After releasing several acclaimed s/s albums, Joan's now able to exercise her proven gifts as supple, soulful singer and intelligent, no-nonsense interpreter on a hand-picked collection of Bob Dylan songs. OK, so every man and his dog has taken a stab at Dylan… But Joan's chosen really carefully from the collected Dylan corpus (that means over his whole career, not just the acknowledged high spots and hits) and she's been honing her interpretations during two critically-acclaimed two-week residencies at New York City's Café Carlyle in March 2016 and 2017. The idea for the Songs Of Bob Dylan concerts sprang from Joan's desire to record a series of Songbook albums akin to Ella Fitzgerald's landmark set, starting with Dylan because of his stature as a writer and the sheer breadth of his writing. And there's certainly the feel of the auteurial tribute about Joan's sensibly rethought readings. She was entirely unconstrained by any need to try to imitate or surpass Dylan himself, and thus felt free to play with the songs' arrangements, a process that was also enabled by the virtuosity and versatility of her musical collaborators (guitarist Jack Petruzzelli and keyboard player Keith Cotton) who had performed with her at Café Carlyle and with whom she co-produced the resultant album.
Needless to say, there are some familiar and oft-covered songs here, but Joan really does find nuances and shadings of meaning that give an enhanced perspective to sentiments and stances that have become clichéd through inferior and non-understanding performances. As Joan says: "(Dylan's) versions are legendary and I'm not trying to improve on them… I'm just trying to sing beautiful songs and let people hear them. It's about trying to give a different shade of meaning to something that's already great." So Joan brings a fresh expressive passion to the truly timeless Masters Of War, the newly edgy, driven urgency of the rhythms forcing a keener concentration on the ebb and flow of the hard-hitting lyric, one of his most biting condemnations. On the other hand, Quinn The Eskimo becomes a jubilant, celebratory gospel moment and Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 is transported from the bright, blowsy mardi gras indoors into the smoky late-night jazz club environment. Similarly, Tangled Up In Blue is invested with a sexy Memphis-soul-drenched groove and Highway 61 gets an uneasy, staggered shuffle beat, while Spanish Harlem Incident veers over into Southern roots territory. Joan's affectionate take on Buckets Of Rain treats it as the delicate love song it really is, and You Ain't Goin' Nowhere is shown as the embodiment of deceptively easy-going solid rollin'-country singalong, while Ring Them Bells defiantly carries the original song's spiritual resonances forward into today's political climate and makes a brilliant choice for album closer. (Tho' I bet this album won't be Joan's last word on Dylan, for I suspect many more songs were performed at those Café Carlyle concerts.)
Less often heralded, indeed distinctly unappreciated in some quarters, are some of the late-period Dylan albums which Joan clearly regards as masterpieces, and from these she's picked High Water (from Love And Theft) and Tryin' To Get To Heaven (from Time Out Of Mind), both of which receive emotionally committed readings, the latter Joan admits inspired by hearing Lucinda Williams singing it. But the jewel turns out to be Dark Eyes (from Empire Burlesque), a limpid madrigal-style reimagination that really hits the spot and complements the tender ruminations of You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (an unsung gem from Blood On The Tracks).
So the hoary old question of do you really need another album of Dylan covers just doesn't figure here, right?
|Blazin' Fiddles: The Key||Jess and The Bandits: Always Christmas Eve|
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