A largely redundant and frequently downright woeful endeavour.
Paul Whitelaw 2012-02-02
Yes, yes, all for a good cause and that, but only the most saintly apologist would deny that some heinous musical crimes have been committed in the name of charity over the years. And while this epic collection of Dylan covers isn't the worst offender, it's still a largely redundant – and frequently downright woeful – endeavour.
Released to celebrate 50 years of Amnesty International, it ransacks the Dylan canon presumably in deference to his symbolic status as the finger-pointin' bard of the oppressed. Rather than, say, because of all those bile-dripping songs he wrote in the 60s while off his head on drugs. Or because he's an ornery contrarian who, if you put it to him, would probably deny that he'd ever written a protest song in his life.
Either way, it's undeniable that the stirring title-track – Dylan's original recording of which closes this collection – with its odes to "each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail" is virtually the Amnesty manifesto in musical form. And if any songbook is rich and vast enough to withstand a whopping 72 covers over four CDs, it's Dylan's.
But the sheer volume of material is its biggest problem. Simultaneously overwhelming and underwhelming, it buckles under the weight of its own significance, like a ghastly all-star charity concert which refuses to end.
Although there are a few highlights – Bettye LaVette's soulful reading of Most of the Time, and Taj Mahal's Stax-blues rumble through Bob Dylan's 115th Dream – there is absolutely no excuse for the likes of Natasha Bedingfield turning Ring Them Bells into an MOR drive-time anthem, Sting busking Girl From the North Country in the manner of a deranged Sting impersonator, or Lenny Kravitz being let anywhere near Rainy Day Woman # 12 & 35. Still, Mick Hucknall's uncannily accurate Dylan take-off on One of Us Must Know suggests that, if nothing else, he's got it in the bag if they ever revive Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes.
Ultimately, if this sprawling folly raises some money for Amnesty and introduces Miley Cyrus fans to Dylan's music, then no harm done. As for the man himself, he probably couldn't care less either way. So he's probably the real winner in all of this.