Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/11/07.
For more than 40 years in music, there has been no artist that has been as influential or regarded than Bob Dylan. With many artists covering his songs, with some becoming more well-known than Dylan's originals, he is still an icon since his emergence into the folk music scene in the early 1960s. While Dylan continues to tour and play to sell-out crowds, a film bio-pic was made in 2007 to cover Dylan's world from the late 50s to the late 70s that was named after one of Dylan's most unreleased and widely bootlegged songs that he recorded with the Band. The film was called I'm Not There that was directed by Todd Haynes and included not just Dylan's music from the man himself but also a soundtrack featuring covers and interpretations of Dylan's classic songs and rarities for this unique, 2-disc soundtrack album.
The soundtrack to I'm Not There is an album of more than two-and-a-half hours of music featuring 34 tracks (plus three exclusive tracks from iTunes) of many of Dylan's great songs performed by other artists including the bootlegged title track performed by Dylan himself with the Band. Supervised by Randall Poster and Jim Dunbar, the soundtrack covers Dylan's music from his early years a folk singer to his period when he became a Christian music singer in the late 1970s.
Taking the same, diverse approach of the film that covers seven different periods of Dylan's life, much of the film's soundtrack features artists backed by the band Calexico but also a supergroup called the Million Dollar Bashers that features Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, Tom Verlaine of Television, Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, Smokey Hormel, and John Medeski of Medeski, Martin, and Wood. The soundtrack to I'm Not There is a blistering, hypnotic, and often chaotic film soundtrack that just doesn't pay tribute to Bob Dylan and the film itself, but also travels into Dylan's own unique world.
The first cut on the first disc is All Along The Watchtowers performed by Eddie Vedder and the Million Dollar Bashers is more in line with Dylan's original version instead of the more famous cover of Jimi Hendrix as Vedder sings the famous song with the band bringing a bouncy, rocking version of the song that is richer in some respects to the Dylan version with John Medeski's organ instead of the more rocking Hendrix version. Sonic Youth arrives with their cover of I'm Not There with their feedback-laden sound while remaining true to the song's haunting tone as Thurston Moore's vocals provide that eerie tone to Dylan's legendary song as they keep the feedback to a minimum. Jim Jones and the band Calexico do their version of Goin' To Acapulco from The Basement Tapes which is largely a mix of acoustic country and Mexican, mariachi music with Calexico providing the brass section for this wonderfully soulful, hypnotic ballad. Richie Havens' cover of Tombstone Blues is fast and acoustic to the style that works to Havens' gravel voice as the singer makes a cameo in the film.
Next is Ballad Of A Thin Man performed by Stephen Malkmus of Pavement backed by the Million Dollar Bashers as he makes the vocals for Cate Blanchett in her role as Jude in the film's Don't Look Back segment. Malkmus's performance of the song is wonderfully eerie as in its sequence that involved Bruce Greenwood as a journalist being targeted as he is called Mr. Jones in song. This track isn't just one of the standout cuts on the album but is even more memorable in the film. Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, which is one of Dylan's longest songs, is given a Memphis soul interpretation by Cat Power whose laid-back vocals works with the film's bouncy, soulful rhythm as it's another great track. John Doe of the L.A. punk band X does an arresting yet inspiring cover of Pressing On from Dylan's late 70s Christian music period. Doe, who provides the vocals for Christian Bale as Pastor John in that particular scene, does a great job with the song as his vocals are a huge standout, aside from Bale's Jew-fro. Fourth Time Around by Yo La Tengo is a smooth, melodic ballad that plays well in Heath Ledger's Robbie Clark personal life with its laid-back tone.
Iron & Wine with Calexico do Dark Eyes as they bring a hypnotic, vibrant track with xylophones and eerie vocals to the song that is followed by siren-like guitars in the background as it's one of the albums' more haunting cuts. Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs does a cover of Highway 61 Revisited with the Million Dollar Bashers as O's screeching vocals with the song's bouncy, whistling sound works for a mix of Dylan's rocking sound with O's post-punk aesthetics. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds backed by Calexico does a haunting cover of One More Cup of Coffee from Desire as the song's haunting tone is mixed with the band's mariachi brass sound that gives the track an eerie feel that works to the original tune. Mason Jennings' interpretation of The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, who does Bale's voice as Jack Rollins in the early folk music segments, is in the same traditional of the song's folk roots by playing it straight as it works to convey the protest songs that Dylan was singing in his early years.
Billy 1 from the soundtrack to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is covered by Los Lobos who brings a raucous, Mexican style with accordions and guitars to the song's bouncy tune that works to convey Richard Gere's Billy and his own strange fantasy as a recluse trying to live his life as a cowboy. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco does a simple, acoustic cover of Simple Twist Of Fate from Blood on the Tracks is one of the soundtrack's most arresting cuts since Tweedy plays it straight to convey the pain Dylan was going through during that album while it was used greatly in Robbie Clark's segment as his own marriage disintegrates. Mark Lanegan's Man In The Long Black Coat is also an acoustic-driven track accompanied by organs and piano as his graveling voice works for the song's eerie ballad that revels in the song's eerie world as Dylan faces his own fame. The final track on the first disc is Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) by Willie Nelson and Calexico is a mix of Nelson's acoustic-country sound and Calexico's Mexican-brass sound as Nelson does a solo with a verse sung in Spanish as it's a fitting closer to the first disc.
