The existence of Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan
might well have been inevitable, if only because she and The Bard share some patently obvious personality traits, not the least of which are a staunch independence and a healthy, if wickedly wry, sense of humor. But even conceptions of the greatest clarity don't necessarily lead to so stunning an execution as this one.
As much or more than anything else, Standing in the Doorway
represents a figurative escape from 2020 quarantine. Yet there's no sense of dislocation arising from the results of its methodology: this forty-five minute collection was made almost exclusively via text message between Hynde and her Pretenders band mate James Walbourne. after which exchanges the instrumental and vocal components were mixed under the astute supervision of engineer Tchad Blake (the man who's engaged in studio collaborations with Phish
and Los Lobos
also played here too, this contribution in addition to providing some stunning photography for the cover art of the package, plus its enclosed poster).
The count-in for the opener of "In The Summertime" indicates how closely in tune (and time) were the two principals in their collaboration. But that does not in and of itself account for the bold re-imagining of the number: this peppy interpretation is worlds apart from the languorous take on Shot of Love
(Columbia Records, 1981). Primarily arranged for acoustic guitar, there is one dollop of organ like that of Al Kooper
's on "Like A Rolling Stone" and the fade to less than high fidelity is no doubt a nod to the various bootlegs still circulating from early in Dylan history.
Such small touches distinguish this album, but it was a grand ambition indeed to choose a range of songs spanning four decades of the Nobel Laureate's career. Hynde and company clearly gave careful thought to the selections for Standing In The Doorway
: the phrasing she uses when singing "Sweetheart Like You," off Infidels
(Columbia, 1983), is clearly reminiscent of Dylan's own vocal idiosyncrasies, but remains steadfastly her own as we have heard it since the Pretenders' eponymous debut album in 1979. Immediately following is another cull from that same LP. "Blind Willie McTell: " a far superior composition compared to the preceding number (and its equally slight companion piece "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" as well), it is no small accomplishment to so vividly conjure up the alternately unsettling and reverential sentiment at the heart of this song (the author himself may have felt he missed it, hence his exclusion of any of the multiple recorded versions from the aforementioned album as it was originally released).
The abrupt close of that cut is fitting, to say the least, almost ideal in its finality. As is the overall sequencing of the nine numbers that positions "Love Minus Zero"/No Limit" next: flamenco-styled acoustic guitar points up how skillfully Hynde handles the bittersweet imagery that populates the number. And, as an understated coup de grace, with this LP's conclusion through a stately and fervent reading of the magnificent meditation on metaphysics, "Every Grain Of Sand," Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan
has become as individualized and passionate a homage as Bettye Lavette's superb Things Have Changed
In that regard, this take on "Tomorrow Is A Long Time," tender and tuneful as it is, and exquisite in its simplicity as a direct expression of emotion, only points up its contrast with the rest of Standing in the Doorway
. Most of the other tracks work on multiple levels, as does the album as a whole: in addition to crafting an honest and affectionate tribute from one gifted (and palpably like-minded) artist to another, Chrissie Hynde has also reaffirmed the fundamental premise of the interpretive musician, specifically, how great songs can so readily accommodate a variety of arrangements and performances (and, in turn, great recordings).
Above all that, though, this American expatriate to Britain has also achieved a no doubt wholly unintentional goal, that is, moving listeners to (re)acquaint themselves with her own work, solo and with the band she's led over forty years. It is not to disparage Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan
in any way to declare it an embarrassment of riches.
In The Summertime; You're A Big Girl Now; Standing In The Doorway; Sweetheart Like You; Blind Willie McTell; Love Minus Zero/No Limit; Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight; Tomorrow Is A Long time; Every Grain of Sand.
Chrissie Hynde: guitar; James Walbourne: acoustic guitar, backing vocals, mandolin, keyboards, piano; Tchad Blake: keyboards, percussion.