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Old Crow Medicine Show Covers Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’

May 26, 2017

Tonight I sit in bed, bundled up against a cold that resides only in me, not in the room temperature. I’m supposed to be at the Boston tour stop of Old Crow Medicine Show as they promote their new album, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde – a cover of Bob Dylan’s 1966 album Blonde On Blonde.

My son John got us tickets to this show as a Mother’s Day gift. It was his way of thanking me for getting him into Dylan when he was in high school – years when he needed to find a voice that sang of his young heart and soul. Then, after living in Virginia for five years, he came home with an ear for bluegrass music and along with him came the songs of Old Crow Medicine Show, a band that’s remained a favorite of his, as well as the Avett Brothers. So it was a perfect gift – John and me going together to listen to Dylan music done by OCMS.

But several days ago I came down with a cold, a rare occurrence for me. I was sure I’d be well enough for tonight but no such luck. It would hardly have been fair to cough and snivel through the show, wrecking the experience for those inches from me in the cramped Orpheum Theatre, my favorite Boston venue – to top off my disappointment.

So, rather than cry away the evening, I’ve got my earbuds in and I’m rocking out, country/bluegrass style, to OCMS’s new album of live recordings, which is so much more than I expected it to be – because, really, how does a band come close to one of Dylan’s most beloved collections of songs? Well, first, to my ear, they approached it as an homage. Then they put in just the right amount of harmonica, and vocalizing in the same questioning, melancholic or riled-up voice that Dylan himself used.

And perhaps best of all, their sound reminds us of Dylan’s connection to Nashville. What Dylan fan hasn’t watched him sing with Johnny Cash both his own Girl From The North Country  and Cash’s I Walk the Line? So, we all know he has a strong history in Nashville. But I think we kind of forget that as we put Dylan in his folk era or his long, amazing “unplugged” era.
(Side-note: Nashville Skyline is my favorite Dylan album. I know, go figure…I’m in a category of one!)

Rolling Stone wrote about OCMS’s cover of Blonde on Blonde in an April 27 article, quoted here in part:
“The band never felt daunted by the challenge of covering Blonde on Blonde, however. Fuqua in particular says he’s been prepping for the opportunity since Secor first introduced him to Dylan’s music in eighth grade. ‘We became sort of obsessed,’ he recalls. ‘We listened to everything Dylan did.’ Fuqua admits Blonde on Blonde was never his favorite of Dylan’s work – Blood on the Tracks is his go-to – but he says ‘the whole album was always in my brain somewhere.'”

For me, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands has always been a top-five favorite Dylan song. So I was anxious to hear OCMS’s redo. Perhaps that Dylan’s emotion is absent strikes me. It sounds a bit overproduced when I think of Dylan’s quieter, slower, introspective rendition of a wondrous ballad where the lyrics soar far above all other elements.

It’s impossible to say this album is better than the original. But as I listen to it, I can’t imagine any other band pulling this off so well. The Nashville sound makes it. So does the fact that every recording is live. I almost feel as if I’m at the Orpheum!

Buy 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde at the Old Crow Medicine Show site! How does this much great music sell for a mere $11.99 (CD or download) or $21.99 (vinyl)? With the money you expected to spend on it but didn’t, get the original, Dylan’s 1966 Blonde on Blonde!




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