Conor McPherson’s play Girl From The North Country debuted last year, with the playwright hand-picking songs from Bob Dylan’s catalogue as a means of supplementing both the dialogue and emotional weight of his work.
Showing to outstanding reviews, the play – a fine drama set in a Depression hit Duluth, Minnesota, over a decade before Dylan’s birth – expertly re-worked the Bard’s material, with a subsequent cast recording earning high praise in its own right.
So why subsequently compiled The Music Which Inspired Girl From The North Country? Well, for one thing it’s always intriguing when one noted artist curates the work of another; doubly so when their work – as in this instance – has become intertwined, interlocked.
Spread across two discs, this compilation utilises some of Bob Dylan’s finest pearls, the songs which have kept casual fans enraptured across the years – think ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, ‘Lay Lady Lay’, ‘Jokerman’, or ‘All Along The Watchtower’.
Yet the breadth of the compilation encourages us to visit some lesser-heralded avenues, some often dismissed cul de sacs. Few Dylan fans would recommend ‘New Morning’ or ‘Empire Burlesque’ to those new to the songwriter’s work, yet both albums are both represented, while other, rather more major works, are ignored.
It’s an approach that rescues some hitherto neglected songs, while casting fresh light on others. ‘I Want You’ - the shimmering salute to romance that pursued ‘Blonde On Blonde’ - is placed next to ‘Blind Willie McTell’, that fine, otherworldly epic that Dylan himself wasn’t sure whether to release for over 15 years.
Leaping between eras, we’re able to grasp the dizzying totality of Dylan’s work, all while being presented with fresh puzzles and dazzling dioramas. Ending with ‘My Back Pages’ - “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” - it at times feels like a very personal playlist, like a mixtape made by one friend and gifted to another. Perhaps not a release for those idly passing by, this compilation nonetheless offers fresh insight into Girl From The North Country, while also acting as a loving salute to the ongoing enigma that is Bob Dylan.
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