Various Artists

Highway 61 Revisited -- Revisited

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This nine-song CD was the conception of Uncut magazine, which got nine of its favorite artists to re-record the nine songs off of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited in their own respective styles. So it opens up with the sneering, funny Drive-by Truckers reimagining "Like a Rolling Stone" sans organ but a lot more attitude in the singing and some flashy guitar flourishes. That's a good jumping-off point for a fascinating effort at refocusing this body of work in contemporary terms, ranging from American Music Club's unexpectedly lyrical, shimmering, and hauntingly sad "Queen Jane Approximately," to Dave Alvin's ominous and intense, larger-than-life revision of "Highway 61 Revisited." Paul Westerberg's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" sounds like it's being played by Howlin' Wolf's band circa 1963, and Richmond Fontaine's "From a Buick 6" comes from the Jason & the Scorchers school of folk-rock, while Marc Carroll's "Tombstone Blues" makes this reviewer think of some kind of weirdly compelling post-punk Paul Simon-style rendition. The Handsome Family's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" is perhaps the most beguiling Dylan interpretation that this reviewer has heard in years and, with its use of concertina, even seems to deliberately evoke distant echoes of the Band. And Songdog's "Desolation Row" is so quietly eloquent in its minimalist glory that all by itself it's worth the tracking down of this disc -- in its quiet intensity, it reminds this listener of Dylan's own interpretation of Woody Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty," from the outset of his career. One interesting aspect of this collection that was pointed out by an older listener is that, in contrast to some of Dylan's own interpretations, in which it isn't always easy to discern certain words, on this collection all of the lyrics are easily understood -- whereas Dylan as author was free to deny the primacy of certain words as he wished, as interpreters these artists must deal with what he's given them on paper. The songs work either way, though the renditions here, being more precise, are, somewhat surprisingly, nearly as dense and compelling in their immediacy -- as a raw listening experience -- as the originals.