When I started this project in 2011 (reviewing all Dylan cover albums released on vinyl), this record was impossible to find anywhere. Jump forward six years and there’s plenty of original sealed copies going on eBay for cheap prices, as though someone suddenly unearthed a box of them in a basement somewhere. So who were this band The Original Marauders, raiding and stealing from Dylan’s back pages? No public information that I can find. In the same year as this album was released they put out a Beatles tribute. The back sleeve of the LP says, “Recorded in the state where everything happens – North Carolina.” The back sleeve also makes the mistaken claim that these are “rare” songs many of which “were never officially recorded by Dylan.” Thus “all the songs on this album are simulated to resemble the way Dylan might have recorded them.” Two operative words here: “officially” – in fact Dylan had recorded all of these songs, and they’ve all been released in an “official” capacity since 1977, mostly through his Bootleg Series. As for simulating the way Dylan might have recorded them, this is a fairly bold claim. My first impression on hearing this record (I always harbour the very highest hopes for these cover albums) was major disappointment. They sounded as frail-weak-folk as many of the other folk efforts from the sixties, but that soon lifted and I found the record got better as it played on. Crank her up, Bumstead.
Farewell Angelina… most famously recorded by Joan Baez in 1965, Dylan’s only version, recorded for the Bringing It All Back Home sessions only appeared in 1991 on the first Bootleg Series Vol 1-3. This opens with a pleasant acoustic strum, a dum-dum bass line, and a slightly wet folk vocal. Roy Rogers deep plummy wet vocal. There’s nothing wrong with it. There’s no awful self-consciousness, no wackiness, nor even too much earnestness. I give credit for all these things because so many other artists on these blog pages have failed us time and time again. This is as Dylan would have appreciated. Just the vocal is not my kinda thing.
Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind… first appeared on Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3 and subsequently on volumes 5, 6 and 9. The same sound pervades—that warm acoustic strum and that country-rich vocal. It’s melodic and suits the song, bringing to mind Joan Baez’s version. It’s perhaps not always fair to compare these artists to Dylan, but this does sound a bit weak and watery in contrast with Dylan’s sharp edges. It’s played completely straight, but if I’m picky, which I am, I’ll say that the singer lets the team down with his lack of conviction.
Dear Landlord… only covered to date by Joan Baez in 1968 (on vinyl album) this is the second appearance of this song on a full Dylan covers album. Builds with those open piano chords and brings drama with volume. This is pretty good, and the singer is now starting to imitate Dylan more closely, mainly because he’s got a recording to copy from. The sound on this record is a touch blurry, lacking the dry crispness of the John Wesley Harding recording. But still, this is reasonably well played and sticks close to the original. The piano adds a lot. The singer does an excellent job of sending his voice in Dylanesque directions. Love.
Too Much Of Nothing… from The Basement Tapes, this was first covered by the Fontana Concert Orchestra on their instrumental Dylan covers album from 1968. Bouncy piano melody, although they would have had a recording of this to listen to. The vocal here is decent but wavers and falters a bit on the high notes. If this album had been better produced with a dryer sound it would have been receiving accolades from me, but everything is just a touch too soft-focus. Obviously I’m coming at it with 2017 ears so it’s a cheap critique. One annoying thing is that there’s only four songs per side and the whole thing is over and done in about 25 minutes.
Nothing Was Delivered… was also covered by The Byrds and would appear two years later on their Dylan covers album The Byrds Play Dylan in 1979. Side two is superior to side one, and side one ain’t bad. It sounds better for a start. If anything, I might sway the other way and say that they cover Dylan too closely, too much imitation and not enough of themselves. Even the singing is better on this track, or rather, it has a better edge on the tone. Singer doesn’t quite sing with full confidence; he lets his voice ride over the melody rather than own it. Or maybe it’s just the quality of his voice. Now there’s a thing. All voices are suited to some form of singing, and one might simply argue that this fellow’s voice is not fully suited to Dylan songs.
She’s Your Lover Now… another Dylan number only appearing officially for the first time on the 1991 Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3. Things get funnier here – singer starts singing like mid-70s Dylan, with the weird contrapuntal vocal inflections, the nasal thing, the half-spoken half-sung style most unintentionally self-parodied on Dylan’s pop-hit from the 80s “Tight Connection To My Heart.” One more observation: the vocal is often buried just a touch in the mix, which also signals a lack of confidence. Mimicking this style of Dylan singing has come to sound like deliberate parody. Even Joan Baez tried it on one of her songs and it was hard to tell whether it was in earnest or a joke. It would be nice to take in the lyrics but the piano and backbeat oppress the singer, such that the lyrical content feels lost.
Tell Me Momma… apparently no studio version of this exists in the Dylan catalog. It first appeared officially on Bootleg Series Vol. 4. Live 1966 released in 1998. A bit more rock and roll, with a strong sixties sound, pretty good. But I’m damning it with faint praise. It’s so … middle ground, competent, well-played, but ultimately lacking in grit, lacking in anything truly unique, lacking in guts and intent, and it suffers a bit from slightly murky production. Again, I can’t really catch the lyrics easily.
Can You Please Crawl Out Your Bedroom Window?… originally released as a standalone single by Dylan in 1965, it first appeared on Biograph in 1985. Great tune, and not one I’ve heard a whole lot of times owing to a few perfunctory plays of my five LP Biograph set. Vocal wavers in and out of the mix in an annoying way. Musically, all eight of these tracks hit all the right notes, the right sounds, the right flourishes and licks, and having played the record over a few times now, it’s certainly likeable. Good tunes, played well, listenable.
So there, after all these years of waiting to obtain a copy of this, I find myself mildly impressed yet also nonplussed. It’s like a little throwaway hobby record or something. On the grand scheme of Dylan cover albums from 1964 to 1977 I’d have to say this is the “straightest” of the lot, sounding the most like Dylan might have played them. Yes, I was cynical about that in my introduction, and now I see what they mean. But what we want, don’t we Dylan fans, is for the cover to rise above in some way. Twist the song newly. That’s what we want, and this doesn’t achieve lift-off, doesn’t transcend. Tis merely good. Full list of Dylan cover albums on vinyl found HERE.