Chimes of Freedom: Track by Track
As those in the Dylan know know, covers of our own Shakespeare In The Alley could be considered an entire genre of pop music. The homages, sendups, reimaginings and interpretations are endless, and were going on as soon as he started writing songs. I’m happy to say that while I am an absolute Dylan junkie (read: I even think Self Portrait is brilliant), I’m not a stuffed-shirt purist when it comes to The Bard’s tunes. I welcome covers, and am thrilled to hear somebody succeed in putting their own stank on an established Dylan anthem. It’s the same with film remakes–a lot of people get their panties in a bunch when someone does this, but I’m happy to watch. It’s somebody else’s take on something they (in many cases) love, and hey, if it ends up sucking, guess what? The original is still committed to film (or tape, DVD, Betamax, etc.) No big loss.
So Amnesty International put together a 76-song collection of Dylan covers, which I knew I would have to go through and evaluate. Overall, I’d say it’s a mediocre collection, mostly due to boring, cliched studio production glossiness, but there is definitely a collection within the collection of fun, surprising and inspiring covers.
But before we delve into this behemoth compilation, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the best collection of Dylan covers I’ve ever heard, and indeed the measuring stick by which I would judge all collections that came after it: the soundtrack to I’m Not There, the abso-fucking-lutely BRILLIANT Todd Haynes Dylan biopic. I mean, for serious, I could watch this film 15 times in a row and not tire of it.
A word of warning though about this film: I don’t know exactly what you’ll get out of it if you’re not A) a supreme Dylan nut, or B) you can’t grasp the idea of a man assuming different archetypes/identities in his life and that a film might attempt to express that by literally having different characters play the same subject. The majority of the criticism I heard flung at the film boiled down to “But why are there different people playing one guy? I don’t get why you would do that. This is artsy-fartsy,” or some such nonsense. It seemed a pretty obvious way to explain such a chameleon to me. Plus, Cate Blanchett. Jesus.
So without further ado–
1. One Too Many Mornings – Johnny Cash featuring The Avett Brothers
Just remove the Avett Brothers karaoke track on here and you’ve got something.
2. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat – Raphael Saadiq
Not a Saadiq fan, but was pleasantly surprised with his choice of Grateful Dead-ish interpretation. Still, pretty meh.
3. Drifter’s Escape – Patti Smith
Not a surprise that Patti brought it into the Street-Legal era, not a bad choice but still too reverent. I want ragged, all-or-nothing days Patti!
4. Ballad of Hollis Brown – Rise Against
I like the energy and the build, but that late 90s/early aughts sheen is a bit much.
5. Blind Willie McTell – Tom Morello The Nightwatchman
6. Corrina, Corrina – Pete Townshend
A charming rendition. Thanks Pete. I needed that after that Tom Morello business.
7. Most of the Time – Bettye LaVette
One of my favorite latter-day Dylan tunes, it totally works as a Soul ballad. Props to LaVette for giving it the Mavis Staples business.
8. This Wheel’s On Fire – Charlie Winston
Winston’s Antony-like wobble fits the original Rick Danko vocal well, but the arrangement is to glossy for something penned in Big Pink.
9. Simple Twist of Fate – Diana Krall
Too, I dunno… uptight.
10. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Brett Dennen
Now this is the laid back fun vibe this song needs. Perfect fit.
11. Love Sick – Mariachi El Bronx
Spanish arrangements usually work well on Dylan tunes, as in this case, along with the orchestration and choral vocals.
12. Blowin’ in the Wind – Ziggy Marley
Aside from the guitar tone, a really solid minor-key version. Ziggy’s voice is best during its roughest moments.
13. Changing of the Guards – The Gaslight Anthem
The all-American, rollicking Bruce sendup makes sense, and Gaslight pulls it off, although I really miss the horns on this. The Clarence sound would have nailed it.
14. Not Dark Yet – Silversun Pickups
I think I like this one. Pretty sure. I think it’s the vocals that are throwing me.
15. You’re A Big Girl Now – My Morning Jacket
Jim James and Co. are excellent at covers (his “Going To Acapulco” cover on I’m Not There was show-stopping), and this is no exception. His sweet voice evokes Dylan’s during its least smoke-corroded Nashville Skyline days. Reverb and boom and slide, oh my.
16. Boots of Spanish Leather – The Airborne Toxic Event
Didn’t love it; didn’t hate it.
17. Girl from the North Country – Sting
Sting plays it smart sticking to the solo acoustic fingerpicking. Solo Sting is usually bad news, but he scores a serene win here.
18. Restless Farewell – Mark Knopfler
Dylan’s old friend Mark does a lovely Pogue-sey rendition.
19. Outlaw Blues – Queens Of The Stone Age
Finally, somebody rocks that shit! Wicked gutbucket guitar and the vocal distortion is a great touch. Out. Of. The. Park.
20. Rainy Day Woman # 12 & 35 – Lenny Kravitz
Ugh. I’m sorry; I’ll never forgive you for “American Woman.” You’re not allowed to cover songs anymore. Nice sax solo though.
