Reviewed by James Lewis
The current trends seem to be at the moment to go back to your roots and to make albums of covers - Eric Clapton, Michael Bolton, Fish, Sinead O'Connor, they all seem to be doing it, and Dylan seems to be no exception and with this release he's done both trends. This 13 track album consists of Bob covering traditional tunes in one take accompanied only by his guitar and harmonica - stark is not the word! The air of the whole album is very dark, even apocalyptic, reminding me of Robert Johnson or, perhaps more accurately, Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night", even the children's song, "Froggie Went A Courtin'", seems to have an almost ominous feel to it. Dylan split up with his wife over 13 years ago and it was partly this trauma which led him to meet the God whom he'd sung about previously; however, much of his last few albums, particularly 'Oh Mercy', seem to suggest that he still can't get over the divorce (witness
"Most Of The Time"). "Sittin' On Top Of The World" in particular seems very poignant. Other songs rendered here include the Rev Gary Davis' secular tune "You're Gonna Quit Me", and other folk songs covering infidelity (and consequences), deportation, war and the larger-than-life folklore heroes typical of this style of music. The Lost Dogs covered "Lord Protect My Child", and Dylan has returned the favour (well, maybe not) and covered "Hard Times Come Again No More". Comparing this album to his early acoustic material, the guitar work is smoother and the voice is rougher (I would have preferred the other way around), in fact his voice sounds on some tracks like it's been ruined by his Never-Ending Tour - although apparently at the recent tribute concert to him he was singing as sweet as he has done for years. Dylan's recent work seems to concentrate more and more on the falleness of this world, as biographer Clinton Heylin puts it, "his faith seemed only to reinforce him in his view of a world gone mad" one can't help wondering if he forgets his hope in the next world. Nevertheless one thing can always be said about Mr Zimmerman, his ever-erratic nature means you can never tell what he's going to do next as his recent tribute appearance shows - could be out and out gospel again. I for one certainly hope he shakes whatever hellhound is on his trail, it would be nice to see Dylan's prayer "Don't let me drift too far/Keep me where You are" answered - Amen!
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