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The songs they are a-changin'…
As a Bryan Ferry fan I wasn't sure of what to make of his new project Dylanesque, an album comprised entirely of Bob Dylan songs. Ferry has covered many Dylan songs in his career: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" from 1973; "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" found on Frantic (the last solo work before this one). But an entire disc of nothing but Dylan? The two men were born four years apart, but their styles couldn't be more different. Where Dylan is simple and straight-forward, Ferry is lushly produced and poetic. Dylan never relies on melody, but a barrage of lyrics and political statements. Ferry could care less about grand politics, and sings strong melodies about cruel romance. One's an activist, and the other is a crooner. I grew up listening to Ferry far more than Dylan, because I aspired to be a disco lounge lizard in love with a supermodel much more than a revolutionay poet in torn jeans who was a master of the turn of phrase. There was something hip and soothing in Bryan Ferry's persona, and he carries that over into this project.
There are many things about Bryan Ferry that make him the epitome of cool and the king of suave. I'm tempted to brand him "the male counterpart to Sade" because he creates romantic pop jazz that's easy on the ears, but that brand would be far too simple for a man with a rich history and definitive sense of style. Born in 1947, Bryan was the son of a coal miner who enrolled in art school. Visual art would become a touchstone throughout his career, and he would intertwine fashion and music while leading a band that started a new genre. In 1971 he founded the influential "art rock" band Roxy Music which became the basis for new-wave pop of the '80s. Nick Rhodes, the keyboardist of Duran Duran, once said "All we've ever aspired to do was make a halfway decent Roxy Music album." At first it seemed Roxy Music would only survive as long as Glam Rock held court over the English music scene, but the group endured well beyond their first decade. Ferry and Roxy Music have carried on over thirty years, and seems each generation of "cool kids" rediscover the wonders of a man who made a white dinner coat seem like revolution. Hell, even Ridley Scott filmed the music video for "Avalon," still one of the group's most beloved hits. Ferry was the first to date Jerry Hall before Mick Jagger discovered her. He's a pioneer in the art of making suave, moody music, and his latest collection of Bob Dylan covers seals that fate.
Ferry was searching for a quick endeavor. He recorded this Dylanesque set in only a week with reliable studio musicians he's used throughout his career for touring and in the studio. Soundscape master Brian Eno shows up on "If Not for You" and appearances by current members of Roxy Music crop up as well. There's a certain irony in calling the CD Dylanesque when most Dylan fans would refer to the work derisively as "Ferryesque." Every single song is reinvented and refiltered through Bryan's own style, and as a result the songs sound like Roxy Music instead of reverential remakes. He cools down "All Along the Watchtower" to a bland jazz throw away, a song that will always belong to the blistering guitar of Hendrix with no threat of this version ever surplanting the pop memory. Where he gets things right is during shimmering ballad moments such as "To Make You Feel My Love" and "Positively 4th Street," which both get definitive remodels in Bryan Ferry's hands.
Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque Live: The London Sessions the DVD is a collection of live performances done during the recording of the project from the studio. The footage was originally used to make a British television special to promote the release. It includes performances of every song on the CD, as well as explanations by Bryan Ferry on why he chose each one. There is stock footage of Dylan performing the originals in clips shown throughout the program as reference. It feels like MTV's Unplugged or VH-1's Storytellers without an audience. It's an intimate look at the man and his band as they plow through the material once more as if in preparation for a glitzy tour.
The set list from the televised program includes:
Bonus tracks for the DVD release include:
The program is presented in a widescreen format, and the transfer appears clear and well mastered. There are no artifacts or edge enhancement, although overall it is a touch soft and darker than you'd expect. The real focus is on the audio portion with three separate tracks: a basic stereo, the 5.1 mix, and a DTS option. The tracks are put in a different order than what you find on the CD version. Subtitles are offered in three languages, but you'll find due to lyric copyright issues only the dialogue gets translated while the lyrics remain untranscribed. Extras are centered around three performances not televised originally, and the inclusion of Bryan Ferry performing "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" for a 1973 music video. All in all this is a great package that should run you less than the price of the CD release. It's so nice to get to see Bryan Ferry and hear him explain his take on Dylan and how he approached the material.
Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque Live: The London Sessions is a well-produced DVD which captures the recording experience, and provides us with an intimate view of the songs done live. This project is a great tour of Dylan's catalog for Bryan Ferry fans. People who revere the originals will find these new versions too pretty and lush, but for those who loved Roxy Music it's a treat. It's comforting to know Ferry still looks great at sixty, and is picking out attractive back-up singers to support him. He's ever the charming lothario who can crank out a nice, shimmering, English art rock song. Just this time all the songs are written by an American poet who never seemed all that concerned with getting the chicks as much as raising their conscience. Dylan and Ferry make odd bedfellows, but somehow it all works magically.
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