Critical Writings

Articles and Reviews: MUSIC

I’m Not There – Soundtrack by Various Artists (Sony)


It must by now be agreed, among cineastes and musos alike, that I’m Not There directed by Todd Haynes, admirable filmmaker though he is, was more about Todd Hayes than it was about Bob Dylan, by whose life (lives) it was purportedly inspired. The lazy conflation of Suze Rotolo and Sara Lownds as significant others in the great man’s life, taken along with the ill-judged depiction of his 1966 British ‘goes electric’ tour with The Hawks by Cate Blanchett as ‘Jude Quinn’, which captures little of the humanly impish humour of its subject at the time, must surely rankle with hardcore Dylanologists.


 

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The accompanying 34 song soundtrack of covers, which both excludes some new versions which were in the film, and features as many again which were not, is a different story, however. While somewhat hit and miss, as any project of this scope tends to be – dependent as it is on the individual artists’ contributions, and the listeners’ subjective appraisal of them – there is enough good stuff here to warrant its addition to any Dylan fan’s musical library. Although not as arcanely eclectic as the May Your Song Always Be Sung tribute series, perhaps because it is limited by being entirely American-based (with the exception of Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova’s stab at ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’), and so consequently not as much plain good fun, the standouts are worth the price of admission.

Anchored by two house bands who contribute a third of the tracks, The Million Dollar Bashers (Television’s Tom Verlaine, half of Sonic Youth, Wilco’s Nels Cline, keyboardist John Medeski and Dylan’s long-term bassist, Tony Garnier), and Tex-Mex darlings Calexico, my own favourites are all of ex-Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus’ contributions (raucous takes on ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ and ‘Maggie’s Farm’, an evocative ‘Can’t Leave Her Behind’), My Morning Jacket’s Jim James’ soulful reading of The Basement Tapes’ ‘Goin’ To Acapulco’, and Antony & The Johnsons’ sublimely hymn-like rendition of hardy perennial ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. From old timers like Willie Nelson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Roger McGuinn and Richie Havens to relative newcomers like Cat Power, Karen O, The Hold Steady and Charlotte Gainsbourg, there’s something here for everyone – even if one does have to endure the odd hiccup, like Sufjan Stevens’ tediously literal bells, bobs and whistles assault on Oh Mercy’s ‘Ring Them Bells’.


First published in Magill magazine, February/March 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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