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Review: The Dylan Project @ Lichfield Guildhall

The songs of rock’s unofficial Poet Laureate, Bob Dylan, were brought to vivid life by the talented quintet who feature in the Dylan Project.

Playing to a sold out audience, equally attracted by Dylan’s timeless back catalogue, and the pedigree of the five musicians, the Dylan Project did not disappoint.

Led by singer, acoustic guitarist and harmonica player, Steve Gibbons, the rest of the band consisted of star players from the folk rock firmament.

Bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Gerry Conway are best known for their involvement with Fairport Convention, while pedal steel and guitar player PJ Wright is from Little Johnny England, and the keyboard player and accordionist Phil Bond has worked alongside a number of household names.

The songs were reworked, with plenty of soloing opportunity for the musicians, but also retained much of Dylan’s wild mercury sound, with Gibbon’s voice being particularly well suited to the material.

They played music from throughout Dylan’s long, storied career, with his early songs starting the concert.

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You and She Belongs To Me were fine openers, with a strong pedal steel part featuring in the opening song.

The brooding The Man in the Long Black Coat was a masterclass in refined power, while Sweetheart Like You was a rediscovered gem from Dylan’s mid career.

Adele’s recent cover of To Make You Feel My Love has gathered a new audience to this song and to Dylan’s work. This piece, with its melodic vocal and playing, was a highlight of the first half.

A powerful reading of Lonesome Hobo was a story song that started with a brooding slide guitar part, overplayed with an aggressive, but nimble harmonica part, which showed the inventive nature of the band.

The second half of the concert included some of Dylan’s better-known songs. Dylan was a member of the super-group The Travelling Wilbury’s, and this part of his career was featured in Handle with Care.

Just Like a Woman was a delicate arrangement of one of Dylan’s more heartfelt love songs, while Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues was a passionate reading. The mood was changed with a reggae reading of I shall Be Released which featured a bass solo from Dave Pegg and harmony singing from the group.

The jazz capacity of the musicians was illustrated by a slow, dangerous arrangement of Ballad of a Thin Man.

The slow, brooding Not Dark Yet was another highlight of the set, and would have been a suitable final song if placed later on. After that, it was a home run of sing along songs Rainy Day Women, The Mighty Quinn and Highway 61 Revisited.

An encore of one of Dylan’s most covered songs, Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright, was wrestled from its acoustic beginnings to be dressed in a new country like arrangement.

However, the lack of some of Dylan’s best known work, such as The Times They Are A Changing, Mr Tambourine Man, Blowing in the Wind, All Along the Watchtower or Like a Rolling Stone was a point of contention for some of the audience, but with a song-list of more than 500 titles, and only 20 songs played there will always be omissions.

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