Soundchecks Music Reviews

Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque

49 minutes (E)
director: Bob Smeaton

Eagle Vision E325

DYLANESQUE: London Sessions
Bryan Ferry

review by Jim Steel

Blank Frank's recent tabloid stramash concerning Nazi chic has made this either the best or the worst of times for him to be releasing an album of songs written by the world's most famous living Jewish man. The Daily Mirror has since apologised, but the only surprise is that anyone was surprised enough to try and manufacture a story from it all. Remember that Wagnerian quote on Re-make/ Re-model from the first Roxy Music album?

He's also got 'previous' when it comes to Bob Dylan. The first release from his concurrent solo career was a cover of A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall. And the two careers are still trundling on side by side. Just when everybody was expecting a new Roxy Music album, Ferry brings out an 11-song album of Dylan covers. This DVD was filmed live for a television special (but not in front of an audience) just after the Dylanesque sessions were completed and it features uninterrupted versions of all of the songs on the album, although you have to go to the extras for some of them. There are even a couple of snippets of Dylan performing, but nothing to trouble his completists.

Ferry is dressed like the proverbial geography teacher and the sessions themselves are fairly low-key, but he has assembled a fine backing band, featuring Chris Spedding amongst others. The songs benefit from not having quite the gloss of the versions on the album, and if you have to choose between the album and the DVD, then I'd plump for the DVD. A few of the songs, such as If Not For You, come across as fairly bland but there's a beautiful and delicate version of Gates Of Eden that is one of the highlights. All Along The Watchtower, which is labouring under the weight of expectation that has been placed on it by Hendrix as well as Dylan, is another that is a success. Maybe around half the material comes off well, which is a high enough hit-rate to make it a worthwhile purchase, especially for Ferry fans.

The choice of material is another matter entirely. Ferry has played far too safe and there are no real surprises. Make You Feel My Love, originally from 1997's magnificent Time Out Of Mind album, is the only song that postdates 1975's Simple Twist Of Fate. Cynics might say that surely this is as much Dylan's fault as Ferry's, but that is a very lazy argument indeed. Dylanesque cries out for a glorious failure. Just imagine what we might have got if Ferry had attempted Highlands instead of Simple Twist Of Fate. Instead, too many standards are given something that is very close to a lounge treatment.

The only other DVD extra, apart from the songs mentioned above, is Ferry's original video for A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall (complete with the eccentric editing that keeps flipping his clothing). It's got the young man's verve that has understandably faded with the decades. There are also subtitles, but Ferry's bland between-song commentary is weak enough without it and it adds little to the overall experience.

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press