Album Reviews

#Sassafras: Bob Dylan in the 80′s

#Sassafras: Bob Dylan in the 80′s

Various Artists| Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One
Record Label: ATO Records [To be released March 25th, 2014]

Anyone born before 1988 has things about the 80′s that we look back on with humor, disgust, or even shame. The same goes for artists whose work has spanned decades. Bob Dylan’s work from the decade of excess is often overlooked, leaving fans (both devoted and fair-weather) focusing either on his historic earlier work or more recent releases. However, a new compilation on ATO Records hopes to change all of that.

Bob Dylan In The 80s: Volume One is an impressive collection that mines the work of Robert Zimmerman and over 17 tracks aspires to shed light on the often forgotten gems of his cannon. The roster involved in Volume One runs the gamut from recognizable to lesser-known but each one clearly takes pride in their contributions. Langhorne Slim & The Law kicks it into gear from the first beat on “Got My Mind Made Up” in their instantly recognizable sound. Equally impressive is Built To Spill’s rendition of “Jokerman” but his assembly of talent doesn’t stop after the first two songs.

Reggie Watts, the afro-topped master of looping, beat boxing and over-the-top stage presence take a decidedly Jamaican take on “Brownsville Girl”. His his soulful voice shines over a dancehall backing track. Dawn Landes and Bonnie “Prince” Billy take “Dark Eyes” (from 1985′s Empire Burlesque) and make into a beautiful duet. Sparse instrumentation lets the vocals be the center of attention, giving the proper due to Dylan’s lyrical ability. Aaron Freeman (who is more recognizable under his alter-ego Gene Ween) teams up with Slash on the whimsical Dylan gem “Wiggle Wiggle” keeping the humor of the original while giving it the unmistakable Ween treatment.

The sole track culled from Dylan’s work from the most supergroup-of-supergroups, the Traveling Wilburys, “Congratulations” keeps fairly true to the original that Lucky Wilbury sang on Traveling Wilburys Volume: 1. “Covenant Woman” covered by Hannah Cohen is so solemn and peaceful that it bring to mind Sophie Zelmani’s cover of Dylan’s “Most Of The Time” from the Masked and Dangerous soundtrack.

Yellowbirds does a great 60s wall of sound throwback on “Series of Dreams” (originally from the Bootleg Series: Volume 3) making it their own while making it sound like a song from the past beyond the 1980s. Lucius takes “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky” and makes it a great rock and roll singalong. The final 2 songs, “Pressing On” by Glen Hansard & Carl Broemel’s “Death Is Not the End” would both make great ways to close our the collection. Hansard’s gritty confession is at home in the track’s spirituality while Broemel’s “Death…” starts with a acoustic guitar and ends a dreamy promise.

Tribute compilation albums can be hit or miss but there’s enough diversity in the sounds within Dylan In The 80s to offer something for everyone. And although none of the tracks compare to the contributions Dylan himself has made to music history, they remind us to revisit these works from the Reagan era and listen to what we’re missing.

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Mark Nason

March 17th, 2014

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