It’s Dylan’s selection of rarely heard, often bizarre tracks that most intrigues.
Robin Denselow 2009
Ever since the 1960s, Bob Dylan has stayed ahead of the game by constantly surprising his followers, and one of the greatest recent surprises came in May 2006 when he suddenly emerged in a brand new role – as that of a radio DJ.
The first of Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour programmes was broadcast on XM Satellite Radio, and since then the most celebrated singer-songwriter in America has recorded 100 programmes, each devoted to a particular theme, such as weather, cars, police or work, and making use of a bravely eclectic and adventurous range of other people’s music. Here was a DJ who broke right away from the constraints of top 40 format shows and provided a reminder of how exciting radio can be.
Dylan’s programmes have been broadcast in the UK on Radio 2 and 6 Music (and were subsequently available on iPlayer), and now comes the second of a companion series of compilation albums of the songs that Dylan chose. He can’t actually be heard on this set, and although there are extensive sleeve notes about each track, there is no reminder of which of Dylan’s themes each song was used to illustrate. No matter, though, as the songs are intriguing, constantly unexpected, and range from the (occasionally) well-known to the obscure, covering everything from early R&B to soul, blues, Cajun, rockabilly, jazz, country, reggae, Latin, chanson, and even novelty songs (Dylan clearly has a sense of humour).
The better-known artists include the great French chanteuse Édith Piaf, Jamaican star Desmond Dekker (with the glorious Shanty Town), blues legend Mississippi John Hurt, South African diva Miriam Makeba, Dionne Warwick (with her 1968 hit Do You Know the Way to San Jose), experimental rock hero Captain Beefheart, heard here on his compelling and insistent 1982 recording Ice Cream For Crow, and country star Lucinda Williams, with her angry country classic Changed The Locks.
But the lesser-known tracks are even more intriguing, and these include the moody but stomping 7 Heures du Matin, which includes a nod to The Who’s My Generation and was recorded in 1968 by the French-based Tunisian singer Jacqueline Taïeb, and the truly wacky Hunting Tigers Out in India (Yah), recorded in 1930 by Hal Swain and including the line, “It’s no use stroking them and saying ‘puss puss’”. Who would have thought Dylan would go for a lyric like that?