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Bryan Ferry has taken a break from writing a new Roxy Music album to dash off an album of Dylan covers. Why he has chosen to do so is unclear – but then again not much Ferry does ever seems very clear. Why has the man who once epitomised jet-set glamour reinvented himself as an English country squire? Why is rock’s most stylish clothes-horse modelling high-street suits for Marks & Spencer advertisements? What’s with the airless sophisto-pop of much of his solo work? If the answer is blowing in the wind, it hasn’t reached us yet.
He opened with “The ‘In’ Crowd”, a cover song from his first solo album in 1973. The original was by Dobie Gray, but Ferry inhabits his version as if the song were his, turning it into a semi-seductive, semi-ironic portrait of the high life. He followed it up a few songs later with the best of the covers on Dylanesque, “Positively 4th Street”, a bitter track in which Dylan attacked his old Greenwich Village folk scene comrades. In Ferry’s hands, it becomes an ambient, piano-led lament, transforming the vitriol of the original – “Yes, I wish that for just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/You’d know what a drag it is/To see you,” Dylan sings, devastatingly – into a mood of melancholy ennui.
The other Dylan covers were a mixed bag. The chugging rock of “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and a by-the- numbers rendition of that old warhorse “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” were fillers. There was a vigorous “All Along the Watchtower”, though it paled next to Jimi Hendrix’s version. “Hard Rain” was given a Rolling Stones swagger, the youthful lead guitarist Oliver Thompson adding zest to Ferry’s mannered vocals. The singer’s quavering voice sounded in good health: wisely he didn’t attempt to ape Dylan’s phrasing but instead brought his own idiosyncratic intonation to bear. If there is one quality linking Dylan and Ferry, it is unpredictability.
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