When the news arrived a few days ago that Brazilian producer Rodrigo Teixeira had nabbed the right to make a movie out of Bob Dylan’s seminal, soul-searching 1975 album Blood on the Tracks, speculations ran wild. How would Dylan’s intimate expressions of romantic regret, widely interpreted as a chronicle of his first marriage’s downward spiral, be adapted for film? Would we see a scorched-earth disaster on par with Robert Stigwood’s notorious 1978 cinematic adaptation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Or a misanthropic mix of live action and creepy animation like Gerald Scarfe’s silver-screen version of The Wall? Would the casting be Kristen Stewart-as-Joan-Jett awkward or Jamie Foxx-as-Ray Charles precise? And most crucially, would the film employ the original album as a soundtrack or would it open an industrial-size Pandora’s box by incorporating cover versions of such classic cuts as “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Shelter From the Storm,” and “If You See Her, Say Hello?” While we contemplate the chilling possibilities that scenario might easily entail, let’s placate ourselves by focusing on some of the finest recordings of Blood on the Tracks tunes by other artists, envisioning our ideal soundtrack in the process.
1. Jeff Tweedy, “Simple Twist of Fate”
Sometimes you can learn a lot about an artist from the songs they cover. For instance, while it’s no great shock to discover that Dylan has had an affect on Tweedy — and by extension, Wilco — it’s almost startling to hear how naturally he settles into this tune. If not for the fact that the level of songwriting Dylan achieved on Blood on the Tracks was beyond the grasp of most mere mortals, one could almost imagine that this was a tune taken from Tweedy’s back catalog, such is the hand-in-glove fit it has for him.
2. My Morning Jacket, “You’re a Big Girl Now”
Jim James’s voice hovers hummingbird-like above his band’s gentle take on this bittersweet tune, gracefully tracing the lines of the original recording. The arrangement is so minimal it seems like My Morning Jacket didn’t dare risk ruining an already-perfect song by adding anything unnecessary to it. Note to laissez-faire stoner-folk types: if you want to soft-pedal a song, this is how it’s done.
3. Freddie King, “Meet Me in the Morning”
Amidst all the mythos, it’s sometimes easy to forget that some of Dylan’s best songs are straight-up blues tunes. Fortunately, the late, great Texas bluesman Freddie King hung around our planet just long enough to remind us of that very fact in no uncertain terms, with his simmering, funky takeover of this mournful, she-done-me-wrong moaner. It’s one of the few instances on record where it’s easy to forgive the artist in question for tweaking Dylan’s lyrics, especially when King lets his guitar do the talking.
4. Jeff Buckley, “If You See Her, Say Hello”
Speaking of artists who didn’t stick around long enough, Jeff Buckley possessed an almost superhuman ability to transform material from practically any corner of the musical universe into an otherworldly incantation, and his aural alchemy on Blood on the Tracks’ most tear-jerking tune is no exception. Only the 30 or so people who could fit into ‘90s East Village hole in the wall Sin-é got to hear it first-hand, but the ripples are still making their way around the world even two decades after the fact.
5. Dave Van Ronk, “Buckets of Rain”
Greenwich Village folk sovereign Dave Van Ronk – the inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ upcoming film, Inside Llewyn Davis — was a mentor to Dylan when the latter first hit the New York City folk scene in the early ‘60s, so it’s only fitting he should get the last word here. The Mayor of MacDougal Street’s poignantly picked guitar and bluesy brillo pad of a voice were instruments of equal impact, especially when the onetime Boy Wonder to Van Ronk’s burly, bearded Batman was calling the tune.