Not that folk bard and reluctant prophet Bob Dylan is short on honors, but yet another tribute album in his name has just been released: Chimes of Freedom, a four-CD, 75-track extravaganza featuring many usual musical suspects, and quite a few pleasant surprises. His songs have always been a welcoming canvas for interpretation, as the lyrics are so allusive and poetic — versus personal and self-revelatory — and open to any and all manner of re-imagining.
This particular album is the love-child of a music business veteran by the name of Geoff Ayeroff, a sweet bear of a man who helped guide my fledgling career at Warner Bros. Records back in the 1980s. He is a liberal's liberal, a big supporter of Rock the Vote and Amnesty International, in whose name this collection was produced as a non-profit fundraiser for the tireless human rights organization.
I knew and worked with Mr. Dylan in the early 90s, and can surmise that a project like this was done with his blessing, but that he stayed a light-year's distance from it. Apparently, his only input was that he didn't want the album to be a high-gloss, hit-record approach to his music. He should, in that case, be happy with the results. It is very low-tech, yet satisfying from beginning to end.
Even the most popular young artists on Chimes of Freedom wind up defying low expectations and earning a level of respect they've been heretofore denied by critics. Miley Cyrus is the biggest surprise — her heartfelt, country-tinged version of You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go makes one mindful of the plaintive wail of her godmother, Dolly Parton. And Ke$ha — the only performer on the roster with a dollar-sign in her name — does a spooky, nearly a capella take on Don't Think Twice, It's Alright that is at once fragile and feelingful. Gone is the Dylan snarl — and that's alright…..
Other highlights include Carly Simon's reading of Just Like a Woman; Jackson Browne's elemental approach to Love Minus Zero (No Limit) and The Who's Pete Townshend's lilting take of Corrina Corrina, replete with Dylanesque harmonica. To top it all off, 92-year-old folk icon Pete Seeger turns in a spirited performance of — what else? — Forever Young.
Whatever your political persuasion, supporting Amnesty International is a karmic no-brainer, so bop on over to their website and have a sample listening to some of the tracks. As co-exec producer Ayeroff says: "If Bob Dylan is the voice of a generation, this album is his voice through many generations. It's the iTunes era — you can pick your own playlist!"