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:
There are also subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
The DVD also comes with a one-page insert advertising the Dylanesque CD and ten-page interior booklet with photos, credits, and liner notes.