There is a racing intensity to Bryan Ferry's interpretations of the
songs of Bob Dylan. Just as his legendary version of "A Hard Rain's
A-Gonna Fall", recorded back in 1973, exchanged apocalyptic vision for
exuberant swagger, so at the heart of these new recordings lies
Ferry's brilliance in paying homage to the original song and
reinventing it as entirely his own. Back then, in 1973, he had an
idea: "I just thought it would be great to make a whole album of Dylan
songs. And at the end of last year, finally, it happened."
Between the idea and its execution, Ferry has been busy: besides
fronting the elegantly modern art-rock, bitter-sweet pop-soul group
Roxy Music, Ferry has spent the last thirty-plus years establishing
himself as a great songwriter ("Love Is The Drug," "Mother of Pearl,"
"More Than This," "Slave To Love") and as the distinctive singer who
can transform another writer's song into a piece of compelling,
unpredictable drama - filled with emotional complexity and structured
with flawless timing.
In covering songs written and recorded by other artists - be it "The
Price of Love", "As Time Goes By' or "I Put a Spell on You" – Ferry
creates a vehicle for his own inimitable style -- unique works created
from the endlessly alluring source material of popular culture. It was
with that first, astonishing cover of "Hard Rain" that he – along with
Jimi Hendrix and The Byrds - gained entry into the sparse club of
artists who've covered Dylan and improved on the original. Since then,
Ferry has periodically dipped into the master's catalog, fashioning
covers of "It Ain't Me, Babe" on 1974's Another Time, Another Place.
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
appeared on his 2002 album, Frantic.
DYLANESQUE is closer in spirit to These Foolish Things than the
mid-career epics of Avalon or Boys & Girls. Fans of his most recent
work,1999's Grammy award-winning album of 30s standards, As Time Goes
By, 2002's edgy and impassioned Frantic or the two tracks he recorded
for Hal Wilner's recent Rogues' Gallery project will have recognised a
new voice emerging -- vulnerable, inspired and somewhat
devil-may-care. With this new album, Ferry was happy to cut it fast.
"We just knocked it out this time!" laughs Ferry, almost surprised by
his own efficiency. "I wanted to get away from that
locked-in-the-studio feeling. We were doing live vocals, harmonica,
With his touring band behind him, Ferry recorded nearly two dozen
Dylan songs, of which 11 appear here. Collectively, these
interpretations comprise their own emotional world - a fresh and vivid
place, cut at times by deep shadows and open to the weather of its
mood. Ferry uses the medium of Dylan's songs - their lyrical power,
their tenderness, insight or portentous nuance - in order to make a
musical statement which is in part a portrait of Dylan, and as
importantly a self-portrait. As a connoisseur of music by other
artists, with a specific love of the blues, Ferry reveals his
engagement with Dylan's stories and ruminations of a town and country
"As far as the words are concerned it's a bit like an actor tackling
Shakespeare," says Ferry. "I like finding the melodies that Dylan's
hidden away in there. I sat down with [pianist] Colin Good and worked
but keys, tempo, the feel of the thing. No demos. We just did it. Most
of the recording was done inside a week. Then we did a weekend at 4th
Street Recording, a funky old studio in Santa Monica where the Beach
Boys used to record."
Much of Dylan's writing is densely poetic, with the very shape of the
words honed to the rough, hardened, almost dismissive quality of his
particular intonation. In these new versions, however, Ferry has
created a vocal and musical atmosphere in which he inscribes his own
artistic signature: the meticulous balancing of plangent romanticism
or soulful introspection, against robust, highly energized and
assuredly modern musicianship. Added to this is that unique quality
which Ferry alone appears to possess as a singer: a shade of feeling
in his voice which is at once enticing and world weary, steeped in
emotional presence yet luxuriating in cool distance, enabling the
words of a song to open the doors to a more exciting world - a place
of intensified feelings.
With this in mind, DYLANESQUE hits the ground running, opening with
'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' - originally recorded by Dylan in 1965 -
and followed by "Simple Twist of Fate," from the 1975 album Blood On
The Tracks. The former introduces the musical mood which Ferry builds
up across the eleven carefully selected songs on this album. In a
style at once sparse, keen and hard edged, the musicians tease their
way into the song, gathering a muscular momentum which perfectly suits
Dylan's lyric of beatnik lament, shot through with poetic irony and
hard bitten cynicism.
Perhaps the most surprising track on the album is Ferry's take on
Dylan's 1964 protest anthem, "The Times They Are A Changin'." "The way
I do it doesn't mean it isn't a protest song… this song can be
whatever you want it to be. I grew up with the jazz idea that you
could do a song in many different ways…" With "All I Really Want To
Do" Ferry went for "a kind of olde world feel, almost like a medieval
ballad. You're covering the Byrds as well because they put an
exceptionally strong stamp on it so it's good to go for a different
Part of Ferry's genius in interpreting songs by other artists lies in
the way he can intensify the mood of a song by virtually reversing its
original temper. This is the case on "Simple Twist of Fate," recorded
by Dylan as a drifter's hymn to the play of fortune, and recast here
by Ferry as vivacious, lightly handled and sure-footed. It is a
version which brings to life the uncomplicated energy of the old
American pick-up bands, creating a solid chassis of rhythm to carry
the vivid imagery and resigned fatalism of the lyric. This version
plays itself out to a bravura performance by Ferry on harmonica,
recalling the flair with which he has used that instrument since the
early days of recording "Let's Stick Together."
Like all great cover versions, DYLANESQUE delights in challenging
preconceptions. Dylan's country-rough love song "If Not For You" is
here transformed into a hovering heat-haze of string-quartet and
"sonic enhancements" from Brian Eno. The bitter screed of Positively
4th Street is reworked by Ferry into something broken and vulnerable,
enhanced by an exquisite string-arrangement from The Dirty Three's
Warren Ellis, performed by classical cellist and Ferry alumnus Anthony
The album closes with Ferry taking on two of Dylan's most famous
tracks… "Knocking On Heaven's Door" was a risky one," he admits,
"because it's been covered so many times by different people but then
so has "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." With All Along The Watchtower there
was a nod to Hendrix as well as Dylan. The backing track was done
about eight years ago. I kept looking at it and thinking, one day I've
got to finish that..."
There has always been an element of Ferry's musical style – a
particular colour on his creative palette, so to speak - which brings
to mind the atmosphere of piano bars and dives. To this end, Ferry's
interpretation of the peerlessly scathing 'Positively 4th Street' -
originally recorded by Dylan just four days after he enraged folk
music loyalists by playing an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk
Festival - takes its place as a masterpiece of mood and emotional
control. With consummate elegance, Ferry converts Dylan's vitriolic
address to a musical community into a love song of towering force -
softening the original in such a way that it sharpens the bitterness
of the lyric.
"I get the feeling people expect something fairly refined from me,"
concludes Ferry, "My voice has gotten deeper and the album's got an
element of roughness to it and, I hope, a kind of haunting quality.
The singer in me is overjoyed to be singing these songs."
Ferry has never met Bob Dylan.
"What would I say if I did meet him? 'I hope you don't mind'."
This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.