[the latest in a continuing series of short takes on interesting or alarming new CDs that have crossed our desk recently]
BRYAN FERRY: Dylanesque
Speaking as somebody who has never forgiven Bryan Ferry for a ludicrously low camp version of "A Hard Rain" (on his absurdly foppish 1973 solo debut), I came to Ferry's new album of Dylan covers with, shall we say, rather limited expectations. Well, surprise, surprise: it's pretty damn fantastic. There's barely a hint of Ferry's signature lounge-lizard suavity here; either through the ravages of age or design his vocals sound -- who'd have thunk it? -- haunted and human, and the backings -- including turns by old collaborators Chris Spedding on guitar and (on a rampage through "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" that rivals the master's "Albert Hall" version) Brian Eno on electronics -- drip atmosphere and (when appropriate) menace, in particular on a take on "All Along the Watchtower" that channels its composer channeling Jimi Hendrix. Damn near revelatory stuff and one of the absolute best things Ferry's ever done.
THE SMITHEREENS: Meet the Smithereens
Well, as tribute CDs go, this one at least has a certain novelty, it being not just a collections of Beatles covers but rather a recreation of the Beatles American debut LP in its entirety. The question before the court, of course, is whether it adds up to anything more substantial than what you'd hear from a good Beatles tribute band on an average night at a bar near you; speaking as a Smithereens fan from way back I'm glad to say that the answer is not much more but just enough to make it worth your time. The 'Reens, 60s revivalists non pareil that they are, have also always owed as much to the guitar crunch of AC/DC as they do to the Fabs, and as a result, there's an interestingly dark edge to their otherwise note-perfect recreations of the performances and production touches on these 12 slices of early Beatlemania. It raises some interesting possibilities, though; in fact, what I'd really like to hear now is Pat DiNizio and company blowtorching their way through the less innocent strains of "Revolver."