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Various Artists: I'm Not There Soundtrack

[Columbia Records]

By Steven Rosen · December 5th, 2007 · Short Takes

The soundtrack to Todd Haynes' new movie about Bob Dylan is, in many ways, as inspired and daring -- and successful -- as the film. The 34 songs on two discs include only one actual Dylan recording, the previously unavailable Basement Tape outtake "I'm Not There," a hauntingly raw mid-tempo ballad that's simultaneously confessional and obtuse and one of his best of the period.

Beyond that, in their choice of musicians to perform newly recorded cover versions, Haynes and music supervisors Randall Poster and Jim Dunbar tried to acknowledge Dylan's past -- Richie Havens, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Willie Nelson, Roger McGuinn -- while making his songs relevant to Rock's brightest and most adventurous contemporary hipsters, presumably Dylan's progeny.

They're sometimes helped by a house band, Million Dollar Bashers, which includes Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and Dylan sideman Tony Garnier.

Some of Dylan's more obscure tracks are turned into classics by the inventive interpretations here: Jim James and Calexico recast "Goin' to Acapulco" as a great missing early Band recording; Yo La Tengo gives an irresistibly funky retro-Garage drive to "I Wanna Be Your Lover"; John Doe finds the gospel truth in a soulful "Pressing On"; Iron & Wine and Calexico lift "Dark Eyes" with a lovely, percussive Asian sensibility.

Dylan's better-known songs benefit from new arrangements and engaged singing -- Stephen Malkmus' "Ballad of a Thin Man" and Cat Power's horn-punctuated "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" are prime examples. A few tunes don't work as well, but overall this revelatory soundtrack belongs in the collection of anyone who likes Dylan. Grade: A



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