The Village in question is Greenwich, and 429 Records has gathered together an accomplished cast to celebrate the music that shook the world from that corner of New York City in the Sixties. Lest you think my use of phrase “shook the world” is an overstatement, I offer the first three songs on the album as evidence. Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” finds Rickie Lee Jones putting a pin in the balloon of pretension that surrounds Dylan these days. Though not of his making, it marks his every movement. Jones jabs at it with, of all things, a slide whistle, returning the humor inherent in the song.
Songs two and three are Dylan covers too, albeit more serious in tone. There’s nothing funny about “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding,” and Winnipeg band the Duhks perform it with requisite intensity and respect. Lucinda Williams makes Dylan’s bitter rant “Positively 4th Street” her own by bringing it from a less angry, more heartbroken place, and very few people do heartbreak like Lucinda Williams.
Sixpence None the Richer contribute a wonderfully inventive take on the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger,” and John Oates’ retelling of another traditional song, “He Was A Friend of Mine,” is something of a revelation. The extremely underrated Philadelphia singer/songwriter Amos Lee closes out side one with a typically understated, soulful version of Fred Neil’s “Little Bit of Rain.”
Los Lobos open side two with a traditional take on “Guantanamera,” which was adapted from a poem by the Cuban national hero Jose Marti. The song was made famous by Pete Seeger back in his own Greenwich Village days, which qualifies it for inclusion here. Eric Andersen was another legendary figure in those heady days, and Mary Chapin Carpenter contributes a tasteful (too tasteful?) version of perhaps his best known song, “Violets of Dawn.” One of my favorite songs from the era is John Sebastian’s evocative “Darlin’ Be Home Soon,” and Bruce Hornsby does a great job translating it to the piano.
It’s back to Dylan for the album’s final two songs. Shelby Lynne turns out a somewhat disappointing version of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” This was one of the most important songs of the era, given the commercial success it found in the Peter, Paul and Mary cover, and Lynne’s version seems a bit desultory. The haunting “Ballad of Hollis Brown” closes things out in fine fashion, with Rocco DeLuca providing much of the doom and foreboding that characterized Dylan’s original version.
When concept albums go wrong, they can go really wrong. When tribute albums try too hard, things can get ugly. The Village is an album that is concept and tribute at once, and yet it manages to not only keep things on track, but provide a compelling listening experience. Kudos to all involved.
Now here’s the good news. I have a brand new vinyl copy of The Village for one of our lucky readers. This album is pressed on pristine 180 gram vinyl, and 429 Records have only done a short run, which will mostly be distributed to indie record stores. Have a turntable that needs more use? Jump in. Need a Christmas gift for that wacky uncle of yours who’s a veteran of the sixties? Play along. I am going to choose a winner at 5 p.m. eastern time on Monday, November 16, from all the entries that have the correct answer to the following easy question:
What band was John Sebastian famously a part of?
Please send your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sorry, due to shipping issues, the contest is limited to U.S. residents. No P.O. boxes please.