Dylanesque Live: The London Sessions (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Reviewed by Pedro Blas Gonzalez
Dylanesque Live is a video performance of Bryan Ferry’s recording sessions of his latest album Dylanesque (Virgin Records). The DVD includes four bonus tracks, including a 1973 video of Ferry’s take on Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Also of interest are several interviews where Ferry gets an opportunity to explain the rationale -- and justification, for some -- for his choice in recording Dylan songs. Perhaps this DVD and album of the same name will be received differently by the two rather dissimilar camps: Bob Dylan and Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music fans.
However, Dylan fans should take comfort in the fact that other able musicians would want to cover his music. This has been the case with even greater songwriters and lyricists of Tin Pan Alley’s Golden Age like Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers and Irving Berlin. Their compositions have passed on to become the standards, as these pieces have now been immortalized as being an essential part of the American soundtrack.
Somehow, I get the impression Dylanesque Live will sound more soothing to those familiar with the Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music sound. There are several reasons for this. Dylan fans have had ample time to get used to his twangy voice and inflection. I suppose that, for Dylan purists, that along with his acoustic guitar, harmonica and abrasive lyrics serves as the foundation to embrace his music. For these fans, Bryan Ferry’s arrangements will sound strange, at best.
The Bryan Ferry fan, on the other hand, knows him to be an urbane sophisticate. His music is vitally sensual. As he says in several of the interviews in the DVD, “you try to bring a little character to the songs.” Yet let us not lose sight of the fact that Ferry’s Dylanesque Live is a tribute to Dylan’s music. Thus, part of Ferry’s justification in recording this album is that there is no sound logic and purpose in repeating the Dylan sound.
There’s no doubt that this recording is an interesting mix of folk music and the svelte, midnight sound for which Ferry is best known. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” is a fine upbeat example of this musical synchronism. This is perhaps the best song in the album. With harmonica in hand, a truly competent band backing him and four background singers in tow, Ferry truly shines in this piece. “The Times They Are A-Changin” also enjoys a re-vitalization that ought to incite excitement in the Dylan crowd. The beauty of Ferry’s music is the patience that his songs exhibit. When listening to this track one does not get the impression that there is an end in sight, for his songs do not have formulaic beginning, middle and end parts.
Another example of this is the piano-driven “Positively 4th Street.” Chris Spedding, formerly of Roxy Music, delivers a beautiful acoustic guitar solo that, along with the piano makes this song a much more polished and sophisticated sound than the original composition. Of course, Ferry also gets it right on songs like “All Along the Watchtower” with his use of a rather tastefully restrained and not over the top guitar solo. Also surprisingly enjoyable in this latest embodiment is “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Dare I say that this Bryan Ferry recording and DVD actually adds some much needed cosmopolitan lure and spontaneity to these Dylan songs?
Pedro Blas Gonzalez is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Amongst his intellectual pursuits is his interest in the relationship that exists between subjectivity, self-autonomy and philosophy.