Friday, August 17, 2012

Byrds-Byrds play Dylan

Byrds Play Dylan

"Byrds Play Dylan" was put together by going through the Byrds records and pulling every song written by Dylan that they covered starting with "Mr. Tambourine Man" the hit that brought the group national recognition and helped popularize Dylan as well. The result is of interest to Dylan fans, who have learned to appreciate his musical genius in a new way by hearing it sung by artists who can really sing (this is not meant as a slight, because hearing Dylan sung by Peter, Paul & Mary was what proved that his music was as strong as his lyrics). "Chimes of Freedom" and "My Back Pages" are the ones that really stand out in this collection. This is as fine a collection of Dylan covers as you are going to find, but do not mistake it as an adequate introduction to the Byrds because it accounts for neither their original compositions nor their covers of other artists. The Bryds were one of the most influential groups of the Sixties, making folk-rock immensly popular by taking the lyricism of contemporary folk music with the energy of the British Invasion. Singing songs written by Bob Dylan was only part of their magic.
As a historical document, this record is priceless. Just as some parents are wont to gauge their children's development by posing them yearly with a department-store Santa Clause, fans can witness both the development of this seminal Southern California band and the evolution of what was to become called folk rock by listening to them tackle the various stages and permutations of Bob Dylan--sometimes even, as with "Mr. Tambourine Man," before Dylan released the songs himself. Urged originally by their then manager and producer Jim Dickson to interpret the folk bard's work, the Byrds never seemed to grow weary of the exercise, even recording the rather simplistic and anachronistic "Paths of Glory" when they reunited briefly in 1990. However, the bulk of the recording was done between 1965 and 1971, and not only shows the Roger McGuinn-led band arching toward psychedelia on their dark and gothic rendition of Dylan and Rick Danko's "This Wheel's on Fire," but also documents the apex of their flirtation with country music during Gram Parson's tenure with the band in 1968. Both their choice Dylan covers--"Nothing Was Delivered," and "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"--and the buttons, bows, and leather chaps that they dressed the songs up in during Parsons time with the band is a revealing snapshot of the Byrds in transition. After all is said and done, the debate is still running on who got more out of this synergistic relationship. After listening to this collection, one is tempted to believe Dylan did. Were it not for the Byrds taking their fey and poppy version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" to the top of the charts in 1965, the man some of us refer to as Mr. Jones would have not come to the public's attention quite so soon. But the Byrds did much more than merely interpret Bob Dylan songs. Really, the band soared much higher performing their own material, and whether they melded jazz, raga, country, or psychedelic rock, they showed a fearlessness, an agility, inventiveness, and purpose that belied the constant personnel shifts.

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