The second disc begins with Mira Billotte's As I Went Out One Morning that is a bouncy, bass-driven song that plays to Robbie's relationship with Claire at the time when things were good and blissful. Can't Leave Her Behind by Stephen Malkmus and Lee Ranaldo is a dreamy, country-inspired track with lovely slides and Malkmus delving into Dylan's love of country as Malkmus' vocals work to convey the world of Dylan and his love of country music. Ring Them Bells by Sufjan Stevens is a kaleidoscopic track that mixes country, pop, and indie rock with brass section bridges, layers of percussions, and such as his interpretation of Dylan's song is genius to convey Stevens' sense of versatility. Charlotte Gainsbourg, who plays Claire in the film, does a wonderful cover of Just Like A Woman backed by Calexico. Gainsbourg's soft vocals works as Calexico plays to the song's acoustic tone as Gainsbourg's interpretation is wonderful to convey her character's persona as she inspires Robbie. Jack Johnson's cover of Mama, You've Been On My Mind/A Fraction Of Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie is a wonderful acoustic track to convey the character of Woody, played by Marcus Carl Franklin, and his connection to Woody Guthrie that starts off slow in the first song and then goes for something more up-tempo with the second half of the song.
Yo La Tengo's I Wanna Be Your Lover is a raucous track featuring swinging organs, rollicking guitars, and percussions to convey Dylan in his electric period as he was starting as it is a great track that shows Dylan's love for rock n' roll. You Ain't Going Nowhere by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova of the film Once is a straightforward, yet upbeat acoustic song as the duo do an amazing job with this cover as if it's being sung on a street corner or such to convey the song's folk presentation. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? by the Hold Steady that begins with an organ accompaniment as it becomes a raucous rock track with piano accompaniments for this smooth yet amazing track that is a pure rocker. Ramblin' Jack Elliot's Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues is a traditional blues song with acoustic instruments and slides that is part of young Woody's world as the boy tries to find his identity.
The Black Keys' rocking cover of The Wicked Messenger is a droning, dirty rocker that is mean and snarling to convey the song's dark, lyrics and Dylan's own attitude with the world. Tom Verlaine & the Million Dollar Bashers' cover of Cold Iron Bounds that features an opening that is heard throughout the film to convey Dylan's transitions and his feelings of the world is truly one of the albums' most haunting cuts ever performed. With its eerie guitar tracks from Tom Verlaine whose dark, growling vocals convey the song’s Dylan's evocative narrative in his lyrics. Mason Jennings' The Times They Are A Changin' for Jack Rollins' scenes of his rise is wonderfully performed and it stays true to its folk presentation while the lyrics still have a relevance in today's harsh times. Maggie's Farm by Stephen Malkmus & the Million Dollar Bashers which is a chaotic, wall-of-noise rocker that is a pure assault as the song is performed in a scene of Jude going electric and all hell breaks loose.
Marcus Carl Franklin, who plays Woody in many of the film's early scenes, does a wonderful folk cover of When The Ship Comes In as Franklin's young voice is a joy to hear as he sings the early protest songs of Dylan as he channels the youth and innocence of those songs. Bob Forrest's Moonshiner is a wonderful acoustic cover with Forrest singing almost like Dylan himself as he sings this wonderful ballad about whiskey and such. John Doe's I Dreamed Of St. Augustine is another inspirational song that is channeled by Doe's wonderful vocals and a wonderful backing band as it's a wonderfully dreamy, enchanting song helmed by John Doe. Antony & the Johnsons' Knockin' On Heaven's Door from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid which is a wonderful cover helmed by Antony's haunting voice and a piano accompaniment throughout this classic as it channels the song's melancholic tone. While it may not be superior to the cover made by Guns N' Roses some 20 years ago, Antony's version is still worth listening to.
The final cut on the entire soundtrack comes from Bob Dylan himself which is the widely-beloved and bootlegged song I'm Not There that he recorded with the Band. Spurred by the soft organs of Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson while Dylan sings and brings his acoustic accompaniment. With Rick Danko's bass in the background, Dylan sings his poignant lyrics of his own personality that not just fits in with the film but of who he is as it's really the highlight of the entire soundtrack with Dylan's grizzled voice as it's really an amazing song that any Dylan-fan must have.
The soundtrack to I'm Not There is a sprawling, eclectic, and amazing collection of songs from the legendary Bob Dylan performed by an array of artists including Dylan himself. Fans of Dylan will enjoy the interpretations and faithfulness to the songs while (if they don't have it) getting one of Dylan's own beloved songs. The soundtrack works as a whole with several stand out tracks and performance that work for the film and covers that is true to the film's imagery. In the end, the soundtrack to I'm Not There is an enjoyable soundtrack to have while might even make those, new to Dylan, to pick up some of his great albums.
Related Review: I'm Not There
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