With Bob Dylan turning 60 years old in May, can I get a witness? If there's any lingering doubt that Dylan is the pre-eminent singer-songwriter of the 20th century, let's at least celebrate the fact that he's still with us, still performing, and still writing songs that are every bit as compelling as the tunes on his first release in 1962.
In its lineup and song selection, A Nod to Bob is an exquisitely realized artists' tribute album, richly textured and constantly surprising; Ramblin' Jack Elliott's new live version of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" may be the only predictable song in the bunch. Austin-based Eliza Gilkyson's rendition of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" and Cliff Eberhardt's "I Want You" are achingly heartfelt. Tom Landa and The Paperboys' cover of "All Along the Watchtower," a staple of their live shows that can run 18 minutes long, makes the song sound brand new, while Norman Blake and Peter Ostroushko's recording of "Restless Farewell" sounds like it's a hundred years old.
"Clothes Line Saga," a stoned morsel from The Basement Tapes, is rendered here as a hypnotic duet by Suzzy and Maggie Roche. Quebec ensemble Hart-Rouge covers "With God on Our Side"--in French--while Guy Davis & The High Flying Rockets' cover of "Sweetheart Like You" and Greg Brown's "Pledging My Time" bring a laid-back bluesiness to the proceedings.
It's great to hear rich new arrangements of what, for Dylan, were solo guitar pieces, like Martin Simpson's complex, nuanced and haunting rendition of "Boots of Spanish Leather." Meanwhile, Lucy Kaplansky's "It Ain't Me, Babe" and Rosalie Sorrels' "Tomorrow is a Long Time" remind us of the power of simplicity.
Some of the performers here share a Minnesota connection with Dylan: John Gorka, who brings his baritone to bear on "Girl of the North Country," has called Minnesota home for several years, while Spider John Koerner ("Delia," with Dave Ray) played with Dylan as a duo there during their college days.
Now that spring is here, make like the red red robin and go Bob Bob Bobbin'.