Project Uses Indie Artists To Introduce Dylan

A new project aims to introduce Bob Dylan’s music to young people by having buzz-worthy indie artists cover one of his best-known albums in a digital-only format.

Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’s `Bringing It All Back Home’ goes on sale at iTunes on Tuesday and features artists like J. Tillman of Fleet Foxes; The Morning Benders; Peter Moren of Peter Bjorn and John; and Mirah tackling songs from Dylan’s 1965 “going electric” album.

Photo: AP Photo / PA
Hop Farm Festival, Paddock Wood, UK

Its producer is Jim Sampas, who has done similar tributes to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album and the Beatles’ Rubber Soul.

Dylan’s album, a mixture of acoustic and electric tunes, included songs like “Maggie’s Farm,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

“My desire was to show the brilliance of his songwriting and bring it to a younger audience that might not be aware of his work,” Sampas said. “A lot of younger musicians embrace Dylan’s work, but the overall population doesn’t have as much knowledge.”

The project has a mix of fairly faithful covers and some interesting interpretations. The Castanets cast “Maggie’s Farm” in some modern percussion and synthesizer sounds. Tillman strips the sarcasm from “If You’ve Gotta Go, Go Now” for a sweet acoustic sound that makes the narrator sound vulnerable.

The Morning Benders sweetened “Outlaw Blues,” although member Christopher Chu said he wanted to make it sound creepy.

“He arranges his songs so perfectly that it’s hard not to just want to do a 100 percent faithful rendition,” Chu said. “But at the same time, that’s not what I wanted to do with a cover. I wanted to pick a song where I could change it up a bit.”

Chu, 25, knows Dylan’s music well. Dylan is one of the first artists he began to obsess over as a young fan, along with the Beach Boys and Neil Young. He’s convinced that he missed out on a golden era of music.

His favorite Dylan album is Highway 61 Revisited.

“His influence is so wide that no matter what age you are, you eventually run into Dylan,” Chu said.

William Fitzsimmons, who covered one of the album’s outtakes, “Farewell Angelina,” said the specter of Dylan was an intimidating factor when he started writing songs. He’s 32 years old.

“I didn’t write songs until later in life because I wondered, `What was the point?'” he said. “You put on a record like “Blood on the Tracks’ when you want to write about heartbreak. You realize somebody already did it and it’s hard to imagine you can add anything. It’s very intimidating.”

He doesn’t know how Dylan keeps it up.

“You’re not supposed to write that many amazing songs in your lifetime,” he said.