Top critical review
4 people found this helpful
on 16 October 2011
I must first declare a (lack of) interest: never having been an avid Dylan fan, I'm both unaware and unconvinced of the original iconic status of John Wesley Harding. So, when Thea Gilmore, one of my favourite artists, declared her intention to re-record the whole thing, I was somewhat baffled and bemused, but I had faith in her: After all, her version of "I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine", from years earlier, is stunning in its own right, and her choice and performance of various covers at her live gigs has always been exemplary.
The end result, though...? Hmmm. It's....it's nice. Excellently played, beautifully sung and produced, but there's not much more I can say about it, although it did send me to dig out the original, if only to see what exactly she'd done. Her take on the now almost overly familiar "All Along the Watch Tower" is certainly brave (if not bold), but the gently lolloping tempo kind of robs it of any urgency: I also keep expecting it to break into her own "The Wrong Side" or even America's "Horse With No Name". "The Drifter's Escape" has a real charge and energy to it, which is refreshing; "Dear Landlord" is performed with a nice bluesy feel, and "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" has a wonderfully yearning atmosphere. A welcome highlight for me is "The Wicked Messenger", which Thea and her band attack with real verve and power. Unfortunately, the album goes on to wrap up with a rather sedate, faithful version of "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" that never takes on its own life. This has, for various reasons, long been one of my favourite Dylan songs without even knowing the album, and I'd hoped Thea might inject a sense of fun with it, let it swing a bit. Unfortunately, it plods nicely and sweetly, but that's about it. It's not that it's bad in any way...it's just that, given the combination of song and performer, it could have been so much more.
Overall? Well...it's a nice enough album, but I'm still not convinced of the point of the exercise.
Following up the excellent Murphy's Heart was always going to be a tricky proposition, but while her take on John Wesley Harding is by no means a disgrace, I think it's fair to say it's the most inessential Thea Gilmore album I ever hope to own.