The blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield’s career peaked in the ’60s. So the ’70s performances that stretch this box’s audio portion to three discs feel anticlimactic. What doesn’t is Bloomfield’s collaborations with Paul Butterfield, the Electric Flag, Al Kooper, Muddy Waters, and Janis Joplin. Still, it’s the three unavailable-elsewhere Dylan collaborations—especially the live early version of “Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” circa 1980 that somehow proved too little too late to keep Bloomfield from overdosing on heroin three months later—that will have consumers shelling out.
“No one sings Dylan like Dylan” went an old Columbia Records ad slogan, and it’s truer now than ever. The best of these 17 renditions succeed to the extent that they do by proffering little besides the sincerest form of flattery. And although it’s nice to hear the gospel-era songs “You Changed My Life” (Ivan & Aloysha) and “Pressing On” (Glen Hansard) taken at face value, Hannah Cohen’s “Covenant Woman,” which transforms the original into a goddess-worshipping lesbian love song, drifts way too far from shore.
The main knocks against this strangest of Dylan tributes are that the singing is in the 13 languages native to the home countries of the 13 performers and that many of the melodies get lost in their translation from familiar folk-rock instrumentation to weird world-music exotica. True enough. But Dylan fans already know the words, and most of the melodies emerge with repeated listening. And the singing, which is ecstatically serpentine by Western standards, grows on you. Alternate titles: Pre-Modern Times, World Gone Right.
Truth be told, this 1992 Madison Square Garden show wasn’t all that great the first time around. Many of the performances were lackluster, and some were just plain bad (John Mellencamp’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Sophie B. Hawkins’ “I Want You”). Even Dylan’s lead turns were—well, let’s just say he’s had better nights. Strangest of all is why this 30th-anniversary show is getting reissued on its 22nd anniversary and why, when even Sinéad O’Connor makes the bonus-bits cut, Dylan’s “Song for Woody” remains MIA.
Long before he became famous for “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Charlie Daniels played bass on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait, and New Morning, thus coming to the attention of music-industry pushers and movers. Now, Daniels is saying “Thank you” with Off the Grid: Doin’ It Dylan (Blue Hat), an album of 10 mostly ’60s Dylan songs in fiddle-laced, all-acoustic Southern-rock renditions.
“We approached them as if they were new material,” says Daniels, “and did our own arrangements and adapted them to our musical style.” Hearing a proudly outspoken conservative sing songs associated with the counterculture left is certainly a revelation. And, speaking of revelations, what stands out the most in Daniels’ memories of his studio time with the Voice of His Generation? “Being chosen to be a part of something I knew was going to be historical,” he says, “and being among the very first to hear brand-new Bob Dylan songs.” —A.O.