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Various Artists
I'm Not There - Original Soundtrack
Columbia Records
www.imnotthere-movie.com


I don't think I could have reviewed this record without first seeing the movie that it accompanies… at the least, I could not have done justice to this collection without some of the images in my mind, leftovers haunting from the excellent film. Unfortunately, the film lends meaning to some of the songs that is a bit lacking on the record… memories tied to slideshows in the mind. Most disappointing is the Calexico & Jim James cover of "Going To Acapulco" which had such immense power in the absurdist funeral scene of the movie but sounds a bit lacking (less powerful and more trebley) on the album - still it is one of my favorite tracks. Also missing is the voice of young "Woody Guthrie" (Marcus Carl Franklin) on the Richie Havens cut, "Tombstone Blues". If I hadn't seen the movie, this song would be simply perfect, but missing that vocal presence leaves me wanting. That's really the only shortcomings…

As for the longcomings, there are so many. This album is filled with amazing versions of classic (and not so classic) Dylan songs, not only inspired by the film, but also truly inspired. John Doe's cover of "Pressing On" is stunning and powerful, filled with a raw beauty and huge gospel heart. Iron & Wine is joined by Calexico for a great low-tempo funky world beat and sonic version of "Dark Eyes" before Karen O launches into a ripping version of "Highway 61 Revisited". Jeff Tweedy covers "Simple Twist Of Fate" in his warbling voice accompanied by sparse acoustic instrumentation - the best thing he's done in years - before the incredible king of dark Mark Lanegan performs an absolutely terrific version of "The Man In The Long Black Coat", his voice whiskey-soaked (even though he's sober these days) and dense with the shades of twangy classic westerns. Calexico joins Willie Nelson for a nice slow-down version of "Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power)" to finish up the first disc.

The second disc features one more track from stalwarts Calexico (well, at least Joey and John), this time joined by Charlotte Gainsbourgh on the excellent downbeat and quiet reading of "Just Like A Woman". Mira Billotte performs "As I Went Out One Morning", sounding quite a bit like a younger Beth Orton as she rambles through the twisted tale of lovers. Jack Johnson slows down his continual groove and plays a brilliant medley while Ramblin' Jack Elliott does an amazing version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues". The Black Keys purvey their trademark bluesy grit on "The Wicked Messenger" before Tom Verlaine plays "Cold Irons Bound" with the Million Dollar Bashers, a band formed up of various indie rock luminaries, including Lee Ranaldo, John Medeski, Steve Shelley and Nels Cline, that appears often on the soundtrack. Infact, the Million Dollar Bashers back Stephen Malkmus on a weirdly hopping version of the classic "Maggie's Farm", sounding a bit more like The Band than anyone could have ever imagined possible, I think. Marcus Carl Franklin finally gets his due on the spirited "When The Ship comes In" before John Doe plays again and Antony & The Johnsons wrap the album with a warbly and strange downbeat "Knockin' On Heaven's Door". As a bonus, included here pretty much for the first time is the original version of Bob Dylan and The Band performing "I'm Not There"… which Sonic Youth does a really, really excellent version of on the first disc… filled with their trademark sonic exercises and spirited production.

So whether you've seen the movie and this soundtrack serves to evoke memories of the amazing and sometimes troubling moments of the film or you simply want to hear a really, really amazing tribute to Bob Dylan and his amazing songwriting, it is well worth the time and money invested. It still amazes me the wealth of new inspiration a classic song can bring when re-interpreted by a contemporary artist. This album is full of brilliance, not only from the pen of Dylan, but from the artists involved in re-working his tunes.

-Embo Blake


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