BY KARYN A. POKLETAR
From punk rock icon to jazz chanteuse, Chrissie Hynde has long been an innovative tour deforce in the world of music. Now, nearly 45 years after her debut as the ballsy front woman of the Pretenders, she’s lending her signature vocals and impassioned interpretations to nine tracks from the catalog of poet laureate and Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan on the newly released “Standing in the Doorway.”
If you’re a fan of either Bob Dylan or The Pretenders, a lover of depthful poetry or the contra alto of Chrissie Hynde’s richly interpretive voice, it will be difficult to remain unimpressed with this artistic endeavor. If you’re looking for groovy synth, drum loops, club music, super-sized anthems, Glam Rock, or fifth gear music, deafeningly loud as a Daytona race, heard from the front row seats, just keep walking.
Vocals of Dylan have been criticized over the length of his career, the conclusion remains constant: he sings in a nasal manner, not altogether pleasing, but makes up for it by being an artist who has been an influential figure in popular music and culture for more than five decades. His plain-spoken trend is relegated to the folk singing era where vocals were not paramount to lyrics. This style is valid, and has its place in the music milieu which showcases lyrical content as the main course.
The weight of folk icon Dylan, has been meted out in awards, accolades, and sheer number of songs (over 600). In todays parlance, Dylan is sustainable. Chrissie Hynde, front rocker and rhythm guitarist, IS The Pretenders, a band formed in 1978. Her ability to comprehend the labile mood of song lyrics is ridiculous; with piles of nuanced comprehension, translated into convincing style; her illustrative talent is replete throughout the album.
Artist interpretation of classic songwriter fodder is not a frontrunner of innovation. In other words, its been done before. But arguably, not like this!
Christine Ellen Hynde, resurrected the intense, brilliant and evocative poetry of Bob Dylan’s lyrical arsenal, which will keep his spirit and wellspring of creativity on display for a while longer (A nice birthday present for his 80th whirl around the sun, celebrated May 2021). Dylan, although not technically skilled, can seemingly create songs out of a mere moan, as he brags about his wounds or dances irreverently on the graves of his enemies.
Between Dylan’s story-song-poem lyrics and Hynde’s genius and gorgeous interpretation, they dissolve the ties that bind one to hollow intelligence, as the first track, “In The Summertime” tells of moments spent with his love. He hardly knows how long they have been together, even as people are trying to tear them apart. (“Fools they made a mock of sin//Our loyalty they tried to win//But you were closer to me than my next of kin//When they didn’t want to know or see//In the summertime, Ah in the summertime”).
With warm piano chord progression, Dylan’s exquisitely sad and lovely lyrics are demystified on the title track “Standing in the Doorway” with Hynde’s reluctant femininity and thumbprint sneer, as she sings: “You left me standing in the doorway cryin’// I got nothin’ to go back to now//The light in this place is so bad//Makin’ me sick in the head.” The story continues, with the songwriter’s attempt to diminish pain with distraction. “Last night I danced with a stanger//But she just reminded me you were the one.” The song marches on, somehow turning into a dirge with piano accenting emotional death of the relationship, which ends with one tiny tambourine flourish with the closing line “You left me standing in the doorway cryin’//Blues wrapped around my head.”
How does a 24-year old Dylan (at the time of penning “Love Minus Zero”) write a lovely melody so magical, creative and alluring with just three chords and the words “Yet she’s true like ice, like fire//People carry roses//Make promises by the hours//My love she laughs like flowers//Valentines can’t buy her ?” Hynde reshapes the song into a softer and more deeply touching landscape than the original.
Of the nine tracks on the album, the one with heart wrenching beauty, flutter-strum guitar and Hynde’s tremolo is “Blind Willie McTell,” a masterpiece of compositional quality and cinematic largess. (“Them stars above those barren trees//his only audience”).
As stated from the beginning…If you’re a fan of either artist, delight will inevitably be emitted from your person upon listening to “Standing in the Doorway.” Dylan’s legacy, as one of the worlds greatest songwriters, with the intellectualism of classic litrerature and poetry, along with Hynde’s expressively expressive prowess, leaves one with the rhetorical and yet conclusive query: “How could this album be anything but awesome?”
It is !
What an artistic review of two such famous artists! The cadence built as I read each paragraph, and now, most definitely I’m going to tune in!
Such a well articulated review of a beautiful cover album. Looking forward to what what Karyn recommends I listen to next!