I think Bob Dylan is a great, raw singer, so I’m not in that camp of people who say that other people do his songs better. Actually, I think it’s rare when the covers match or surpass the original.
That being said, there are some great Dylan interpreters, aural dancers, if you will, who bring something to the original that enhances, furthers, or expounds on the master’s intent. The Byrds, Judy Collins, Bryan Ferry, and Robyn Hitchcock are a few that come to mind (in fact, Dylan covers at his live shows are always a treat, as they wind up sounding like lost Hitchcock originals).
Now, enter Emma Swift, whose new album, Blonde On the Tracks (Tiny Ghost Records), is a stunning collection of eight achingly gorgeous renditions of songs by the Bard of Duluth. Deftly produced by Patrick Sansone (Wilco multi-instrumentalist) and featuring the aforementioned Hitchcock on guitar, the album was recorded in Nashville over the course of three years–a gestation period that seems appropriate, as the album is certainly a slow burn of a listen.
With every track as strong as it is, it’s difficult to pick standouts here, but Swift’s performances of “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” had me dissolving into a glorious puddle of sadness on first listen, and are no less affecting on repeated listens.
This album is absolutely worth picking up, which you’ll need to do via Bandcamp or your favorite independent record store, as Swift is a very outspoken anti-streaming activist–which is great, we should be supporting the artists in a way that sees them getting the maximum return for their art, and if you love music, you should be buying records. Go ahead and fight me on that if you want.