The songs of Bob Dylan have been covered by artists from Adele to Ziggy Marley, from professionals and semi-professionals and even the downright amateurs; all have had a stab. Few though, have been brave enough like Emma Swift – an Australian songwriter who lives in Nashville with the British cult musician Robyn Hitchcock – to dedicate full albums to meet the challenge head-on.
Release Date: 14th August 2020
Label: Bandcamp pre-order
Formats: DL / CD / LP
Dylan’s voice, once likened as like ‘sand and glue,’ might give the definitive readings although many of his songs have been sung in beautiful melodic tones. Few have matched his emotion and passion in delivering his lyrical poetic songs, yet it has to be said that Emma Swift pours her heart into every one of these songs.
She covers many familiar songs: Queen Jane Approximately, Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, One of Us Must Know, Simple Twist Of Fate, You’re A Big Girl Now and The Man In Me but sensibly avoids the more obvious Dylan standards. Emma also educates us on this album by tackling on a lesser-known song in Going Going Gone.
Even more bravely she covers and records a tune before which was only released in 2020, I Contain Multitudes. Of the latter, Emma says: “To me this song, released by Dylan just two months ago, has become an obsession, a mantra, a prayer. “
I won’t even begin to unpick the meaning behind each of these songs. Many Dylan commentators, more qualified, have filled volumes analysing his poetic imagery but by the way Emma performs these songs indicates the special place in her thoughts each one of these songs has to her. You could say that with all the songs she chose, each one has a heart-wrenching place in her life and she performs each with clarity, softness and honesty.
She has clearly listened to many other female singers who have interpreted Dylan’s songs which were to their liking; Sandy Denny and Joan Baez spring to mind. Emma rightly pays homage to these artists and has emulated them without trying to imitate them. What a clever album title too, Blonde On The Tracks, recognising the two albums from which many of these songs originate.
Under the accomplished guide of producer Patrick Sansome, her soulful and mournful singing is accompanied by Rickenbacker guitar and steel guitar with Nashville and Dylan stalwarts, Robyn Hitchcock, Patrick Sansone, Thayer Serrano, Jon Estes and Jon Radford stepping in. Not only is she ‘re-imagining’ Dylan’s songs but also recording in his footsteps at Magnetic Sound Studios.
Emma Swift claims Dylan’s music gave her “something to wake up for…” …here’s hoping that many wake up to the talent of Emma Swift.
Listen to I Contain Multitudes here: