Saturday, November 10, 2007

I'M NOT THERE Soundtrack Is Where It's At

"There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice.
I don't remember who I was or where I was bound."
- Bob Dylan (from "Brownsville Girl" - Knock Out Loaded, 1986)

So with less 2 weeks to go til one of the most anticipated movies of year (at least by me), I'M NOT THERE comes to my area (it's released here Nov. 21st) I thought I'd post a review of the spectacular soundtrack to this film which is largely known by the masses as the film in which Cate Blanchett plays Bob Dylan (see above pic). It seemingly has a lot more to offer than just that - from this soundtrack alone it appears to have something for everybody. So hey ho - let's go:

I'm Not There (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack produced by Randall Poster, Jim Dunbarm and Todd Haynes) Dylan covers (and collections of such) have been commonplace ever since the era when he first became a household name. Some are the product of a an artist or a band showing off their hipster literary chops (Judy Collins, Bryan Ferry, The Byrds, The Hollies, Odetta, etc.), some are of various artists under a genre categorization (Is It Rolling Bob?: – A Reggae Tribute, Tangled Up In Bluegrass: A Tribute To Dylan, and Dylan Country), and some are artists not content just to cover a single song – they cover full albums like Mary Lee’s Corvette’s version of Blood On The Tracks or they cover entire concerts – like Robyn Hitchcock’s faithful re-recreation of the incredible 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert. So what’s so special about the new soundtrack from I’M NOT THERE? Well, it has great new renditions of Bob classics from modern as well as old timey acts that form a narrative over the 2 disc collection seemingly inspired by the film, it has Bob’s approval, and most importantly it has Bob himself on the 40 year-old never before released title track. But more about that song later.

This new batch of Dylan interpretations features a veritable who’s-who of the recent respected rock scene - Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth, Calexico, Cat Power, Iron & Wine, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, the Black Keys, and so on. From the old guard – Roger McGuinn, Richie Havens, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and Willie Nelson show their hands on the table admirably and perform alongside their younger counter-parts fluidly (Nelson and McGuinn are backed by Calexico). John Doe from the legendary L.A. punk band X has one of the collection's most show-stopping numbers – “Pressing On”. One of Dylan’s most overlooked Gospel era songs is presented with such soulful gruff conviction that it is sure to elevate the scene in which Christian Bale lip-syncs it (I’ve seen the clip and it does).

Film babble favorites Yo La Tengo put in a rowdy blazing take on “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and a plantive pretty “Fourth Time Around” as well. Stephen Malkmus of Pavement has 3 songs (including the subtlety-on-fire “Ballad Of A Thin Man”) with the soundtrack house band ( The Million Dollar Bashers *) - all of which sound more relaxed and rocking than he has in years. Mason Jennings, a young folk singer from Bob’s home state of Minnesota, does 2 Bob songs, one of which has been covered to death – “The Times They Are A Changing” but it doesn’t seem so when he sings it. Just about everyone else (including Los Lobos, Mark Lanegen, Charlotte Gainesbourg, and The Hold Steady) clock in with nice Bob tributes. Only one or two miss the mark like Eddie Vedder’s “All Along The Watchtower” (talk about overdone !) which has him repeating the last lines over and over in such an unnecessary fashion - to be fair Neil Young and Chrissie Hynde have done the same thing in their covers of the song but it's just more obnoxious when Vedder does it!

* The Million Dollar Bashers feature Steve Shelley, Tony Ganier (long-time Dylan bassist), John Medeski, Tom Verlaine, Lee Ranaldo, Smokey Hormel, and Nels Cline.

What makes this disc worth buying alone is the original 1967 title track originally named “I’m Not There (1956)”. It has been available only to the connoisseurs of bootleg Dylan – it came from The Basement Tapes – the informal demos Bob made with the Band in Saugerties, NY while he was supposedly recovering from his alleged motorcycle accident. To be honest the sound quality on this first official release of the song is not that much better than the bootlegs I’ve heard over the years - seems like some of those hardcore Bob fanatics know a little about re-mastering. This is despite that this new mix comes from the master - long hoarded by Neil Young on his ranch since the time of tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming. It’s ballsy for Todd Haynes to title his unconventional biopic after an unreleased song only known to mostly hardcore Dylan fans - even ballsier to name it after such an unfinished unreleased song. That’s right – there are lines in which Bob hums or inserts what he later called “dummy lyrics” – line fillers until the real line was worked out but as history tells us - that never happened. It doesn’t matter though – the song, even unfinished, is as mystic and enveloping as any in his catalogue. A series of murky declarations set against a hazy bar-room organ background it seems at first listen to be impenetrable; every further listen renders it sublime.

It’s funny - Sonic Youth usually deconstruct musical norms, but here in their cover of the title track “I’m Not There” (yes, it appears twice here - in Dylan’s original and in this cover) they reconstruct an unfinished song as best as they can and like Malkmus’s tracks it’s one of their most recent likable efforts. As the booklet for the seminal Scorsese doc NO DIRECTION HOME said “this is not a soundtrack in the traditional sense” - this is an amazing amalgam of many diverse styles to form one big picture and that bodes very well for this reportedly grand but off kilter biopic. One of the only true to the soundtrack sense-of-being renderings is Marcus Carl Franklin’s (known among the 7 actors playing Dylan as the little black kid) magnificent “When The Ship Comes In.” Since by all reports the film is full of Bob originals this soundtrack appears to be more of a ‘inspired by’ compilation but I can’t vouch for that until I actually see it. When I do – you’ll be the first to know.

This post is dedicated to Norman Mailer (January 31, 1923-November 10, 2007). Yesterday on Wikipedia it said that among the literary highlights of his illustrious career he had co-written episodes of the 70's buddy cop show Starsky And Hutch. This is unconfirmed by IMDb and yeah, I know the changing nature of the Wiki-reliability. Turns out it was somebody's joke as that tidbit is gone today. Whew! That's a relief - the thought that the author of The Naked And The Dead wrote dialogue for Huggy Bear would take a lot to process.

Another funny thing recently removed from Wikipedia (on the grounds that it was too trivial) - "In the film SLEEPER Woody Allen is shown a picture of Mailer, Allen confirms his identity and states that Mailer donated his ego to the Harvard Medical School."

R.I.P. Mr. Mailer.

More later...

No comments: