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Various Artists - The Village (429 Records)

Star rating: 
3

With three stunning Dylan covers to get this little celebration underway, Rickie Lee Jones, The Duhks and Lucinda Williams prove once again that Dylan songs are very often done much better by others than by the man himself. Rickie Lee Jones takes on a sort of Three Dog Night Mama Told Me Not To Come groove to retell the Subterranean Homesick Blues stream of consciousness, whilst Sarah Dugas's stunning vocal on the Duhks performance of It's Alright Ma, may just have us pondering the notion of whether or not this may be the definitive version here. Just when we thought it could get no better, Lucinda Williams turns in a sneerful version of Positively 4th Street with a voice that could just as easily strip paint. Three Dylan covers worthy of listening to over and over.

It's quite sad for Sixpence None the Richer, who have to follow all that, coming in fourth in the track listing. Their take on the traditional Wayfaring Stranger is a subtle version nonetheless, it's just that I'm already in the habit of skipping back to the beginning at this point to hear those three Dylan covers over again, just in case my hearing deceives me. 

THE VILLAGE, subtitled 'a celebration of the music of Greenwich Village' offers an interesting look back on the heady days of the Village during its heyday, when this particular area of New York City was a bustling hive of political and musical activity, frequented by the cream of the hip performers of the 1960s including Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Sebastian, Tim Buckley, Eric Andersen and Fred Neil, to name but a mere handful, all of whom were probably only there in the first place to absorb the influence of those who had gone before them a decade earlier, the likes of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, not to mention another Dylan of the Thomas variety.

Further contributions are from Mary Chapin Carpenter, tenderly delivering her trademark delicate touch to Eric Andersen's Violets of Dawn, Cowboy Junkie Margo Timmins' slick vocal on the atmospheric Once I Was, a faithful nod to the Tim Buckley original and Rachael Yamagata, who emotes through Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now, echoing the much later version that Emma Thompson sobs uncontrollably to in Love Actually, rather than the fresh faced 1969 original. 
  
The only dodgy moment as far as I can see is the unfathomable inclusion of Bruce Hornsby's rather weak interpretation of John Sebastian's Darlin' Be Home Soon. Once a beautifully engaging melody, now a monotonous drone with all of the colour removed, I can only think in terms of Sebastian's multi-coloured die-dyed vomit jacket and matching jeans seen at Woodstock, but in black and white. Not only does this version seem out of place due to its dullness, it's also out of place being the solitary live track, which has Hornsby confessing at the beginning to his audience 'I'm no Tom Jones'. Eh?

With some insightful sleeve notes written by Suze Rotolo, the gal wrapped up warm beside Dylan on the cover of Freewheelin', we can once again enjoy for the most part, some of the most influential songs from arguably the most influential decade in popular music, re-worked here by some of the performers who were standing in the wings, taking note.  

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky