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CD review: the soundtrack to Todd Haynes' new Bob Dylan biopic, "I'm Not There"

CD review of the new Todd Haynes movie, I'm Not There

Todd Haynes' new Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There"stars Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger and Ben Whishaw playing different aspects of Dylan's life. The film comes out later this month, but the soundtrack is here now. The 34 track, two-CD set mixes interpretations by what I call "Baby Bobs," artists, many born before the music was originally recorded, and "Boomer Bobs," Dylan's contemporaries. And curiously enough, the Baby Bobs mostly dish out for note-for-note recreations of the originals, while the oldsters veer off in different directions.

Jeff Tweedy's solo take on "Simple Twist of Fate" is spot on, and his vocal has a perfect Dylan-esque whine. Cat Power's "Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again" chugs along nicely, faithful to a fault, except for the funky brass and horn accents. Eddie Vedder tackles "All Along the Watchtower" and does the Jimi Hendrix arrangement, just as Bob himself has done for going on 40 freakin' years.

Antony & the Johnsons' clean break with "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" is a thing of beauty. Antony's ethereal voice, pretty and damaged all at the same time stands naked with minimal piano and bass accompaniment. It's as if he never heard the original, I love it. Willie Nelson, backed by Calexico, reveals new twists in "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)." Willie slows it down, and wraps his well worn voice around Dylan's post apocalyptic lyrics-- "Senor, senor, do you know where we're headin'?/Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?/Seems like I been down this way before/Is there any truth in that, senor?" It's way scarier than the original.

Oh, and Roger McGuinn, he of the Byrds, does "One More Cup of Coffee" buoyed with gentle mariachi horn flourishes. Dylan himself appears on the very last track, with the heretofore unreleased title tune. All in all it's a wonderfully eclectic collection for fans and ideal for those of you just starting to get into Dylan.

The director of the film, Todd Haynes, hosted a New York City concert at the Beacon Theater with many of the same musicians that appear on the soundtrack on November 7th. The show was riddled with wildly uneven performances and a sloppy sound mix that left many vocals nearly inaudible for some songs. Highs included John Doe of X wailing like a demented preacher on a rousing "Ballad of a Thin Man," and Mason Jennings solo turn on "The Times They Are A Changin'" had that old Dylan spirit. But the absolute highpoint came late in the show when The Roots reworked Dylan's "Masters of War" using the melody of "The Star Spangled Banner" before morphing into Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun." "Masters dates back to the early 1960s, but the Roots treatment made it relate to today's war. The Roots don't appear in the soundtrack, and as far as I can tell, this version has yet to be recorded, but it was the masterstroke of the evening. Oh, and the sound crew pulled it together for that tune, so we heard every word.