On the 70th anniversary of Dylan’s birth — officially May 24 — we asked singer-songwriter Peter Keane to do the honors of selecting a Lone Star honor roll of Dylan interpreters. And who better than Keane, himself responsible for three stellar interpretive efforts, including his sublime take on “I Want You”? (His versions of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “One Too Many Mornings” would be contenders for this list as well.)
1. ELIZA GILKYSON
“Love Minus Zero/No Limit”
A Nod To Bob
Gilkyson offers a remarkably personal and moving take on Dylan at his most cerebral and abstract (not to mention mathematical). It’s quite a surprising performance in the way that it manages a good dose of pathos and passion without downplaying the literary dispassion of the lyric. A beautiful performance of a beautiful song.
2. TEXAS TORNADOS
Hangin’ on By A Thread
Count on Doug Sahm to take one of Dylan’s most touching ballads, transform it into a norteño waltz, and have it sound like that was Dylan’s intention all along. Freddy Fender’s Spanish vocals make it all complete. Sahm, Augie Meyers and Flaco Jiménez, along with Dylan himself, were part of the “band” on Sahm’s classic early ’70s Atlantic recordings. Perhaps it makes perfect sense that they’re able to offer such a complete recasting while capturing all the longing and tenderness of the original.
3. WILLIE NELSON
“What Was it You Wanted”
Across the Borderline
Here we get a rendition of a cut from Dylan’s critically acclaimed Oh Mercy that’s quite close to the original in arrangement and feel. And yet Willie manages to completely own it. You sense that this could be a continuation of the story behind “Bloody Mary Morning” told from an older, perhaps wiser, certainly more grizzled point of view.
4. SUE FOLEY
“If You Gotta Go”
The Antones Collection
I’m not exactly sure why there are so many fine Dylan covers sung by women. The songs work on so many levels (and often a bunch of levels at once) and often don’t fully resolve. It’s left for the listener (or in some case the interpreter) to fill in the missing bits. This is a rare Dylan song that’s pretty much operating on just one level. Foley hits it spot-on, transforming a funny-but-kind-of-predictable rocker into a raucous celebration of sexual desire and independence.
5. SHAWN COLVIN
“You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go”
Shawn Colvin has always been an astute interpreter of other people’s material, often reworking tunes into wholly new listening experiences. This gentle take on a track from Blood on the Tracks captures a wistfulness and musicality that, while not missing from the original, is certainly not as front and center as is it is here.
6. ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO
Alejandro finds a gem in this tune from one of Dylan’s more obscure efforts, Empire Burlesque. The spare piano, voice and strings provide just the right setting for the haunting melody.
7. NANCI GRIFFITH
“Boots of Spanish Leather”
Other Voices, Other Rooms
This is a straight-ahead folk take on this early Dylan classic. And it’s quite perfect — reminiscent of the best of the sixties folkies such as Ian and Sylvia. Very fine production and performance.
8. JIMMY LAFAVE
“Sweetheart Like You”
Buffalo Return to the Plains
LaFave is known as a fine interpreter of Dylan. Here he captures all of the menace and humor of Dylan’s original in an appropriately grand, almost Springsteen-esque setting.
9. ROSIE FLORES
“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”
Whatever Colors You Have in Your Mind
Straight-up Texas honky-tonk from Flores. Dylan as dance music par excellence.
10. ELIZABETH MCQUEEN
“It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”
Unreleased (live at Bob Dylan tribute, Jupiter Records, Austin, 4/18/03)
I don’t know if there’s a recording of this show, but Jupiter Records put on quite a Dylan celebration in ’03, and one of the highlights was McQueen (who was just beginning to make her name on the Austin scene), belting this number out with a swagger worthy of Loretta Lynn.
Waylon Jennings — “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”
Jerry Jeff Walker — “One Too Many Mornings”
Norah Jones — “Heart of Mine”
Johnny Winter — “From a Buick 6”
Rodney Crowell — “Shelter From the Storm”