Bryan Ferry, lead singer of '70s glam stars Roxy Music, has covered many a Bob Dylan song in his solo career, but his recent Dylanesque album was the first time he had done an entire record of the troubadour's back catalogue. Commemorating that release, he sat down in a British TV studio to do a runthrough of the songs, recording the event for posterity (and promotion) and releasing it as Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque Live - The London Sessions.
The set-up here is pretty basic. It's like an episode of "VH-1 Storytellers" without an audience. In between clips of Ferry and his band performing the songs, Ferry talks about Bob Dylan and why he chose each particular number. It's a fast-paced program, free of flab, clocking in at about 46 minutes. While the isolated performance could have come off as a sterile rehearsal, Ferry and the musicians seem to be enjoying themselves, and that pleasure comes across on film.
Since the 1980s, Bryan Ferry has developed a personal musical style that could be described as kind of a new wave take on soft jazz. This worked particularly well when covering actual jazz standards on albums like Taxi and As Time Goes By, but it proved just as potent a musical concoction on his last album of original material, 2002's excellent Frantic. That disc actually had two Dylan covers interspersed with the new songs, and Bob's wordy manifestos seemed well suited for Ferry's smoky way with a melody. I enjoyed Dylanesque quite a bit, though some Dylan purists may sniff at some of Ferry's more radical arrangements. Nary a note is changed for this live performance, which showcases the material in a reverential light while still treating it as elastic. Ferry's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is a long way from the original, but he makes it sound timeless.
The filming style here is clean and without decoration. No big light show, no sweeping cameras traveling on a crane at warp speed. Ferry even sits through most of the songs, reading the lyrics off of a music sheet. It's more Tony Bennett than rock star, really, but the music itself isn't staid. Working with a full band and three back-up singers, Ferry gets a good lather going, and it's a neat opportunity to see a master at work. He also speaks eloquently about the music, waxing both nostalgically and critically, and I like how as each song started, they indicated what song it was and what Dylan album it comes from.
This is probably not an essential purchase for anyone who isn't a fan of Bob Dylan and/or Bryan Ferry, but if either gentleman puts wind in your skirt, there are worse things you can do than pick Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque Live - The London Sessions up for yourself--though, I'd say go get the album first.
The full song list:
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (excerpt)
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
All I Really Wanna Do
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Gates of Eden
Positively 4th Street
All Along the Watchtower
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Simple Twist of Fate
Make You Feel My Love
Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque Live - The London Sessions was shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio, most likely for television from the look of it. It's a simple production, and the picture here is crisp. I saw no ghosting or artifacting.
The audio quality on Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque Live - The London Sessions is fantastic. There are both 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, and they are very rich, capturing the full tones of the music and balancing the band through all the speakers.
There are also subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
An added twelve minutes of performances bring the DVD running time up to about an hour. Cut from the London Sessions main program, we get "Baby Let Me Follow You Down," "If Not For You," and the full version of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." As an added feature, we get the full 1973 video version of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," the first Dylan cover that Ferry did for his debut solo record (it's also excerpted in the main program). This is a fun flashback, including doo-wop singers and bad make-up, coming off a little like a Rocky Horror outtake. Ah, glitter rock!
The DVD also comes with a one-page insert advertising the Dylanesque CD and ten-page interior booklet with photos, credits, and liner notes.
Bryan Ferry: Dylanesque Live - The London Sessions is Recommended. Though not necessarily for the casual viewer, this classy production should be an easy mark for Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music fans, and devotees of Bob Dylan will also likely enjoy hearing the singer's unique interpretations of the classic material. Songs are meant to be ever evolving things, and Ferry's recontextualizing of these old tunes makes them sound as important as the hallowed jazz standards he interpreted on other albums. Though some of the songs are more than 30 years old, he makes them sound brand new.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.