Just when you’d finally love to hear a solo(ish) male artist cover Dylan in English, you get Dave Travis, a rather bland country musician who plays Dylan as though it was a selection of hymns on Sunday. Tis worth noting that Dave Travis is not acknowledged anywhere on the record sleeve as being the ‘artist’ here. (I wonder why?) I got that info from the internet but you wouldn’t know it otherwise. There’s no information provided on the sleeve at all so Dave Travis is possibly the biggest enigma of any Dylan covers album artist yet. I assume Dave is the lead guitarist and singer, although there’s a female vocalist on at least one track, and possibly at least one other male vocalist on one or two tracks.
What style is this? I think I’d read on the Dylan cover website that it was country, but without the stylistic trappings of the genre. It sounds like a blend of American folk-country to me although the record label – Deacon – appears to be English so I’m guessing Travis is too. Generally, it’s pleasant enough, but it has no edge whatsoever. None. It’s about as white bread as nice folk-rock gets, recorded well, good sound, professional musicianship. Dave’s voice is so non-descript I can think of no one to compare him to. Okay, wait up, here’s one – he sounds like a watered down Don McLean. Mostly the music is fingerpickin’ guitar, soft rock rhythm, soft rock vocal – it’s as though he used Nashville Skyline Dylan as his template and recorded all the songs in that style. The point is – these bland versions add nothing to the Dylan canon whatsoever. The only thing that redeems this is that it’s Dylan they’ve chosen to cover and not, say, Pat Boone. Cool. Oo-wee, take it away, Bumstead…
I Shall Be Released…slow beat, jangly guitar notes, male voice stepping through three “ooh ooh oohs” before the vocal starts properly. Dave can sing but it’s nothing special. He does have a slight bit of gravel in his voice but slight to the point where it sounds manicured. How does he cope with the lyrics? Unconvincingly. I do like his ‘oohs’ but give me a reggae version of this song any day. When he starts “la la lahing” it’s time to start laughing. This is so competent/lame it would make soft rock radio feel ashamed. Great song but I’ve heard too many decent covers of it for this to have any impact at all.
Blowing In The Wind (sic)…launches straight into “How many roads must a man walk down / Before you can call him a man” and sounds a little country. Bass is standard blues C G C G. Quite a jazzy little piano line played along with the melody, and if there’s one impressive/memorable thing here, it’s that piano player. Instrumental break has an electric guitarist tossing out melodic notes for us before Dave gets back into “Well, the answer my friend is blowing in the wind.” Why does this even exist? Da dah dum. Ugh.
She Belongs To Me…awful vocal. “She could take the dark out of the night time / Paint the day time black.” It’s just too nice – the male equivalent of Dorinda Duncan, only worse. At least Dorinda had a strong voice whereas this guy sounds like he’s meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. It’s the kind of voice that could kill a Christian at thirty paces. There’s a half-decent harmonica on this track, but, ah, I missed it. Song’s over. I paid no attention to the lyrics at all.
Maggie’s Farm…is the best song so far. The uptempo rhythm at least makes it feel alive. There’s a low ominous kind of mood rumbling beneath the melody that keeps this interesting, and again, that pianist completely steals the show in the break. “Well I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more.” Probably enjoyable for the fact that it hasn’t already been covered to death and I find myself paying attention to the lyrics here. Some neat dirty little electric guitar solos in the second break; add the honky tonk piano and you’ve got a performance going on.
Mr. Tambourine Man…opens blandly with a closing hi-hat tsh. Seems to be two, maybe three vocalists singing the chorus here. Same old ‘nice’ singing, but kudos to Dave for getting something of the phrasing right. His singing always fits in with the timing and rhythm really well, so that’s something right? The other singer joins him on parts of lines in the chorus. Always that fiddly acoustic guitar part hovering over the rhythm section whenever the vocal drops out. “Down the foggy ruins of time.” Sometimes he manages to throw a warble of some kind into his voice, but mostly he sounds like a chap who could sing ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ in his sleep
If Not For You…female vocal this time, only she may as well be Dave Travis castrated for all the (non) energy she brings to the songs. She can sing, but sounds like every two bit singer who ever laid their voice down on plastic in the sixties. Like, I think of Doris Day and I can’t even remember what Doris Day sounds like. She’s just a name on the telly from my childhood, only this girl could be her lobotomized step-daughter. Having said that, this is a good song, and the steel guitar parts are performed admirably. Overall though, weak. As weak as watered down Mountain Dew.
I Want You…oh man, this is so soft rock it sounds like it was recorded in a vat of marshmallow. “Baby I want you,” sings Dave. No he doesn’t. He wants you about as bad as he wants me to travel back in time to 1971 and break this record over his soft rock head. I don’t get this. It’s desire yearned through a sieve.
Lay Lady Lay…vocal here is quite similar to Dylan on Nashville Skyline. Apart from the regular-as-clockwork rhythm section, this doesn’t sound too different to Dylan’s version sans that neat little Hammond effect on the original. “Your clothes are dirty / But his hands are clean / You’re the best thing that he’s ever seen / So stay lady stay / Stay with your man awhile.” I don’t know why I’m quoting the lyrics. I guess I have nothing else to say about it. Competent I guess. Boring vocal. Fade out.
You Aint Going Nowhere…nice crystalline opening on electric guitar. Vocal sounds different here, or it’s recorded at a completely different session. There’s a lot more echo on his voice and he’s pushing the edge of his voice up against the gravel making him sound a little bluesy, but only just, and it’s not enough to snag your interest. Chorus plays and we’re back into that noisy little electric guitar break. Again, like every song here, the lyrics are sung with zero conviction. It’s a nice song too. Pity.
House Of The Rising Sun…ack, what an awful cover of this song. It’s much more like the Animals’ version than it is Dylan’s, but again, Travis sings it as though it was an outtake from Nashville Skyline. The organist, who I presume is the piano player from earlier, does a good job of replicating that weird freak organ line. In this version, the house has been the ruin of many a poor ‘boy’ although in Dylan’s version it was a ‘girl.’
Just Like A Woman…we get a stronger vocal here, just slightly, Travis pushing for the baritone hidden deep in his larynx somewhere. Pity he sings the lines like a young boy apologizing to his mother. More soft rock, so soft in fact that Dave’s killing me with his bare hands. I can barely keep my eyes open. Seriously, what was he thinking? Whoever thought this would be a good idea?
Mighty Quinn (sic)…opens with a noodly little organ line, as Dave and his mates sing the chorus once before the organist warbles a few more notes, and Dave’s cream soft voice offers us the most non-committal version of this song I’ve ever heard. Even the organ lines sound about as funky as Garth Hudson in a coma. This version is about as memorable as a bad simile.
Wow, this was truly hideous – the first full album of Dylan covers sung in English by a (mostly) solo male vocalist. Hugues Aufray puts Travis to shame on Aufray Chante Dylan. We had Odetta, Linda Mason, Dorinda Duncan and Joan Baez, all of whom make Travis sound like a wet blanket. Weird thing is, Dave Travis released lots of albums in the 60s and 70s especially in the country rock vein. All Music Guide have him listed but provide no information which is strange given that he was a reasonably prolific chap in his heyday. I guess nobody cares.