I was quite excited when I discovered this album. Arriving in 1966, hot on the heels of free jazz and such avant-garde luminaries as Coltrane, Dolphy, Ayler and Sanders I thought it might really mess with the Dylan catalogue in hitherto unthought of ways. Some hope. Of the five members of this quintet, one is the Glen Campbell, two are TV recording musicians, while none are Gene Norman (“California’s leading jazz impresario” according to the liner notes) who one assumes is the arranger and producer. Thus what you get here are Dylan songs performed and made to sound like sitcom themes. They’re pleasant, quirky, novelty versions; they play it about as risqué as an episode of Happy Days. To see other Dylan albums in the jazz idiom, click here.
The two melody musicians are Campbell on 12 string guitar and Jim Horn on…uh…that jazziest of jazz horns—saxophone. To be fair, Horn plays flute too. But like the other instrumental Dylan cover albums reviewed so far, they mostly play sub-three minute pop versions, that are faithful to the originals. Being a fan of jazz, it’s still hard for me not to enjoy these, especially in that they syncopate the melodies and jazz up the rhythms quite a bit, but mostly this is throwaway sitcom theme music.
So the trend has been to provide an amusing quotation from the sleeve, but fortunately for Dylan Jazz the sleeve-note writer doesn’t make any hyperbolic claims for the contents. Here we have, “The folk-blues genre of his writing lays perfectly for improvisation, and though Dylan’s poignant and powerful lyrics would seem to overshadow his melodies, when ‘dug’ on its own, the music emerges as warm, vital and completely compelling.” Granted there’s improvisation here which makes this one of the more interesting instrumental Dylan cover albums, but it’s not quite Ascension, Out To Lunch or Fire Music now is it? Bumstead, hit the 33 ⅓, let’s dig that groove, and may the verbal improv begin…
Blowin’ In The Wind…opens jauntily with a smoky sax line playing the main melody in a relaxed style; Jim Horn has a little of the Lester Young about him. After a few bars, Glen Campbell takes over with a heavily improvised electric guitar line that weaves its way all around the tune. If this was a sitcom it would be set in New York, in an apartment overlooking Central Park. This would be the music every time there was a scene change, and the camera would pan out the window while the laughter track faded.
Masters Of War…is possibly one of the better pieces here. The main tune starts off on flute. I really like the rhythm here—they keep that doomy vibe intact while the flute does its thing, then Campbell’s back on electric guitar noodling away around the tune. From there the tune takes a back seat to the interplay between flute and guitar and you almost forget this is Dylan’s “Masters of War.” Musically it’s about a million miles from the original lyrical content, turning it into something altogether different. And yet, and yet, I like it.
Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man (sic)…that soft smoky sax sound is back. Horn keeps to the melody, but there’s this bridge piece where the guitar and horn play together for one bar before Campbell’s off again on one of his exploratory solos. To be fair, Campbell’s contributions are the more interesting and jazzy of the two. Horn’s saving grace is his sax sound which I quite like. The rhythm section never really stand out much. The wonderful nostalgic feeling I usually experience when I hear this song is pretty much nulled and voided by this petite swinging version.
Don’t Think Twice (sic)…a low bass line keeps order while sax—a slightly sharper sound this time—plays in and around the tune. Kudos to Horn for veering away from the main melody this time. Campbell comes on and plays a long delicate noodly line. When Horn returns he only alludes to the original tune obliquely, always improvising on the chords just out of reach of the main melody. Not bad.
Walkin’ Down The Line…is a Dylan song I really like. Starts off very slowly on what sounds like bowed double bass, but as soon as that ends, the flute and guitar take over, and the whole thing picks up pace, becoming very melodic and poppy. This is definitely sitcom theme material, maybe Chicago this time, a 70s comedy, black family making ends meet, lots of bitter laughs. Short and sweet. Nothing over three minutes.
All I Really Want To Do…having heard this a few times, I’ve grown to quite like it. It takes the tune and makes it very jaunty and cheerful which I suppose is in keeping with the lyrical intention to some extent. Flute, guitar, and sax all take up the melodies at various turns. Quite a fast version. Mostly the tune is played on electric guitar along with… I’m not sure…it almost sounds like two electric guitars playing the melody together.
Subterranean Homesick Blues…as was the case with The Golden Gate Strings, I can’t really hear anything of Dylan’s original tune in this, other than a standard blues progression. The ‘melody’ which I presume is Dylan’s ‘rap’ is played alternately on staccato sax and quickfire electric guitar. But this could be anything. Doesn’t much sound like the original. Incidentally this song is listed as track number 9 on both the LP sleeve and the label. If you look closely you’ll see this is supposed to be ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’ One wonders if the musicians even knew or cared which track they were playing, the tunes being so far removed from their original contexts (New York to California).
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall…uses pretty much the same insistent rhythm as “Masters Of War.” Again I can’t hear a whole lot of the original melody here at all. I’d probably need to play this back to back with Dylan’s version to hear where the similarities lie. The chorus is played by Horn on sax. He turns the song into something very relaxed and jazzy. So much for the doomy prophetic vision of the lyrics—that aspect of the song seems to have flown right out the window. The rain in this version is about as hard as snow.
Like A Rolling Stone…drummer’s doing a good job here on cowbell. They improvise around the melody just enough to keep this a few musical steps away from the original. Again the tempo is upbeat and swinging with some neat lines from Campbell on guitar. It’s all a little too easy listening though. For the most part the original tune is lost under all Miller’s free swinging guitar noodling.
It Ain’t Me Babe…back to sax, playing it straight in much the same vein as the opening version of “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Until Campbell that is, comes and throws a few hundred notes all over it. Quite the virtuoso he is too. Yet again, the TV show theme style is back in force. So what is it this time? A sitcom-drama about a guy and a girl who live in the same building and will never admit to being in love with each other? Some carp like that.
I’ve tried to avoid the word for the whole review but I must relent – this is muzak. Check out the label—it says it all; “Hollywood California U.S.A.” It sounds good if you play it loud and you’ll probably enjoy it even more if you’re a freak for virtuoso guitarists.
Jim Horn was featured for five years on T.V’s ‘Shindig’ with Duane Eddy. Glen Campbell was in The Champs who were famous for ‘Tequila.’ He also has his own album called Mr. 12-String Guitar on which he covers seven Dylan songs. Al Delory on piano, Lyle Ritz on bass and Hal Blaine on drums, all California jazz scene regulars in the 60s according to the liner notes.