 2003 before drinking sake bombs for three hours. While that was off the subject, the version here is fantastic, heartbreaking and nostalgic; much like thinking back on your antics as a teenager.
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