Various Artists

Dylan Country

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Man, this was a long time coming -- and they actually got it pretty much right. Dylan Country is a collection of 16 songs by the scruffy one, recorded by a legion of country and affiliated artists over 35 years. And there are some doozies here. Bob himself makes an appearance on the opener with Earl Scruggs, performing "Nashville Skyline Rag" from back in 1971. But there are so many wonderful surprises here, like the Country Gentlemen's reworking of "Girl from the North Country," recorded in 1966, or Kitty Wells' read of "Forever Young" from 1974 and Jerry Jeff Walker's classic rendition of "One Too Many Mornings," which sounds as if he's just barely lived through them. There's a ton of well-known stuff, too, like Waylon's brilliant shuffle version of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" in 1969, Nanci Griffith's reverential "Boots of Spanish Leather," Glen Campbell's poetic "If Not for You," the Byrds' amazing "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," Hank Williams, Jr.'s honky tonk styling on "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," and Emmylou Harris' chilling "When I Paint My Masterpiece," recorded in 1996. And then there's the surreal: Buck Owens' storied reinterpretation of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," issued in 1971, Johnny Cash's hillbilly mariachi version of "It Ain't Me Babe" from 1965, where he tries to emulate Dylan's singing style, and Jennifer Warnes' haunting and beautiful Fellini-esque remake of "Sign In the Window," taped in 1979. Willie Nelson, Tim O'Brien, and the duo of Norman Blake and Peter Ostroushko make individual appearances in the current decade, and all of the performances are stellar. This is one of those extremely rare items: a themed tribute record that actually works. While it helps that the producers had a lot to choose from -- because what's not here is conspicuous by omission and they could have easily done a box set -- the taste and restraint shown here are truly admirable. This one is special.

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