Wild Mercury Sound

Bob Dylan covered by Vedder, Sonic Youth, Calexico, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, Malkmus, McGuinn, Tweedy, Willie Nelson,Sufjan, Verlaine, The Hold Steady. . . Is the title long enough yet?

John Mulvey

I've been spending the past hour or so working my way through this soundtrack to Todd Haynes' Dylan movie, I'm Not There. I must admit to a bit of scepticism about the film, having actively despised Haynes' Velvet Goldmine, and been faintly terrified by the convoluted plotting and detail that was reported here.

Good soundtrack, mind. Dylan has been better served by cover versions than most great artists, of course, and while I can't immediately spot anything here that bears comparison with the best efforts of, say, The Byrds and Fairport Convention, there's a very good feel to a lot of the music here; a nice mixture between wild mercury reverence and sensitive,imaginative reinvention.

What's immediately apparent is the good taste of whoever corralled these musicians. The closest analogue is that Stu Sutcliffe movie, Backbeat, and the all-star band focused around Sonic Youth, Eddie Vedder and so on who provided Beatles covers on the soundtrack. They return for "I'm Not There", alongside friends in a wily bar band agglomeration called The Million Dollar Bashers.

Vedder and the band's take on "All Along The Watchtower" is a bit windy, but Stephen Malkmus proves a likeably idiosyncratic frontman on a clutch of sinewy tracks, notably a pinched, organ-heavy take on "Ballad Of A Thin Man". And Karen O from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs steps up for a mighty "Highway 61 Revisited", very much in the vein of PJ Harvey's version of the same song.

The other house band on these two CDs, it seems, is the estimable Calexico, who back up a terrific bunch of frontmen: gilded Dylan interpreter Roger McGuinn ("Cold Irons Bound"); Charlotte Gainsbourg ("Just Like A Woman", a bit arch); Iron & Wine ("Dark Eyes"); My Morning Jacket's Jim James (a quite lovely "Goin' To Acapulco"); and best of all, Willie Nelson taking "Senor" deep into border country.

What else? The Hold Steady's "Can You Please Crawl Out Of Your Window?" sounds uncharacteristically stiff on first listen, while some of the gentler hands (Mira Billotte from the undervalued White Magic, Yo La Tengo, Sufjan Stevens in customary indie-baroque mode for "Ring Them Bells") handle the weight of Bobness more gracefully.

This is turning into more of a list than a review, isn't it? Well Jeff Tweedy is stripped and dignified on "Simple Twist Of Fate", Cat Power is pretty boisterous on "Stuck Inside Of Mobile. . ." (I wonder if Chan Marshall's upcoming second covers album will be as swinging and conventional as this?), and Rambling Jack Elliot outDylans Dylan on "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues". As he should.

Tom Verlaine's po-faced, crepuscular and rather good "Cold Irons Bound" has just finished. Jack Johnson is still cobblers, and maybe when I've listened to all this properly a few more times I might have more cogent critical thoughts.

Forgive me, I've just moved house these past few days and discovered many powerful things, not least that 1)The Smiths' "Hatful Of Hollow" is excellent for checking your incompetently unpacked turntable is playing at the right speed; 2) the first Stooges album is superb for unpacking in general, even "We Will Fall", as is "Hot Charity" by Rocket From The Crypt; and 3) this new Bruce Springsteen/E Street Band album is really good, and historically I don't even like Springsteen much. I think I've changed, not him, though. . .


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