Grandes Creaciones de Bob Dylan, Various Artists, 1978

When I bought this record from a seller in Spain, knowing nothing about it, I naturally assumed it was Dylan covers sung in Spanish. So I was surprised to hear English lyrics sung in American accents. Apparently in 1978, someone in Spain released about 11 different versions of the exact same album, mostly on cassette, some of them credited to one of the artists appearing on the compilation, and a couple released with no artist name at all, such as my copy. They’re all virtual unknowns, but enough variations have been found to enable a list of artists. The only thing we don’t know is who sings what. The Expecting Rain website lists seven names including Al Burton, Danny Roberts, Bill Collins, Johnny Desvan, Rod Lansing, Zuk Milton and Jane Reynolds (performing with Johnny Desvan). Who are these folks? Despite being released in Spain, they all sound American to my ears. Furthermore, they all sound the same. I’m not convinced this is eleven different artists. Maybe it is only seven. They’re names are too generic to try to look ‘em up on the net. Discogs has some of their names listed but virtually no information about them, or their names are so common you find six or more entries. So I gave up. They’re probably all dead by now anyway. For the most part these are eleven competently executed Dylan covers that add very little to the songs, other than they have catchy melodies and seem like overeasy choices. That said, they’re certainly superior to most of the instrumental trash I’ve reviewed on this site. Have at it Bumstead…

Mighty Quinn… opens with the piping organ tone that always seems to open this song, and then a warm chorus line before the first verse starts up, raw country accent, but like much of this album, it drags, a little tickle of laughter in the lyric, a sort of Dylanesque affected Basement Tapes drawl. “Cats meow, Cows moo / I can’t recite ‘em all.” The organist goes all Al Kooper on us towards the end. The whole thing is sufficient enough to trick the ear.

I Want You… the vocal on this track, which doesn’t sound entirely dissimilar to the previous track, is recorded loud and centre, while a screechy harmonica warbles continuously. The singing is of the “half-spoken” variety, with the occasional Dylan-affectations thrown in the voice, syllables pushed out nasally. The singing is awful and he knows it, which is why he’s talking. Everyone covers this song, no one quite as bad as this. It’s all over in under two minutes. Urgh.

Just Like A Woman… warm bass, better singing, much better singing. This is nice, melodically swinging in even temperament, with harmonising, another slightly rough gravelly voice, only just. The tempo/rhythm is kept rather strict, too strict, such that the song loses any semblance of spontaneity, like a lullaby, perfect competence, the musicians slooping smooth and metronomic through the tune like a fish. Nice, but lifeless?

You Ain’t Going Nowhere… this is better, with more oomph in the melody, and the vocal is a touch Manuel-esque, with big chorus. This singer has far more life invested in his singing than what’s come so far. That said, the range of male vocal tonality so far is extremely limited. They all sound like variations on a theme. I like this one though. This is nice country pop, great melody, clip-clop horse-trotting beat, some echo on the chorus, and even a touch of that hroat-exuding silliness in the right places, a la Dylan on the original. Good stuff. Best so far.

Blowing In The Wind… song choices leave a lot to be desired. This is 1978, and yet all we’re getting is the same old 60s choices that we’ve had a zillion times already. This sounds folky and family-friendly singalong and sounds like it was recorded in 1963, like a version I was forced to sing in primary school in the early seventies or something. It’s nice, but it lacks any sense of concern or real interest in the quandaries of the lyrics. They’re just words to sing-sail across the top of the tune. Which is a pity, a result of the ubiquity of this song, which by 1978 is a cipher of a cipher of a cipher, Baudrillard’s hyperrealism in extremis.

She Belongs To Me… sung by the same douchebag who talked his way through “I Want You.” He attempts some Dylan effects on his voice, which would be fine if he committed himself to it fully, but he knows he can’t hold a tune, thus rendering the lyrics a set of meaningless sounds. I think the tonal quality of his voice/accent is nice, but he can’t stay in tune. Throwaway.

Mr. Tambourine Man… nice loud harmonica, big harmonised chorus, presumably same artist that performed “Blowing In The Wind” on the a-side. This truly feels redundant though. These songs have been performed so many times that soft MOR pop versions like these are tiresome. They serve little purpose, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to skip half the verses, which was a weird trend in Dylan covers ever since Hamilton Camp and Linda Mason started the Dylan covers album fad way back in ‘64. This was Dylan’s genius I think – to draw attention to the lyrics in such a sharp evocative way, whereas so many of these early cover versions treat the lyrics as a thing to merge with the music. Things would get better as time wore on, or maybe it’s a truism that great/famous recording artists are great/famous because their singing conveys so much more conviction, boldness, experimentation, vulnerability, unlike these safe efforts.

I Will Be Released… I’m running out of things to say about these. More of the same – a soft rock beat, a harmonised chorus, a smooth transition between chorus and verse, a pleasing numbing effect, earnest lullaby versions, Dylan for sending your kids to sleep. It would be so easy for me to praise these, for they are all perfectly melodic and sweet, but the whole album just drifts on by, utterly unmemorable.

Knocking On Heaven’s Door… speaking of going to sleep, this is the most tiresome Dylan song ever. Even Dylan’s version drugs my thinkbox into a sterile stupor. This is softer than anything that’s come before, oohs, aahs, organ tones, that awful chorus, the mournful tones that drain you of the will to live. “Mama, put my guns in the ground / I can’t shoot them any more.” Indeed. Alan, what is it you want? I want to be woken up.

Maggie’s Farm… and indeed, nice timing, nice sequencing. Good boxcar harmonica, good chunky rhythm section. Solid. Only let down by the tired vocal, fellow divested of any sense of comprehension of what it is he’s singing. Great harmonica though. Bit loud in the mix. Starts to get a bit repetitive at some point, no variation in the rhythm section, none at all, other than a chord change in the bass note. Great graunchy electric guitar at the end.

House Of The Rising Sun… which Dylan covers on his 1961 debut. Quite different sounding to everything else on the record – quiet, organ intoning ominously, good singing, same guy who sang “Just Like A Woman” on the a-side, I think. Massive harmonica sound on the bridge. Nonetheless, this still lacks the mysteriousness of the brilliant Animals version from 1964.

Baby Stop Crying… at last someone brings us into the modern era with this Street Legal track. This isn’t bad, the vocal is new, a voice I don’t think we’ve heard before on the LP. The chorus section is ridiculous—falsetto that screeches out from the record, “stop crying / stop crying.” Still, this is a good tune, even if it does sound like they recruited the Muppets to sing the backing on the chorus. I like the singer’s voice. It’s a touch nasal, but he wields it with real passion in the right places. We even get a brief sax solo on the bridge. I guess I’m only excited because we’ve finally got a new song to listen to. The whole album should have drawn from Dylan’s 70s catalogue and I would have been a whole lot nicer about it.

Odd that none of the artists are credited anywhere on the sleeve. This is a perfectly listenable record that makes Dylan pop-accessible, without any awful electronic effects. After hearing it over a few times, it gets a bit bland, and reminds me of The Byrds Play Dylan in so far as they ‘prettify’ Dylan, though this is somewhat a more amateurish affair. Full list of Dylan cover albums released on vinyl HERE.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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