by mr tambourine
I am also not that familiar with the work of Emma Swift, at least that I know of. I’ve heard so many different musical styles, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ran into this woman somewhere, where she might’ve been a backing vocalist or just one of the people in the credits, you know? Her spirit must’ve been around me somewhere before. Because, listening to her and saying her name, she looked very familiar.
First time I ran into this lady was when she uploaded her version of “I Contain Multitudes” on her YouTube channel. It really touched me I must say. I didn’t think it was better than Bob’s version (I rarely actually think that about any song Dylan wrote and recorded) but she was really good with it. I remember the video was really nice too.
Then I heard two other singles, which apparently were the promotion of the new album “Blonde On The Tracks”, an all Dylan-covers album.
The other two singles “Queen Jane Approximately” and “You’re A Big Girl Now” didn’t catch my attention that much.
This week I decided to give it a listen. Like I said, I’m not a fan of these, but, I said to myself, if I could’ve listened to Joan Osborne’s album from 2017 which was all Dylan covers as well and enjoy it, then I can enjoy this one too.
Before listening to the album, what really caught my attention was this lady’s interviews about this album. I really liked her point of view and takes on Bob’s music. That was a great first impression that I needed.
The album opens with “Queen Jane Approximately”. Despite a distracting start, for me at least, because I felt the song lacks a certain kind of firepower, whether in the music or the voice, it catches up nicely and is a very fair opener. It’s definitely a grower.
The second track “I Contain Multitudes” is, as I said, brilliant. Not better than the original, just as the first track wasn’t, but again, a fair tribute to the great artist of this age who’s still alive by the way and creating masterpieces. This is the only newer song in Dylan’s catalogue on this album. Emma’s delivery is very rich. Her vocals are very relaxing.
What I will give credit to Emma in the first two tracks is that she absolutely pulled it off in her own way. There was no evidence of her trying to imitate Dylan in any kind of way. Kudos for that!
The third track, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)” is an amazing, staggering cover. An album highlight if you ask me.
Definitely the best cover of this song I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a singer like Mick Hucknall (from Simply Red) cover it and it’s nothing like this.
Emma’s tone here is mesmerising. It’s like Blonde on Blonde meets Sgt. Pepper. It’s really great!
The 4th track, “Simple Twist Of Fate” was a nice landing back to the earthly ground after “One Of Must Know” blew me to the sky.
I didn’t even know that Simple Twist Of Fate was playing until the last verse, which Emma sang beautifully. I also forgot these original lyrics of the song after listening to so many live performances with different ones. Thank you Emma for reminding me. Not sure if Bob ever used “a parrot that talks” in his live performances. It’s a very interesting line. Especially for a Philosopher Pirate that’s listening to the wireless radio in Key West. Not surprising that he has a parrot. What’s surprising is that he never mentions it.
The fifth track, “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands”, another Blonde On Blonde gem, is again delivered masterfully here. Not an easy song to sing at all, lasting 11 minutes, Emma does it like a goddess I must say.
It just proved to me, with this and “One Of Us Must Know” that Blonde on Blonde, if it was made today, would still be as relevant.
I just thought to myself “people don’t write songs like these anymore” or “we don’t have songwriting or songwriters like this anymore”. Once again I realized how blessed we were to live in the age of Dylan.
The two Blonde on Blonde covers of Emma Swift on this album have cemented themselves as one of the best Dylan covers out there (and I’m sure there’s many good ones, having listened to them and knowing many people covered them) and Emma Swift certainly made it clear that she understands Dylan and Dylan’s art.
The sixth track, “The Man In Me” is also very beautifully done and arranged. The musical arrangement of this entire album is very good and it’s nicely produced. I have always had a soft spot for “The Man In Me”, so I was really happy it was included. I have only one flaw with this one : it’s too short.
The seventh track, “Going Going Gone” sounds like it’s arranged for Blood On The Tracks. Seriously. I felt it was a genius idea to do, because, Going Going Gone did feel as a prequel to Blood On The Tracks. No other Planet Waves song can say that.
The eighth track, “You’re A Big Girl Now”, still didn’t impress me. And I’m so sorry to say that as it is a song I really love. It’s a hard song to do though and I know that. So I won’t be critiquing it too much.
The main problem I have of it is that the album was very nicely put together until this moment. Tracks were nicely placed until this.
Going Going Gone felt like a Blood On The Tracks song. And then, a very similar arrangement, and even vocal delivery, was used for this one too.
You’re A Big Girl Now, of course, is not even near a “difficult listen”, it’s actually very uniquely arranged and again, kudos for such originality, but…
Emma’s potential is definitely through the roof and I think she could’ve performed this much better. This is not a critique, this is just encouragement.
Dylan usually ends the album on a very high note, and with Emma putting together an album like this, it needed a little bit of more… I don’t know… Firepower.
Queen Jane Approximately, when listening to it as a single, also did the same thing for me. But when listening to the album, it grew on me. You’re A Big Girl Now failed to do that unfortunately.
But I’ll certainly be listening to this album more.
I’m very glad that there are artists still covering Dylan. I’m also glad that, along with Joan Osborne a few years ago, Emma has decided to cover the deeper cuts more rather than the greatest hits.
I wish some people would even cover the really deep cuts like “Changing Of The Guards” , “Caribbean Wind” , “To Fall In Love With You” , “Tell Ol’ Bill”… The list goes on, but people get the point. Maybe we should promote that part of Dylan’s career more?
Nonetheless, Emma’s “Blonde On The Tracks” will go down as one of the better Dylan cover albums we’ve heard. All the universal acclaim she received for it is well deserved.
It’s a nice, short, walkthrough Dylan’s career.
Emma’s respect for the lyrics and keeping them the way they are without changing them to the female perspective and even sometimes finding ways to express herself in a more masculine way, shows Emma’s great adaptability that goes along with her incredibly gifted singing voice. Along with her singing, Emma really highlighted her unbelievable phrasing. Somewhere it reaches Dylan level even, which is the highest level of phrasing, and is a very necessary ingredient to Bob’s music, which again shows her knowledge of Bob’s music and the way she respects it and treasures it.
This is a great promotion for Bob Dylan’s music and Emma’s delivery really makes you focus on the beauty of the lyrics more than anything which only adds to Dylan’s genius even more. Also, it will especially make people check out Bob’s two albums that are combined in the album title, Blonde on Blonde and Blood On The Tracks. Especially Blonde on Blonde, having delivered the two songs mastefully.
I also like the art that was used for the videos uploaded to YouTube of the three singles – I Contain Multitudes, Queen Jane Approximately and You’re A Big Girl Now. Really beautiful videos! Wish more videos were made like that nowadays.
There’s so many good things about this album . I would give it 4.5/5 or 9/10. It’s really that good, if you understand Bob’s music that much. Really good job by Emma Swift! I wish she would make at least two more albums like this.
The albums that Emma will make you check out, having covered some of their tracks, are:
- Highway 61 Revisited
- Rough And Rowdy Ways
- Blonde on Blonde
- Blood On The Tracks
- New Morning
- Planet Waves
Six amazing albums.
So… Check those six albums and check out Emma’s album. You don’t need anything else to listen to but that. That’ll be enough.
Editor’s note: There are a couple of songs from the album for which there are not musical or video links above. This is simply because I couldn’t locate online copies which I could legally use here to accompany the article – there’s no other significance.