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John Wesley Harding Reinvented
on 2 May 2011
Thea Gilmore's interest in Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding began when she recorded 'I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine' a number of years ago for her Songs From The Gutter album. Now, in her own words, she has gone back to the studio and 'cut the whole bloomin' lot'. Such a bold move might set alarm bells ringing about the potential pointlessness of such a project. While Dylan's songs have received copious cover treatment over the years, the concept of re-recording an entire album, albeit a more unfamiliar one like John Wesley Harding, might seem a tad ambitious.
In fact, such fears prove to be groundless. Gilmore breathes new life into most of the songs on the album. Things start sedately enough with a distinctly Dylanesque harmonica on the title track. On the touchstone of 'All Along The Watchtower' she does not fall into the trap of attempting to reproduce either the Hendrix version, arguably better known than Dylan's original, or the all-out rock thrash of Neil Young's version that appeared on the Dylan 30th Anniversary Tribute album (and indeed in live concert). Instead the song is turned into an attractive blues shuffle that doesn't outstay its welcome. There are rocked out versions of 'Drifter's Escape' and 'As I Went Out One Morning', a piano-accompanied 'Dear Landlord', and a ringing Byrdsian take on 'I Pity The Poor Immigrant'. Production by other half Nigel Stonier, who also supplies backing vocals and multi-intrumentals, is crisp and crystal clear. Thea Gilmore's live performances, as well as her 2004 album Loftmusic prove that she is no stranger to a judicious cover version. This reinvention of one of Bob Dylan's entire albums is a worthy addition to the extensive catalogue of an artist who for this reviewer can currently do no wrong.