Bob Dylan is perhaps the most covered songwriter of the rock era. A myriad of recording artists have revamped tunes or offered reverent versions of tracks penned by arguably the greatest songsmith of the past 60 years.
The Byrd’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which features gorgeous harmonies from David Crosby and Gene Clark with Roger McGuinn’s strong lead vocal and jangly guitar work, is a terrific take on a Dylan classic.
There’s Jimi Hendrix’s powerful, electrified “All Along the Watchtower” and Stevie Wonder’s joyful “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
So many iconic recording artists have had their way with Dylan and the The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is the latest to tip their hat to the Pulitzer Prize winner.
“Dirt Does Dylan,” which dropped in May, is worth experiencing. The roots rockers add some nice touches to some classic tunes. “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” steps into country territory. “Forever Young,” delivered by a band with members almost as old as the 80-year-old Dylan, is moving. “The Times They Are A-Changing” is a powerful track bolstered by such guests as Jason Isbell, Rosanne Cash and Steve Earle.
“We had such a great time recording these songs with our band and with some of our friends,” keyboardist Bob Carpenter said by phone from Los Angeles. “This was truly a labor of love. It was a challenge for us. We thought, ‘How can the Dirt Band make this stuff work?’ ”
The Dirt Band, which also includes vocalist-guitarist Jeff Hanna, Hanna’s son Jaime Hanna on guitar, drummer Jimmie Fadden, bassist Jim Photoglo and fiddler-mandolinist Ross Holmes, made a list of 60 songs and whittled it down from there. “It was such an enjoyable process putting this album together,” Carpenter said. “ ‘The Girl from the North Country’ came out really great. I’ve been doing ‘I Shall Be Released’ since I was in a bar band during the ’60s. There’s just no material like Dylan’s songs.”
The Dirt Band, which will perform Sunday at the Fox Theater, was excited to start the Dylan project in March 2020. “We knew this was something that we could do quickly,” Carpenter said. “We’re all very familiar with Dylan’s music. We thought we could take care of this in no time and we would be out on the road before we knew it.”
However, the pandemic altered the Dirt Band’s plans. “What was supposed to take two months to make took two years to make,” Carpenter said. “But we learned to deal with what we couldn’t control and we made an album we’re very proud of.”
The Dirt Band hasn’t heard from the Dylan camp. However, the group and Dylan shared a dressing room for a Farm Aid performance in 1984. “We shared space during that show with Bob and John Denver. We didn’t get to share the stage with him but it was nice sharing a dressing room. It was an experience.”
Count on the Dirt Band to deliver a number of Dylan tracks at the Fox. “That’s the easy part for this tour,” Carpenter said. “The tougher part was figuring out what else we would play since we have seven decades of music to choose from. Obviously we’ll be playing the hits like ‘Mr. Bojangles.’ I get it. I’m a fan of other recording artists and I like to hear certain songs. It’s a well balanced set. The folks from Spokane will enjoy this show.”
Carpenter laughed when he recounted the Dirt Band’s most memorable Spokane concert, which happened a generation ago.” I’ll never forget the outdoor show we played there years ago since it was so windy and difficult to perform through but we did it,” Carpenter said. “That was a wild experience.”
Carpenter is referring to a show at the Playfair Race Track in August 1990. The Dirt Band had to play its way through well, dirt, during the entirety of its set. “The wind was blowing at about 40 mph,” Carpenter recalled. “I’m not exaggerating. You know it can get windy in Spokane. The dirt from the field pelted us throughout the show. I was performing with contacts and I played the entire set with my eyes closed. God bless the people that stood there and hung out and dealt with all the dust and stuff that was flying in the air. It’s a show I’ll never forget and I’m always glad when we play indoors when we go back to Spokane.”