Red House Records’s A Nod To Bob (2001), the label’s hottest charter to date, is followed by A Nod To Bob 2, largely a sterling tribute on the occasion of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. The recording is a phenomenal anthology of gifted artists doing songs written and sung by the historic bard. With a couple clinkers or two. So what? The good here strongly outweighs the bad.
Shouldn’t surprise anyone if this disc surpasses the first album in sales. The lineup is stacked to the rafters with all-star ringers. Just a few: Hot Tuna, Guy Davis, Lucy Kaplansky, The Pines. There are some incredibly rich selections. One or two favorites of more than a few Dylan fans got left off. There was, after all, only so much space. All considered, it’s one enriching listening experience.
“Just Like a Woman” has to be one of the hardest Bob Dylan tunes to cover. How, after all, to revise such gravity and grace. John Gorka does it with room to spare. He renders a rendition that augments the melody with haunting power. You have to look back to Richie Havens’s Mixed Bag (Verve/Folkways) for something to compare it to. Bottom line, Gorka delivers a memorable cut, one of A Nod To Bob 2’s strongest highlights. Storyhill admirably hark to the Byrds’ arrangement of “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” with plaintive grace. Blind Rev. Gary Davis’s “Mama Let Me Lay It On You”—recorded by Dylan as “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”—gets gorgeous treatment by Hot Tuna, with some of the sweetest fiddle playing the band’s seen since Papa John Creach.
Skip past Pieta Brown’s self-impressed take on “Dirt Road Blues,” Danny Schmidt’s ineffectual ”Buckets of Rain” and, disturbing surprise, Guy Davis’s inexplicably weak-as-skimmed-water version of “House of the Rising Sun.”
Hold to the disc’s strengths and you’ll be okay. Recorded in concert, Eliza Gilkyson perfectly fits “Jokerman,” wry vocal set to sardonic lyrics. By the same fashion, “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” is in Ray Bonneville’s quite capable hands. He respects the original while applying his own signature, and pulls off a sweet, earthen track.
The long and the short of it is that if you dig Bob Dylan, you will love A Nod To Bob 2.
Photo: Bob Dylan performing in 1995. Photo by Stig Ove Voll (Creative Commons).