Bob Dylan’s one of those songwriters who is much better writing songs than he is recording and performing them. That’s, at least, what many of us feel at this point in time – early in the 21st century when the man’s voice is not only no longer what it used to be but even harder to take now than it was in the ’60s when he first came on the scene. Between then and now he’s been many things, including a Nobel Prize winner, and he’s had his songs covered by more artists than probably anyone besides The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. EMMA SWIFT’s new album, Blonde on the Tracks, is packed with five per side (or a flat out ten on compact disc) and how you’ll feel about her album may largely be determined by what you think of Dylan’s writing.
That being said, Emma Swift has assembled a batch of Bob’s tunes that aren’t gonna ring a bell with your typical, mainstream music fan who is just familiar with the hits or best-known of the man’s canon. I certainly don’t consider myself one of those, yet I was only familiar with a few of these songs prior to hearing them here. I like what Emma & Co. have done with them and that’s partially because I like her singing and partially because of the fact that this selection’s not already worn out in my mind. And that might be the clincher. Even newer songs like “I Contain Multitudes” – which came out only a few months ago as a download (and is on Dylan’s brand new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways) – sound like classic Bob among the older ones here, such as “Queen Jane Approximately” or “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (from 1966’s Blonde on Blonde) thanks to them all being part of one current collection. The arrangements are somewhere between The Byrds’ jingle-jangle mornin’s and today’s indie sound, by way of players like Pat Sansone (who also produced) of Wilco and Emma’s beau, Robyn Hitchcock, who lend a solid backing to the proceedings. I must say that said proceedings are definitely on the medium tempo, low key side of town, which is not my usual choice of neighborhood. But for one of those times when you’re not up to rockin’ out and would rather just chill, you may hope to bypass Bob’s own versions and find this Blonde on the Tracks instead. – Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Tiny Ghost TG-03, 2020) available via emmaswift.bandcamp.com