various artists,
Pickin' on Dylan
(CMH, 1999)

OK, I love Dylan -- I have all the original releases on CD, and many on vinyl, as well as a few "unofficial" releases, tons of books on the guy, seen him live, check out the Dylan websites -- you know the drill. I also love acoustic music and bluegrass, so it would seem that an all-instrumental album entitled Pickin' on Dylan would be right up my alley, right? So I order it from BMG in their "Buy 1 Get 2 Free" deal, figuring it's worth at least eight bucks, right? Well, using that same logic, I love spaghetti, and I also love ice cream, so if I can get a cheap spaghetti ice cream cone, I should be happy, right?

Not so right.

Don't get me wrong -- Dylan can be done beautifully in a bluegrass setting, as proven by Flatt & Scruggs and a lot of other artists, especially Tim O'Brien with his Red on Blonde album of a few years ago. Unfortunately, Pickin' on Dylan does just what its title says, picking on Bob like a schoolyard bully. Despite the presence of superb fiddler Richard Greene (who appears on only two tracks), this is a dull mishmash of elevator music, with the primary musical chores left to producer David West, who also plays acoustic, electric, and bottleneck guitars, mandolin, banjo, bass, hammered dulcimer, bongos, baya, shaker, and tambourine, none of them above standard Nashville session man quality. Most of his string work consists of typical country or rock licks, repeated ad infinitum, and the album reeks of overdubs, having apparently been put together piece by piece until there's no sense of spontaneity left.

I challenge anyone to listen to the interminable (though it's only 4:15) version of "Like a Rolling Stone" without letting their mind wander, though the incongruous Latin ending will bring you back to reality pretty damn fast. And the "All Along the Watchtower" found here sounds as though it's performed by Jimi Hendrix's "Mini-Me." Plinky-plunky purely for the sake of plinky-plunky.

You're not likely to see this one for sale at your local CD shop, but if you spot it in the BMG catalog, consider yourself warned.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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