The best tribute collections succeed not so much because of the songs chosen, but rather due to the mix of performers and their different approaches to the songs. For a 60th-birhday tribute to Bob Dylan (and a 15th- birthday celebration for the label), Minneapolis-based Red House Records drew from its impressive stable of folk talent to produce the 14 selections on A Nod to Bob. The likes of Suzzy & Maggie Roche, John Gorka, Greg Brown, and Ramblin' Jack Elliot are here, and thankfully no one takes on a Dylan epic -- "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," "Desolation Row," "Idiot Wind," "Brownsville Girl" or their ilk -- which is the equivalent of attempting a solo reading of Ulysses on Bloom's Day. They chose instead a cross-section of Dylan's better, and shorter songs, but few that non-admirers will likely recognize.
So which are the big winners and why? Guy Davis' "Sweetheart Like You," from the under-appreciated Infidels, is slow and emotive -- and works because of it. Tom Landa & the Paperboys turn "All Along the Watchtower" into an Irish boiler with plenty of urgency. But the best cover of all is by Dylan friend and musical legend Ramblin' Jack Elliott, whose "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" is done to perfection live and introduced by a very funny story.
I'll admit that I'm nearly impossible to please when it comes to Dylan covers, so it's probably no surprise that I find a good deal of A Nod to Bob uninspired, mostly because the performers don't attempt enough with the songs, unlike Tom Landa & the Paperboys, and they miss lift off because of it. Even the always-interesting Greg Brown turns in a rendition of "Pledging My Time" that plods too much for its own good. The sound quality is uniformly decent, even with the various recording venues.
Dylan fans like me will want this collection because of its alternate looks at the songs -- successful and not -- while the uninitiated would be better off with Highway 61 Revisited (the DCC remaster if you can find it), Blonde on Blonde, or Blood on the Tracks. This is probably not news in either case, but be forewarned that A Nod to Bob is not the party it could have been.
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