Album Review

Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan

Willie Nile - Positively Bob

An album of Bob Dylan songs, even when it comes from someone with as clear-eyed a perspective as Willie Nile, might appear at first glance to be somewhat redundant. After all, who makes the master’s music better than the master himself? 

Of course, that was a question answered a long time ago with the Byrds, Manfred Mann and all the other disciples who saw something special and unexplored in Dylan’s melodies, a sound that often remained elusive and untapped in the Bobster’s original renditions. Consequently, Nile manages to take these songs to another level, injecting the majority of them with a rousing revelry that’s part and parcel of his signature style. Several -- “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues”  in particular -- are practically unrecognizable in this current incarnation. Indeed, Nile’s rousing delivery gives these songs an anthemic intent, a delivery clearly intended to motivate the masses with strum their air guitars in unison and wave their lighters (or cell phones) proudly in salutation. 

To his credit however, Nile mostly stay true to Dylan’s original intents, turning “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” “Abandoned Love” and “Every Grain of Sand” into gentle romantic serenades and “The Times They Are A-Changin’ and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” into the call to arms as they were originally intended. Ultimately, Nile simply restates the obvious, that these are indelible anthems with no expiration date or statute of limitation. Nile is a knowing rocker, and in his hands, these songs get the energetic additive they demand. 

You have hit upon an elemental truth...Dylan's own performances of his songs leave a lot of space for adaptation and inspiration.   I'm sure Willie does a fine job...he's a guy I can see doing Dylan for sure...my own favorite Dylan interpreter, the recently departed Jimmy LaFave was a master of staying true to the original intent while mining that which as you put it, is "elusive and untapped".  Sounds like a fine addition to Willie's excellent catalog...

I will no doubt be getting this since I get every Dylan tribute release I hear about and I'm also a fan of Willie Nile so I'm sure his interpretations will be worthwhile. But there is a side of me that wishes he hd chosen more obscure songs and more recent ones that haven't been covered much yet.

I agree with Jim that Jimmy LaFave is the master when it comes to Dylan covers. I hope that some day one of his record labels puts together a compliation of all his Dylan covers which would have to be a multi-CD package.