Ben Sidran

Dylan Different

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Upon hearing “Everything Is Broken,” the opening track of Ben Sidran's Dylan Different, a collection of Bob Dylan covers that uncovers a near symbiotic connection to his source's material, one wonders what took him so long to record this. Sidran chose a dozen tunes from Dylan’s songbook and recorded them over four days in France, applying his requisite musicality, unaffected jazzman's cool, and streetwise yet elegant poetic imagination. There is a decidedly old-school feel to the manner in which this material is recorded that recalls his late-'70s sides. Sidran plays Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and acoustic piano as well as a Hammond B-3, and is accompanied by a killer backing band that includes trumpeter Michael Leonhart, drummer Alberto Malo, bassist Marcello Giuliani, saxophonist Bob Malach, guitarist Rodolphe Burger, and vocalist Amy Helm. His son Leo did the horn arrangements and played additional piano, B-3, and koto, and there are guests on backing vocals, including Georgie Fame, who duets on “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” and Jorge Drexler on "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." What it all adds up to is a truly new presentation of Dylan’s work that seamlessly fits Sidran’s aesthetic without removing the authority of these songs from their historical context. Check the nocturnal funky groove on “Gotta Serve Somebody” or the bluesy dual pianos on “Tangled Up in Blue,” on which Sidran does his talk-singing accompanied by female backing vocalists on the chorus and a restrained horn section. He turns the tune into a slippery, finger-popping club number. Dylan’s slide guitar anthem “Highway 61 Revisited” is given a lithe Latin treatment with Burger’s guitar referencing the original even as the piano and rhythm section make it a funky-butt slow-boiling rhumba. The minor-key swing in “Ballad of a Thin Man” accents the tune's poetry while extrapolating harmonies in the minor-key arrangement. Given Sidran’s treatment of the lyric, if you didn't know better, you might think he wrote it. (The bass clarinet solo by Malach is a sweet touch, too.) He took the greatest liberties with “Maggie’s Farm,” which is not frenetic guitar-based blues-rock here, but a late-night, shimmering piece of beat jazz with an eerie arrangement that extends the reach of the tune’s cultural and economic critique into the heart of the new century. Sidran even has the stones to redo “Blowin’ in the Wind.” He makes it as disturbingly inquisitive and world-weary as the song itself must feel by now, but without losing a measure of its poignancy. Dylan Different reveals Sidran as being in full possession of his jazz and creative gifts but also his ones for interpretive song; by turns, with this fine album, he adds even more weight to the argument that Dylan is a writer of folk songs that transcend their eras of origin in relevancy.

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