Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Not All Dylan Tributes Are Created Equal: A Review of Doug West's Tangled Up In Bluegrass

Enthusiasm for the songs of Bob Dylan cross all genres of music. It wouldn't surprise me at all find that some of his tunes have even been performed on bagpipes. So there's little surprise in finding a Dylan-themed album featuring that rich bluegrass sound.

For the record, I've been into bluegrass more than four decades, purchasing the original Will the Circle Be Unbroken triple album and some Mother Maybelle Carter back when I was in college. I've played harmonicas since I went to Ohio U in 1970 and enjoy the sound that emanates from those Appalachian hills where my roots are. I'm a regular listener to the Bluegrass Review on public radio, performed with a jugband (a bluegrass sibling) and to this day own a modest share of bluegrass albums.

So when I discovered that there was a bluegrass CD comprised of Dylan tunes, I said, “What the heck” and I sprang for it. The original release date is cited as 2008, though the two reviews on amazon.com are dated 2001 and 2002.

Tangled Up In Bluegrass is all instrumental, featuring the usual bluegrass instrumentation — banjo, guitars, fiddle, mandolin, and bass primarily, but hammered dulcimer, tambourine and keyboards in various combinations. In short, it’s a bluegrass outfit who likes to play Dylan music. The producer is David West, who also did the mixing and contributed in one fashion of another to every song. Without question, the performers are exceptional.

My only problem here is that when you hear a song like Love Sick, it just isn’t quite the same without the anguished vocals that Dylan brings to the mix. Like a Rolling Stone is one of rock’s greatest songs, but in the bluegrass genre it’s…. well, missing something.

When I first listened to the CD I can’t recall if I even finished it. The absence of Dylan’s tone was fully apparent and initially off-putting. A long while later I tried another run at it. Same result. It just wasn’t doing it for me.

Because of some recent housecleaning (i.e. trying to get rid of some of my possessions) I considered offering Tangled to whoever wanted it amongst my Facebook friends. But first, I decided to give it one more listen while working on a painting in my studio. And guess what….? I found myself humming along in places, and at one point it seemed necessary to break into a Zumba-esque cardiovascular dance workout.

That Dylan himself enjoys bluegrass-style instrumentation is a given. You can hear is quite often in many of his later albums, most notably High Water (For Charley Patton), a song he's now played more than 500 times on his Never Ending Tour.

For what it's worth, this might be a good addition to your collection if you're someone compelled to collect all things Dylan. My advice would be to go into it with your eyes open. Here's one of the reviews from Amazon.com where you can purchase it.

Warning: this is an all-instrumental album! I was looking for bluegrass covers of Dylan with *vocals*. The reason Dylan is great and brilliant is his vocals. Because I know the original songs, I can still hear the words in my head when I listen to this, but that's not enough. If that's what you're looking for, I rate it as good.

David West, who was born in 1952 -- approximately four weeks before I -- was a co-founder in 1974 of the Cache Valley Drifters and like Dylan continues to write and perform music to this day, all over the world.

Here's a second review from Amazon...

The musicianship on this album is astounding. It, truly is a marvelous musical journey --- worthy to be placed in the Dylan section of your local record shop. It's commendable seeing the musical side of Dylan explored in as much depth as his lyrics command.

The CD is sub-titled A Tribute to the Music of Bob Dylan, which it is.

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