HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOB (2011): The Dylan tribute albums

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Barb Jungr: Tomorrow is a Long Time
HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOB (2011): The Dylan tribute albums

Bob Dylan's 70th birthday in June 2011 hardly went unobserved in the world – you couldn't turn around without bumping into profiles, reconsiderations, essays and the like – and nor was it coincidence that many artists lined up for tribute albums.

Some got in early – like Ben Sidran whose Dylan Different arrived before Bob's 69th birthday – and others had clearly been working towards the actual day. Like Thea Gilmore who launched her tribute with a headlining show at London's Union Chapel as Bob was somewhere blowing out candles.

Acclaimed English singer-songwriter Gilmore paid her respects with a cover of one of Dylan's most interesting albums, John Wesley Harding, on which she rather too often goes for melody over meaning, or places emotional emphasis where Dylan's more detached delivery actually freighted the words with greater meaning.

511NU9bgxgL._SL500_AA300_Guitarist Robbie McIntosh (Pretenders, McCartney) guests, the world weary treatment of I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine is a standout and they neatly sidestep both Bob and Jimi for a brittle, echoed All Along the Watchtower.

But over the long haul, while respect is paid and faithful readings mostly avoided, it remains just what it is, someone covering a classic album.

Those ever reliable “Various Artists” also lined up, the Nod to Bob 2 collection followed Red House Records' similarly conceived tribute on Dylan's 60th.

510zI_IzWvL._SL500_AA300_John Gorka (an earnest Just Like a Woman), Lucy Kaplansky (a wonderful piano ballad treatment of Every Grain of Sand), Guy Davis (House of the Rising Sun), Spider John Koerner (The Days of '49 as a boho poem over percussion), Cliff Eberhardt (Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues) and Peter Ostroushko (Mozambique) returned for the celebration.

Among the fine interpretations are the Pines with What Good Am I?, Storyhill's folksy sway in Lay Down Your Weary Tune and Pieta Brown (Greg's gifted daughter) with an ethereal Dirt Road Blues.

Eliza Gilkyson slides through a slippery, live Jokerman which -- like Gilmore -- sacrifices much of the knife-twisting lyric for the surface melody, and Jimmy LaFave (a Dylan acolyte) brings his distinctive voice to a sound version of Not Dark Yet.

A good collection and if you need a Bob tribute -- but really, does anyone? -- then this is perhaps the one.

51euXOxrQkL._SL500_AA300_Like LaFave, the cabaret singer Barb Jungr has had an infatuation with Dylan for the past decade and in 2002 recorded Every Grain of Sand and then just kept on recording and recording. Her Man in the Long Black Coat is a collection of 13 of these recordings and it's as well to sideline that "cabaret" description because she brings a keen intelligence (and no boy dancers you might guess) to these songs.

No one could make a serious case for the featherlight Times They Are A-Changin' but on the ballads (It Ain't Me Babe, Tomorrow is a Long Time with eerie soundscape backdrop) she pulls out the tune without losing the sensibility of the lyrics.

I Shall Be Released with a string trio and harp exists halfway between a 19th century church in rural Georgia and a front parlour in a stately home, and she gets in Eric Bibb on guitar for Trouble in Mind and the rather too poised Blind Willie McTell.

Yes, her treatments with subtle strings and/or a jazz line-up -- ripe for the nightclub, candles on the table, martini glasses -- does take a stretch if you can only hear Dylan's songs in a more raw version. And that's fair enough.

But after a couple of plays even the reggae-fied Just Like A Woman makes a lot of sense.

So there you go.

Happy birthday Bob, there are more royalty cheques in the mail.  

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