- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

Bryan Ferry

Dylanesque

Virgin

This has been done before. Joan Baez has released several volumes of Bob Dylan covers. The Byrds, the Grateful Dead, Duane Eddy and Robyn Hitchcock have all assayed full-length records of Dylan songs, as have legions of lesser known artists and tribute bands. This is not to mention multi-artist albums perpetrated by talents awesome and obscure, from the recording of the 1992 Madison Square Garden tribute featuring Neil Young, Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, to a two-volume set called “Duluth Does Dylan,” in which hometown bands pay tribute to their favorite son. To appreciate the full breadth of these efforts, visit the excellent Web site Dylancover.com which, as of this writing, catalogs in excess of 18,000 recorded Dylan covers.

Still, there’s something quietly audacious about Bryan Ferry’s stroll through the Dylan catalog. The songs he plays aren’t necessarily the most famous, but neither are they willfully obscure B-sides or bootlegged outtakes. The former Roxy Music singer reinterprets some of Mr. Dylan’s most autobiographical work, transforming the wrathful backhand of “Positively 4th Street” into a kind of rueful, plaintive lament about innocence lost. Absent the savagery of Mr. Dylan’s performance, the lyrics reveal deep vulnerability and abiding sadness.

“Simple Twist of Fate,” one of the best tracks from the confessional 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks,” is recast as an uptempo ballad, with cornball backing vocals trilling like paper noisemakers here and there. It recalls the Vegas sound of Mr. Dylan’s late ‘70s touring bands, immortalized on the underappreciated “Live at Budokan” double album.

The Marine Band harmonica toots merrily; the fuzzy electric guitar fills the space between lyrics with friendly licks; even a violin solo is twangy and upbeat. Mr. Ferry’s approach carves out distance from the anguished sentiment of the song, and focuses instead on the sweetness of the melody.

Mr. Ferry plays one of Mr. Dylan’s most iconic songs, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” the way Tom Petty might have done it — with a low rumble of guitars and an unexpected puff of Hammond organ. It’s a strange choice, given that the song is so rooted in a time and place, and it doesn’t ring out with new meaning here. He uses almost the exact same orchestration on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” a hazy, highly allusive track from the 1965 album, “Highway 61 Revisited,” but here Mr. Ferry’s cool, mid-tempo approach makes the tune come to life. He defers to the funereal original on “Gates of Eden,” a long, harmonically inert allegory approaching six minutes in length. The Dylan version is taxing, and Mr. Ferry’s is too.

His version of “All Along the Watchtower” will cause the most howls because the definitive version of that song is itself a cover — the Jimi Hendrix rendition from “Electric Ladyland.” Mr. Dylan himself drew on Mr. Hendrix’s electric orchestrations as the basis for the live version he would play throughout his career. Mr. Ferry splits the difference between Mr. Dylan’s restrained acoustic version and the blistering, unrelenting electric Hendrix cut. It’s not bad, but one wonders why he bothered. The answer, probably, is because he felt like it.

“Dylanesque” reflects the singer’s artfully cool pose more than it pays homage to the Dylan legend and will appeal more to Mr. Ferry’s fans than obsessive Dylanologists.

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