Various Artists, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan – Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International

Dan Hyman

By Dan Hyman

on 01.24.12 in Reviews

Is it the song or the singer? Hunker down with a Bob Dylan song — or 50 — and where’s the debate? Brilliant songs are open books; singers can be replaceable. It’s hardly shocking then, that Dylan’s songs are forever being reinvented; their boundary-less base is always ripe for interpretation. On Amnesty International’s 76-track benefit collection of Dylan covers, that the unlikeliest of artists are able to take the poet’s songs to daring new places is perhaps the biggest compliment paid to his work.

A welcome reminder that these interpretations sprang from a single spectacular source

Cue up this music-history anthology — which includes everyone from Joan Baez to Elvis Costello, fromQueensof the Stone Age to Adele — and bury any preconceived expectations. For it’s the perpetually-hungover pop queen Ke$ha, on a cry-your-eyes-out “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” who commands the most attention, excavating her ailing heart with a weary voice she’s never before unveiled. Elsewhere, boundaries are toppled:Chicago’s Rise Against get poet-punky pissed-off (“Ballad of Hollis Brown”), Cage the Elephant shockingly show restraint (“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”) and Mexican pop star Ximena Sarinana (“I Want You”) makes depression seem freewheeling.

Naturally, there’s plenty of skip-overs (Pete Townshend’s sing-song “Corrina, Corrina” and Seal and Jeff Beck’s “Like A Rolling Stone” both vie for the checkered flag) and “what-you-expected” cuts (Lucinda Williams’s “Tryin’ To Get To Heaven”), along with the “almost-there’s” (We Are Augustines’ “Mama, You Been On My Mind”). Thankfully, we close with Dylan’s original 1964 rendition of the song that gives this collection its title; it’s a welcome reminder that all of these interpretations sprang from a single spectacular source.