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Feature Review: Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan

Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan
[Amnesty International (2012)]

Few popular artists have been covered as extensively, or been the subject of as many tribute albums, as Bob Dylan. As such, this sprawling tribute, consisting of 73 tracks (76 on the download) by as many artists, might seem superfluous or at least redundant. However, the set is a benefit for an extremely worthy cause (Amnesty International) and provides a broad overview of Dylan’s compositions, with a particular focus on his post-1960s output. The artists included are a crazy quilt of musicians drawn from all aspects of modern culture.

Dylan’s peers are represented by former flame Joan Baez (covering the bitter “Seven Curses”) and Pete Seeger (an uplifting spoken version of “Forever Young with harmonies contributed by the Rivertown Kids ). A few current pop charters check in, including Ke$ha, who gives an emotive interpretation of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Allright” and Adele, whose offering is a live version of “Make You Feel My Love.” The hip hop world is represented by Kr’aan’s radical lyrical revision of “With God On Our Side.”

Tracks by Classic Rockers are abundant, including Jackson Browne’s unadorned cover of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”; Bryan Ferry’s moody, cello driven take on “Bob Dylan’s Dream”; and Joe Perry’s dirty blues remake of “Man of Peace.” Pete Townshend sounds almost unrecognizable in an acoustic version of “Corrina, Corrina,” while Jeff Beck pairs with Seal for a riveting R&B/Gospel/Rock version of “Like a Rolling Stone.” Eighties rockers also abound, mostly with earnest acoustic versions of tunes like “Restless Farewell” (Mark Knopfler), “Girl from the North Country” (Sting), and “Drifter’s Escape” (Patti Smith).

Country music’s contributions include Dierks Bentley’s fine bluegrass remake of “Senor,” Sugarland’s anthemic live version of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,” and a strange pairing of the Avett Brothers with an old tape of Johnny Cash singing “One Too Many Mornings.” Jazz crooners Betty Lavette and Diana Krall provide tasty versions of “Most of the Time” and “Simple Twist of Fate,” respectively. Several TV/movie stars pop up. Darren Criss croons “New Morning,” Evan Rachel Wood contributes a piano lounge version of “I’d Have You Any Time,” and Miley Cyrus provides a lovely acoustic version of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.”

There are a raft of high-intensity punk covers by My Chemical Romance (“Desolation Row”), Bad Religion (“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”), Rise Against (“Ballad of Hollis Brown”), and Outernational (“When the Ship Comes In”). Queens of the Stone Age even contribute a Stoner rock revision of “Outlaw Blues.” The jam band contingent is rather slim, although Dave Matthews contributes a live version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and My Morning Jacket recorded a mellow, acoustic version of “You’re a Big Girl Now.”

In keeping with the set’s philanthropic focus on Amnesty International, global artists make some notable contributions. Iranian vocalist Sussan Deyhim’s lush cover of “All I Really Want to Do” recalls the romanticicism of Kate Bush, whereas Mexican singer Ximenena Saninana’s take on “I Want You” sounds like an early Suzanne Vega outtake. Malaysian vocalist Zee Avi contributes a forlorn interpretation of “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” and Irish American combo Flogging Molly turns “The Times They Are A’ Changing” into a boisterous barroom romp, embellished with tin whistle and fiddle.

Some of the more interesting renditions come from the Kronos Quartet, who make their retro instrumental version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Allright” sound like the soundtrack to a silent movie, and Taj Mahal, who croaks his playful take on “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” over a Stax/Volt era horn arrangement.

There is much, much more in this exhaustive compendium, which provides a long, strange journey through the Dylan catalog. It’s hard to say if it will bear repeated listening as a whole, but Chimes of Freedom is a testament to the enduring impact Dylan and his compositions have had on contemporary music.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

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