|Film critic André Bazin|
In considering André Bazin's general observation, I wondered if the same held true for singer/songwriters and the endless number of tribute albums we see these days. The foundation of the American songbook, the infamous Tin Pan Alley, was built solely by songwriters who composed simply so that others could interpret their songs. But this all changed in the Sixties when The Beatles (who wrote and sang their own material) turned Tin Pan Alley into a premature graveyard for the tunesmith. Just consider that you can probably count on the fingers of both hands the number of memorable Beatle cover songs. Which is to say that these four lads from Liverpool were so successful in putting their own distinct voices on their tracks that no one else could claim those songs as their own. Bob Dylan, on the other hand, is in a whole other league. Besides being one of the best modern songwriters, as well as the most prolific, and one who has put a very distinct voice on his own material, he also wrote his songs for others to sing. And sing them they did. From Joan Baez, to the 1910 Fruitgum Company, to William Shatner, to The Byrds, they've all tackled Dylan - good and bad. But in performing his songs, each artist has had to deal with Bob Dylan's canny and incomparable voice, to claim it, reject it, or risk failure in trying to do both.
The new omnibus 4-CD set Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan, a vast selection of Dylan songs that features 73 cover tracks by over 80 artists, has its fair share of both successes and failures. But its sheer range of both material (from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan to Time Out of Mind) and genre artists makes it a fascinating listen. Chimes of Freedom, which includes indie rockers (Silversun Pickups), young pop hit makers (Miley Cyrus, Adele, Kesha), reggae favourites (Ziggy Marley), punk bands (Bad Religion, Rise Against), rappers (K'naan) and veterans (Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Pete Townshend and Steve Earle), also celebrates 50 years of Amnesty International which, given their sometimes paradoxical political agendas, makes them an interesting bedfellow for Dylan who walked away from leading charges to the barricades. Be that as it may, no other songwriter could provide a more nuanced selection of social and political material than Bob Dylan. After all, he basically took the topical folk song, which traditionally served the social cause by denying the singer a subjective role in singing it, and turned that tradition inside out. For Dylan, the topical song was purely subjective, where he performed it from his own perspective and not with a socialist realist objectivity. But he also wrote love songs, surreal adventures, blues and gospel, which opens up the territory for such a variety of performers that populate Chimes Of Freedom.