To mark Amnesty International’s fiftieth year, which coincides with Bob Dylan’s self-titled first record, an album of suitable cover versions has just been released called Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan.
Featuring an incredibly diverse group of 80 artists, there are 75 Dylan songs spread across four CDs. The liner notes from Sean Wilentz explain the connections between Amnesty’s mission and Dylan’s genius as a songwriter far better than I ever could; I just wondered what you think of it. As we spent a considerable chunk of yesterday’s chat listening to it, if you have heard any of the recordings or are curious enough to seek them out online, I’m sure we’d all like to know what you think. The unanimous chatroom favourite, by the way, was Steve Earle and Lucia Micarelli with ‘One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below)’.
You can hear a snippet from each song here (the all-important player is to be found below the impressive album cover art and will helpfully take you through the first track to the last, so you can forget about it and go about your business as usual). To find out more and perhaps ultimately download individual tracks, simply select the artist from this list and away you go.
If you only download one track to support Amnesty, which will it be?
With Dylan waiving the rights to his catalogue and all musicians and producers donating their time freely, considerable proceeds will go to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation to aid Amnesty in its valiant campaigning for better human rights worldwide.
I do love to laugh at the occasional silliness of reviews, mine included. After all, many of the things I’ve at one time loved and raved about I’ve grown to dislike in a remarkably short space of time, and the same thing can sound so different to different people, even different from one moment to the next. We all know this and take it into consideration when gauging opinion. Andy Gill, in the Independent, thought the My Morning Jacket version of ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’ – the original, by the way, is one of my favourite, and one of Dylan’s most beautiful, songs – “particularly impressive”, and Joe Levy of Rolling Stone then added that they’d turned the song “into a paper kite floating in space”, which I presume is a compliment and not wishful thinking on his part. Me, I didn’t like it at all and had to turn it off.
Now, I love Bob Dylan, you know that, but I’m not particularly precious about who may or may not attempt his songs or how they choose to interpret them. It is true that I love the original, tormented ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’ too much to embrace Bryan Ferry making it his, not that he tinkers with it much. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red respectfully keeps ‘One of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)’ true to the original, and I like that. Similarly, Seal and Jeff Beck play safe with ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, and they do a very good job (it’s possibly the album’s strongest track, but so you’d expect).
Of the more adventurous attempts, which some fans of Dylan might well cringe at, the highlights for me include a reggae ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ (Ziggy Marley); ‘Love Sick’ mariachi-style (Mariachi El Bronx); a punk-rock ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ (Bad Religion); and a funky ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ (Michael Franti). ‘The Times They Are A-Changin” also works well driven by the relentless Celtic punk of Flogging Molly.
However, if someone can put in print that they would rather stick pins in their ears, as the respected Andy Gill has (not that I should pay too much attention to Mr Gill on this matter, I suppose), than listen to the Dave Matthews Band’s “execrable”, as he puts it, version of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ (shudder indeed), I daren’t listen – and haven’t yet. I fight a daily urge to stick pins in my ears – and eyes – and not because I derive some warped pleasure out of doing so, you understand. There are so many songs here, surely I can overlook one or two, especially if I suspect they’re only going to irritate the already irritated, right?
So, to begin with, I somewhat expectedly picked out the artists I most favour, then the songs – as I’m sure you will or did – and ignored the ones I don’t have much time for. That is, until curiosity got the better of me and those whose music I personally have little interest in were clicked almost for snobbish amusement. How wrong. Books, covers and all that. I’m not fond of Pete Townshend’s ‘Corrina, Corrina’, actually preferring Miley Cyrus’ country version of ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. Really. Go on, try it, it’s not bad. (If you think I’m being silly now, tell me.) Admittedly, I didn’t and still don’t know who some of these artists are or what they’ve created. It’s nice to find that, through a mutual appreciation for the work of Bob Dylan and Amnesty, there are musicians out there that might never have come to my attention and might well have other songs that I can enjoy. I hope you also find something new from this collection.
Although I can’t quite decide if I like it or not, I have to mention the brave, raw offering by Ke$ha, produced by Bob Ezrin: ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’. On an album of unusual interpretations, I thought turning this sensible and positive acceptance of a love lost into a suicide note was very clever. Fittingly, she cries throughout.
For fun, and you might need cheering up if you’ve made it all the way through Ke$ha’s sobbing and now feel a tad awkward, which Dylan song would you cover if given half a chance? As much as I could clap and table-drum along to Michael Franti all day (well, maybe for half an hour or so on a good day, I shouldn’t exaggerate), it would have to be ‘Idiot Wind’ for me. I don’t think it takes much singing talent and how satisfying it is to wail, You’re an iiiiiidiot, babe, it’s a wonder that you still know how to breeeeathe. Good therapy for these idiot-heavy times, that one.