21. One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below) – Steve Earle & Lucia Micarelli
Good buildup, violins and mandolins are a great touch. Chest-heavingly well done.
22. Heart Of Mine- Blake Mills
Another with an 80s Springsteen feel, with Bonnie Raittish harmonies, and it works for this song. Nice to hear something from Shot of Love.
23. You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go – Miley Cyrus
#WhoIsBobDylan #RoyalUglyDude #ZOMG
Seriously though, other than some minor processing and effects on the vocal, she sings this in true country style, with some aged raspiness in her voice. Pleasantly surprised.
24. Lay Down Your Weary Tune – Billy Bragg
Billy’s one guy who can handle a Dylan cover, although I’d rather her it in old-school heavy accent Bragg. Really dig the choral vocals.
25. License to Kill – Elvis Costello
What sounds like an awful start on a starter Casio keyboard eventually fills out with a nice Costello arrangement, complete with the old-school reggae bass. Wonderfully strange arrangement, excellent high harmonies.
26. Lay, Lady, Lay – Angelique Kidjo
Overproduced. Would’ve been so much better if they went with an African field recording feel.
27. Ring Them Bells – Natasha Bedingfield
Can’t anybody get this cover right? The original usually reduces me to tears. Sufjan shockingly screwed it up on I’m Not There (that and Vedder’s “Watchtower” were the only negatives in that collection), and Bedingfield reduces it to an Amy Grant ballad.
28. Love Minus Zero/No Limit – Jackson Browne
Meh to fair enough version, but I still say fuck this guy for laying his hands on Darryl Hannah.
29. Seven Curses (Live) – Joan Baez
I give Joan a lot of flack (usually just to annoy my mother), but I’ll be damned if she still doesn’t sound as unbelievably angelic and strong as she did 50 years ago. As far as singing ability and looks, Joan had the last laugh over Dylan, that’s for sure. One of the few artists to truly earn Dylan covers.
30. No Time To Think – The Belle Brigade
What is this? Get rid of this.
31. Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (Live) – Sugarland
See #30. And #5.
32. Mr. Tambourine Man – Jack’s Mannequin
OK, I guess we’ve hit a lull here. Who’s gonna get us out of this?
33. 4th Time Around – Oren Lavie
Nice Israeli touches and atmospheric trumpet on this arrangement. Thanks for bringing us back on to the level Oren.
34. All I Really Want To Do – Sussan Deyhim
We’ve gone world music! Not sure about this Iranian Adult Not-So-Contemporary version (it grew on me as the song progressed), but I kind of wish Sade was singing over this. That would be smoooooooth son.
35. Make You Feel My Love (Recorded Live at WXPN) – Adele
Yup. Still don’t like Adele, nor do I find her the least bit interesting. But even her Soul-pablum can’t ruin this incredible song. It always makes me think of my friends Jay and Michele’s wedding. Much love.
36. With God On Our Side – K’NAAN
I absolutely love the rhythm K’NAAN gives to the verse lyrics. This guy’s a Somali-Canadian rapper. What? I’m glad that’s a thing. Great modernizing of this tune.
37. I Want You – Ximena Sariñana
Not the kind of song you want to sing like pouty widdle girl. This isn’t “Santa Baby.”
38. She Belongs to Me – Neil Finn with Pajama Club
Sounds like they applied the Daniel Lanois-produced Oh Mercy treatment to an older Dylan tune, which is nice to hear, but a little too much of that Adam Clayton Joshua Tree bass treatment.
39. Bob Dylan’s Dream – Bryan Ferry
I always loved this song, but I expected Bryan Ferry to be much more inventive than this. Too many of these covers have that reverent, “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT BALLAD” stock production. Also, mouth harp?
40. Tomorrow Is A Long Time – Zee Avi
Like the minimalism of this one.
41. Just Like a Woman – Carly Simon
Who’s playing piano on this? Excellent, sultry arrangement. I’ve never heard Carly sound this dark and night-clubby (in a good way). Wow.
42. The Times They Are A-Changin’ – Flogging Molly
Love putting the Irish treatment on this anthem, but I’ve never been huge into the Irish-Polished-Punk sound of Flogging Molly. If this was The Chieftains or The Clancy Brothers (God rest their immortal souls), I’d be much happier.
43. Buckets Of Rain – Fistful Of Mercy
One of my favorite Dylan tunes, and for my money nobody covered it better than Neko Case. The group vocals and bass drum thump carry this version along nicely though.
44. Man Of Peace – Joe Perry
OK, in all seriousness, can somebody just put Aerosmith out of their misery? These guys all share a career that is about 37 years too old. And WHO told Joe Perry to sing?
45. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – Bad Religion
Not a Bad Religion fan, and this cover doesn’t help matters. I can’t help but think of all the other, better, more original covers out there of this tune.
46. Desolation Row (Live) – My Chemical Romance
Not a huge fan of these guys either, but this is a great anthemic punk take on Dylan’s rambling, surrealist poetry. This one works for me, whereas Bad Religion’s doesn’t. Dunno why exactly.
47. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – RedOne featuring Nabil Khayat
This song needs to be retired. It was seriously dead, then Antony breathed wondrous, macabre life back into it on I’m Not There, but that was it. No more of this song please.
48. Abandoned Love – Paul Rodgers & Nils Lofgren
Ultra commercial Neu-Country arrangement. Boo.
49. New Morning – Darren Criss featuring Chuck Criss and Freelance Whales
Aw man, they took all the joy and bounce out of one of my favorite Dylan tunes and turned it into open mic night pap.
50. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll – Cage the Elephant
I think this just needs to be a strummed protest song; the keyboard and effects-driven arrangement is just distracting from the story here. Dylan covered this one best on the Rolling Thunder Revue anyhow.
51. It Ain’t Me, Babe – Band of Skulls
Nice, minimal recording, driving yet subtle acoustic, lilting slides, harmonies that dole out the heartbreak in the lyrics. Aces.
52. Property of Jesus – Sinéad O’Connor
Wow. She’s still got it. I may need to dig into her catalogue. Her delivery of the chorus is the balls. Jesus, Dylan even made born-again Christianity badfuckingass. I think this is my favorite of the whole lot.
53. Shelter From The Storm – Ed Roland and The Sweet Tea Project
This song deserves much better.
54. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – Ke$ha
I’ve never heard Ke$ha before, because I’m a grown-ass man. I assume she’s trying to mimic some major league depth because it’s Dylan, but she totally misses the point of the song while fake cry-singing. If I was a betting man, I’d wager that she recently heard Amanda Palmer’s “Creep” cover.
55. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – Kronos Quartet
I like to think Kronos Quartet were all, “Who the fuck is Ke$ha? Did I just speak a dollar sign? No, we’re doing that song.” Pretty much the weird arrangement that you’d expect from them.
56. I Shall Be Released – Maroon 5
I don’t think we need to say anything here, right? Let’s just just move right along…
57. Political World – Carolina Chocolate Drops
This is what this song would have sounded like if it were written in the 1860s with Tammany Hall as the backdrop. The vocals are lackluster, but the arrangement drives shit home.
58. Like A Rolling Stone – Seal & Jeff Beck
Couldn’t we find a smoother Dylan song for Seal? And does Dylan have any “smooth” songs? Why did they give the quintessential Dylan anthem to a duo that only the Grammy Award producers would assemble? Yikes.
59. Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream – Taj Mahal
I want to like this cover; it’s got a Booker T. and the M.G.’s-like arrangement, but it’s 80s Booker T. and the M.G.’s, and Taj Mahal’s vocal delivery is just too much.
60. Senor – Tales of Yankee Power (Live) – Dierks Bentley
Lively bluegrass arrangement with some excellent mandolining, but once again the vocals don’t rise to the occasion. Another song that should have been retired after it was knocked out of the park on I’m Not There by Willie Nelson.
61. One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) – Mick Hucknall
Great Dylan vocals by “the Simply Red guy.” it’s about time someone did a Dylan vocal homage.
62. I’ll Remember You – Thea Gilmore
So far, my favorite part about this compilation is hearing people doing Dylan’s forgotten and vastly underrated 80s material. The guy’s absolute worst was still pretty damn remarkable. Gilmore handles this tune with aplomb.
63. John Brown – State Radio
I take it The Black Keys weren’t available and Amnesty International had to settle for the fifth-rate version.
64. All Along the Watchtower (Live) – Dave Matthews Band
See #56. Aw, and they had to put a version from Philadelphia didn’t they? Bad form Amnesty International.
65. Subterranean Homesick Blues – Michael Franti
We’ve hit another lull.
66. Mama, You Been On My Mind – We Are Augustines
67. Tryin’ To Get To Heaven – Lucinda Williams
Poignant tune, especially coming from Williams. She sounds like a female Springsteen on this one.
68. Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) – Kris Kristofferson
Kris still gots it.
69. Gotta Serve Somebody – Eric Burdon
70. I’d Have You Anytime – Evan Rachel Wood
Love this Dylan-Harrison collaboration, and can totally dig it in this lounge cover. Marilyn Manson’s ex nails the sultry chanteuse on the piano. Oh those actresses-turned-singers.
71. Baby Let Me Follow You Down (Live) – Marianne Faithfull
I know it’s now fashionable to hate the ukulele (as opposed to last year when it was fashionable to love it), but it is a perfect instrument for this song. Marinane Faithfull, on the other hand, just scares me.
72. Forever Young – Pete Seeger
Way to still be alive Pete. I think if he still had the strength, he would’ve taken an ax to the glossy studio production on most of this collection and made everybody go it with acoustics and footstomps.
73. Chimes Of Freedom – Bob Dylan
“Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man… Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.”
74. Outernational – When the Ship Comes In
75. Silverstein – Song To Woody
76. Daniel Bedingfield – Man In The Long Black Coat
All the rest is bad, especially in the shadow of The Man.