Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan

Various Artists

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Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Designed as a celebration for Amnesty International's 50th Anniversary, Chimes of Freedom is the mother of all tribute albums: a four-disc salute to Bob Dylan that runs some 76 songs performed by singers from all corners of the globe. Apart from Lennon/McCartney -- the former of which was the subject of producers Jeff Ayeroff and Julie Yannatta's previous 2007 collection Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur -- no other songwriter of the rock & roll era could attract so many different artists from so many different genres as Dylan, something that is a testament to the resilience of his catalog. From the very start of his career, Dylan saw his songs covered by all manners of artists, ranging from colleagues and peers to longhair rock bands, easy listening outfits, and weirdos like William Shatner, so the absurd abundance of Chimes of Freedom in a way fits into the grand pattern of history: his songs were always up for grabs, they've survived terrible misguided covers, they've been performed with loving faith, they've been reinvented once and again. Given its monumental length, it should be of no great surprise that Chimes of Freedom has songs that fall into each category, although it is surprisingly bereft of awfulness. Not even Miley Cyrus' painful-in-theory straight-ahead cover of "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" is awful: she may not know who Verlaine and Rimbaud are, but she focuses on the melody and winds up selling the song in the process. Most of the artists here perform a similar trick, choosing love songs over protests, keeping things intimate instead of anthemic. Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule, but the scales on Chimes of Freedom are tipped toward pretty stripped-down sincerity -- even Ke$ha abandons Auto-Tune for a nearly a cappella interpretation of "Don't Think Twice It's Alright" -- an aesthetic that's easy to digest and helps make the artists that do something different pop out dramatically: Flogging Molly's Pogues-ian run through "The Times They Are A-Changing," Bryan Ferry's eerie reading of "Bob Dylan's Dream," Elvis Costello adding spikes to "License to Kill," Sinéad O'Connor tearing up "Property of Jesus," and Queens of the Stone Age tapping into Bob's rowdy side with a tremendous "Outlaw Blues." After a parade of faithful salutes ranging from Billy Bragg's impassioned "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" to Lenny Kravitz's absurd re-creation of "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," it's great to hear actual re-interpretations of Dylan's songs -- after all, even Bob himself doesn't always sing the same song the same way twice.

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