A worthy tribute to one of Dylan’s greatest albums.
Patrick Humphries 2011
On its original UK release in 1967, the response to Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding was one of shock. Gone were the 12-minute songs about Sad-Eyed ladies; gone was the corkscrew-haired Messiah, last seen and heard on 1966's Blonde on Blonde. Here was a different looking and a wholly different sounding Dylan. Gone was angry, confrontational Bob; here was a smiling country crooner.
Over the years the stature of John Wesley Harding has increased: it pointed many in the direction of then unfashionable country & western, it laid the foundations for what would become Americana, and few would find faults in any of its 12 tracks. In a world where everyone from Adele to PJ Harvey has covered Bob, it’s a brave step for someone to take a stab at any Dylan song, let alone such a cherished album. So it’s a tip of the Stetson to Thea Gilmore for trying, and a double dip for succeeding so thoroughly.
Her reasons for doing so are rooted in respect and affection for the original, but she is never overawed in tackling such much-loved songs. Her take on I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine won praise from Bruce Springsteen, himself no slouch in the field of Dylan covers. It is to her credit that she breathes fresh life into As I Went Out One Morning and The Wicked Messenger, and she even manages to slip out from under the Hendrix shadow on All Along the Watchtower; though she does pump up the volume on the sly Drifter’s Escape.
She turns the only song to break Dylan’s three-verse rule, The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, into an engaging skiffle shuffle. While I Pity the Poor Immigrant is transformed into a poignant testament to the untold millions who passed through Ellis Island.
Thea Gilmore’s take on John Wesley Harding is a worthy tribute to that great album – and with a playing time of 42.23, it even gives you an extra four minutes more than the original.