Dylan Country

Various Artists
Dylan Country

(Shout! Factory)

First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2004, Volume 11, #6

Written by John Metzger


Country music changed Bob Dylan just as much as Bob Dylan changed country music. In fact, Dylan was enthralled with the genre from the very beginning of his career, so much so that he even recorded a tune by Hank Williams for inclusion on his self-titled debut, though it was cut from the final product. Over the course of the next five years, Dylan became both a folk and rock star, but he never left country music very far behind, and when he emerged in 1967 from a self-imposed exile, he completely embraced the genre, first via his return to acoustic fare on his legendary John Wesley Harding and then with the equally classic Nashville Skyline. Meanwhile, Johnny Cash was breaking down similar boundaries, scoring singles that seeped into the mainstream and landed him a television program, which he utilized to promote as many rock bands as country artists. Though they certainly weren’t alone in their endeavors, they served as the lightning rods for their respective sides of the fence, yet in hindsight, it’s amusing to think that both Cash and Dylan caused such controversy simply by refusing to limit their respective musical purviews.

Over the years, countless country artists have covered Dylan’s songs — much like countless rock bands have tackled those by Cash — and the recently released compilation Dylan Country draws together 16 previously released tracks, including a few rarities. Naturally, not all of the renditions are gems — for example, Jennifer Warnes’ depiction of Sign on the Window is decidedly dull while Tim O’Brien’s interpretation of Subterranean Homesick Blues is imaginative but ultimately forgettable — but overall, the good, by far, outweighs the bad. Perhaps the biggest rediscovery is Buck Owens’ long out-of-print reworking of Love Minus Zero/No Limit, though Earl Scruggs’ masterfully fluid performance of Nashville Skyline (with Bob Dylan in tow) is positively delightful. Elsewhere, Waylon Jennings perfectly delivers Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright; Nanci Griffith applies her lovely voice to Boots of Spanish Leather, and, of course, The Byrds — which was better than anyone at re-framing Dylan’s songs — offers a sterling version of You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. While Dylan Country isn’t quite as powerful a statement as last year’s gospel set Gotta Serve Somebody, it’s still a rewarding collection for Dylan and country fans alike. starstarstar

Dylan Country is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2004 The Music Box