Various Artists : Chimes Of Freedom - The Songs Of Bob Dylan
The irony of an Amnesty International 50th celebration compilation featuring covers of Bob Dylan tracks is that Dylan, according to his own contrarian protestations, never pretended to be the spokesman for a generation. While many of Dylan’s contemporaries sought to locate themselves in the heart of the protest generation, Dylan was a reluctant pop star who took – and continues to take – perverse delight in subverting every paradigm within which he’s located.
Such observations aside, Bob Dylan has written some of modern music’s most iconic philosophical and ideological songs. He is, therefore, an ideal candidate to symbolise Amnesty International’s 50-year struggle for human rights. Chimes of Freedom is a 4-disc, 73 song collection of Bob Dylan tracks recorded by artists as diverse as Patti Smith, Miley Cirus, My Chemical Romance, Angelique Kidjo, Lenny Kravitz, Neil Finn, Kronos Quartet and Pete Seeger.
As with most compilations, there’s a mixture of covers that work, and some that don’t work as well. Taj Mahal’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream is dirty rock that only dirty old rockers understand; Ximena Sariñana’s effort on I Want You satisfactory, if not invigorating. Carly Simon’s Just Like A Woman is cabaret Dylan; Bad Religion’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue is wrong, but only in the way so many have claimed Dylan is wrong when he’s subsequently proven to be right.
Maroon 5’s take on I Shall Be Released was never going to come close to Richard Manuel’s beautiful falsetto; conversely, Michael Franti might have been born to play Subterranean Homesick Blues. Lucinda Williams conveys the pain and heartache of Tryin’ to Get to Heaven; Evan Rachel Wood transforms I’d Have You Anytime into a soft lounge track. And to hear the ageing Pete Seeger – a man who joined in the cacophony of folkie abuse after Dylan picked up an electric guitar – playing an orchestrated version of Forever Young is an exercise in historical irony.
To be blunt, Chimes of Freedom isn’t going to soften oppressive rule in China, North Korea, Burma, Syria or even Guantanamo Bay. But it does highlight Dylan’s ability to capture and convey socio-political criticism like few others – not to mention Amnesty’s tireless quest to make the world a better place.
BY PATRICK EMERY
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