Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque

Dylanesque is the rare album that envisions Bob Dylan's songs in unfamiliar musical settings, and it does so without sacrificing the soul of the lyrics.

Bryan Ferry


Label: Virgin
US Release Date: 2007-06-26
UK Release Date: 2007-03-05

Bryan Ferry's love for the music of Bob Dylan has been apparent since his first solo single, a glammed-up romp through "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" that beat "1999" to the apocalyptic party punch while finding a wellspring of humor in this very unfunny song. Thirty-four years and many tributes obvious ("It Ain't Me Babe", "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", "Don't Think Twice") and not-so-much (Roxy Music's harmonica-and-organ-driven "Psalm") later, Ferry has unleashed Dylanesque, a collection of ten of you-know-who's songs (plus one by our old friend Traditional).

It's a stellar batch of tunes -- executed with a bit too much seriousness at times -- buoyed by Ferry's eternally graceful (and eternally sex-oozing) voice. Recorded live in the studio with the singer's touring band, Dylanesque is also a very warm record, certainly polished but not overly glossy. According to various reports, Ferry recorded 20-some-odd songs for this project; it's hard not to wonder what the others were. After all, the songs selected for the album aren't especially adventurous. "Make You Feel My Love" fits Ferry's image and style nicely, but it's already been subjected to a number of high-profile covers in its brief lifetime. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" has still never been done better than Dylan's original, which was short, sweet and modest. Ferry stretches it out for six minutes, singing each verse twice and allowing plenty of time for solos. And the closer is, of course, "All Along the Watchtower", another perfect example of a Dylan song that should require no further covers.

On second thought, maybe Dylanesque isn't as predictable as those choices make it seem. Subtract those three and you're left with eight songs that haven't been done to death, and it's these that form the meat of the record. True, some of them are standards, but "The Times They Are A-Changin'" isn't an especially likely candidate for a musically irreverent cover by the likes of Ferry. In his hands, the old folk anthem gets electric guitars, keyboards, female background vocalists, and a danceable beat. It loses a couple verses, too, but Dylan covers tend to undergo such changes. Ferry pulls the same stunt on "All I Really Wanna Do", which uses the Byrds' hit as its template, from its truncated lyric down to the middle section they invented by changing some chords and the melody. His version is light and pleasant, and takes full advantage of the ladies' "woo"-ing abilities.

It's the songs that've never been substantial hits for other artists that Ferry pulls off the best. "Simple Twist of Fate" has the most dynamic new arrangement, featuring a heavier beat than Dylan ever used for this song. The lead guitar is excellent throughout but never showy, and the brightest instrumental spot is a violin solo before the final verse. The five minutes go by in what feels like half the time, with Ferry fondling the melody all over the place and injecting it with sensuality and subtle daring. The other standout is "Positively 4th Street". Stripped of hefty chunks of its lyric -- as well as instrumentation, featuring primarily piano and strings -- it sheds its bitterness, its venom, and comes across as something gentler. It's not better than the original -- none of these are, and it's unfair to expect them to be -- but Ferry does approach the song from a different angle. Perhaps this is an effect of age; presumably we become more conciliatory in some ways as we grow up, and a sixty-something singer of this song is more likely to be filled with regret than anger.

The only time Ferry really falters is on "Gates of Eden", which is a risky pick because it never gets covered, and Dylan himself never even performs it (and he's the ultimate re-interpreter of his own songs). But it manages to be less gripping with minimal glossing up than the voice-and-guitar original. Ferry's voice is great, taking advantage of its creepiness, but the music has no momentum.

Dylanesque is the rare album of Dylan covers that envisions the songs in unfamiliar musical settings, and it does so without sacrificing the soul of the lyrics. At the same time, Ferry's personality is apparent throughout, and the uniqueness here is that Dylan's songs aren't usually treated so sensually. If some of the more expected songs were excluded in favor of off-the-beaten-path material, this already excellent album would be a real gem.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.