Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan
BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd
Recently I was at a local Bob Dylan tribute gig – a band that gets together and plays the songs. It was the eve of Bob’s 80th and the show was sold out and the friends in attendance were happy. Someone texted me to say they thought the band was doing a great job and I replied something along the lines of, “the songs are all there – if you fuck this up, it’s on you”.
It’s amazing how many earnest tribute albums, allegedly in service to the songs, have been total fuck-ups. Especially when it comes to Dylan.
But this is not one of those. This is a triumph. This is a masterclass in curation – and in stepping back and letting the song do the work. Or acknowledging that the song is the work.
Chrissie Hynde has recent form with covers but where Valve Bone Woe was big and brassy and full of great pocket, Standing In The Doorway is fragile and quiet and lonely and completely dedicated to serving Bob and his songs. Hey, ya gotta serve somebody. Who else, right?
Chrissie – with Pretenders bandmate James Walbourne – plays through nine songs – mostly from the 80s, and precisely no hits. That’s the masterstroke. No big tackling of Heaven’s Door or a trite attempt at Blowin’ In The Wind. In fact, the closest this album comes to presenting one of the ‘big’ songs is Love Minus Zero/No Limit – which is superb, both here and in its original incarnation. But probably might not make the team when you think of a Dylan starting XI. Certainly, In The Summertime, wouldn’t. The album is bookended by Shot Of Love tunes – Summertime to open and Every Grain of Sand to close. Likewise there are two songs from Infidels, but neither of them happens to be Jokerman. Instead we get Sweetheart Like You and Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight. Both are stripped of their pop sheen and reduced down to gentle acoustic guitar (Sweetheart) and sun-kissed slide (Don’t Fall Apart).
In the relative rarities stakes we have Blind Willie McTell, a bootleg and b-side favourite – it’s probably closest of any of these songs to Dylan’s treatment. And a gorgeous Tomorrow Is A Long Time, again utterly recognisable – just voice and fingerpicked guitar – but Hynde’s voice offers a melodic caress.
Blood On The Tracks’ You’re A Big Girl Now is a wise pick and somehow seems stripped of its misogyny just for having the female voice – but Hynde never changes genders or messes with the words in any way. Which is precisely what makes the title track so affecting. These songs are treated with the same level of respect as Emma Swift’s recent Dylan tribute triumph. But Chrissie’s album is smaller, a lockdown project. Text messages back and forth between her and her accompanist. Delivered in time to celebrate Bob’s 80th. Well, you if you gotta serve somebody…