Published Mar 25, 2014Though 1983's Infidels was a total winner and complicates the "lost decade" narrative people (including, sort of, the man himself) like to toss around, there's no doubt that Bob Dylan had a tough run between 1979's Slow Train Coming and 1989's Oh Mercy.
Along the way he offered up two iffy gospel albums in Saved and Shot of Love, an overproduced misfire in Empire Burlesque, and a couple of total dogs in Knocked Out Loaded and Down in the Groove. No one in their right mind would argue with this. These were some of Dylan's worst overall efforts, and represented something of a collective nadir in his otherwise pretty stellar run. And yet, each of these records contains at least one song that ranks among the best things that the old trickster has ever written.
Add to this the fact that Dylan's most extraordinary songs from the period — "Blind Willie McTell," "Angelina," "Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" (eventually added to the CD release of Shot of Love), "Series of Dreams," "Foot of Pride," "Dignity," "Born in Time" — tended to be left off the albums, only to circulate on bootlegs as bafflingly great outtakes, and you begin to see the 1980s as a vital era for this most complex of pop stars.
The point is that everyone should have a "lost decade" as good as Bob Dylan's 1980s. This tribute record, compiled by Jesse Lauter and Sean O'Brien, seeks to remind us of this, and is on that score mostly successful. Featuring a pretty wide range of talent, from Slash to Craig Finn to Built to Spill to Dear Tick to Marco Benevento, and working with a wide range of material (including both outtakes and songs from 1990's Under the Red Sky), this ragged dog of a mixtape will send many of us rushing to those old LPs to seek out the originals.
But do we want to listen to these covers more than a few times? Apart from a folksy take on "You Changed My Life" by Ivan & Alyosha, a funky "Unbelievable" by Blitzen Trapper, a sweet and spooky "Dark Eyes" by Dawn Landes and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and a knockout "Sweetheart Like You" by a snarling Craig Finn, much of what's here is rather forgettable. And by forgettable, I mean: I never, ever, want to hear Reggie Watts' batshit take on "Brownsville Girl" (among Dylan's most towering achievements in any era) again. For example. (ATO)