Various - Is It Rolling Bob?
There's a strange type of sense behind a reggae album of Bob Dylan songs. Really, there's no reason why a fair bit of Dylan's back catalogue shouldn't translate from folk/rock to reggae with ease but there's just something at a very basic level that connects reggae with Dylan's music that ties the two together. Whether it's simply a reaction from both to getting out a message, one from Kingston, Jamaica and the other from Greenwich Village, New York, or there is a tie between this Bob and another, Bob Marley, who was reggae's greatest artist, there's a feeling of, "...of course" on seeing Is it Rolling Bob?: A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan.
However, as unsurprising as an album like this is at first glance, that there's four or five albums of reggae covers of Dylan's song does make you think that the notion has occurred to maybe a few too many people before now and that it isn't quite as original as the makers of this album think it is.
Things start well with Apple Gabriel's take on The Times They Are A-Changin', with the light reggae sounding at ease with Dylan's hopeful lyrics, much as happens later with Gregory Isaacs' folky Mr Tambourine Man and Don Carlos' Blowin' In The Wind, showing that it's the earliest songs with the simplest message that handle the changeover to reggae best. But in spite of these songs, the overriding feeling is of the reggae artists not really understanding the songs nor getting to the heart of them. As good as, say, Toots Hibbert's version of Maggie's Farm is, it's not as resentful and grudgeful as it should be, something that The Waterboys understood well when it was a part of their live set. Similarly, Knockin' On Heaven's Door is, well, too upbeat for a song about a man whose sight is failing as his life drains away from the bullet holes in his chest. And in spite of being one of the two best songs here, Lay, Lady, Lay isn't quite as seductive as Dylan's original version nor the Magnet cover from earlier this year.
Still, Sizzla's version of Subterranean Homesick Blues goes some way to make up for most of this album, being a much darker, more threatening sound than elsewhere. Sizzla understands that it's the constant barrage of lyrics that works for this song and he almost falls over the words as he mangles Dylan's sniping words with a thick Jamaican accent. None of the other songs here are as thrilling as Dylan's originals nor any number of other covers but this gets close.
But the best that the album offers is in the one obvious choice that it leaves alone - Like A Rolling Stone. There's barely a more famous Dylan song and none of the quality of that venomous attack on, one assumes, Edie Sedgwick, but all credit to Sanctuary and Ras Records for deciding not to record a pop-reggae version of one of Dylan's most scathing songs. Similarly, they're due a thanks for leaving Isis, I Shall Be Released and All Along The Watchtower alone, none of which would suit the treatment meted out to everything else here.
At the end of the album, it's the lack of shade to the light pop that you'd expect from reggae that disappoints most. Early buyers will then appreciate the bonus disc of dub versions of eight of the songs here, stretching out each song to the sound of reggae's less welcoming brother.
At it's end, though, Is It Rolling Bob? isn't bad but too often it shows a lack of understanding about the songs. That a greater thanks is given to those songs left alone than those that were included, Sizzla excepted, says enough.