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The many fans of the legendary singer songwriter Bob Dylan who turned up to Lichfield Guildhall were given an early Christmas present when The Dylan project performed.
The ensemble, led by singer, guitarist and harmonica player Steve Gibbons, featured a veritable who’s who of folk rock musicians. Bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Gerry Conway are best known for their work with Fairport Convention, while lead guitarist and pedal steel guitar player PJ Wright, is known for his work with Little Johhny England and keyboards and accordions were provided by Philip Bond.
The group had original arrangements of many of Dylan’s songs, ranging from noir jazz, to country rock, blues, ballads, reggae and cajun, and mainly stuck to lesser known Dylan songs, only playing a few of his best known hits as their set progressed, but it enabled the audience to have a wider ranging appreciation of Bob Dylan’s talent as a poet and musician of the highest order.
They started proceedings with the rockier sound of Tonight I’m Staying Here With You, featuring plageant pedal steel guitar which segued into a Cajun reading of Down Along The Cove. The number gave prominence to accordion and slide guitar, creating a swampy ambience and a strong beat, which was maintained in a solid reading of A Sweetheart Like You, its narrative story at the heart of a thoughtful, and melodic arrangement.
Reggae was used to good effect during a sing along version of I Shall Be Released. Spoken word passages and virtuoso guitar and keyboards were featured during a long form version of TV Talking Song, while there was much appreciation for the delicate ballad that the band delivered in Just Like A Woman.
Dylan’s more caustic side was revealed during You’re a Big Girl Now, but the romantic side of his nature was redeemed in a loud and raucous To Be Alone With You which closed the first half.
Steve Gibbons’ voice was a perfect fit for this type of music. He had Dylan’s nasal whine, but his voice was distinctive enough to not sound like a straight copy, a difficult trick to master.
The second half of the concert started with a request – Senor was a moody song, full of yearning and suitable sounds from the accordion, before Buick 6 became a solid display of musicianship for bass, drums and vocals.
Dylan’s more majestic and melodic side was aired during a fine reading of Simple Twist of Fate, and the mood was maintained by the simple vocal and piano of Dark Eyes.
One of Dylan’s finest later songs – Not Dark Yet – was a brooding, contemplation of mortality but it was passionately sung and played, before the atmosphere was lifted by the pure pop of the Travelling Wilbury’s Handle With Care.
After that, it was a simple home run of three of Dylan’s best known songs – Ballad of a Thin Man was another brooding number, full of a mood of noir, and hints of jazz, with minimalist piano and guitar solos adding to the feel of the song. Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright was turned from its folk guitar origins into an upbeat country rocker, while closing song Like A Rolling Stone received a standing ovation from the large audience.
One of Dylan’s more throwaway songs, Rainy Day Women numbers 12 and 35 served as a fitting encore, and was testament to both the Dylan Project’s stature as musicians and the continuing importance of Bob Dylan within popular culture.
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