Monday, May 16, 2011

Dylan Cover #14 - The White Stripes - "Isis" Live

In this ongoing Monday Series we will be exploring various artists versions of Bob Dylan song's. Today's tune comes from The White Stripes and is a live cover of "Isis"

Thoughts on Dylan Original:
Desire is such a thick album, Dylan's most complex story songs seem to hover in and around it, and not all are winners...."Isis" is though.  A great song that manages to engage even without a chorus, it is one of Bob's more "mystical" tunes and lures most people in the first time they hear it...before the mp3 age it came right after the powerful "Hurricane" and transforms the album from timely to timeless. 


Thoughts on Cover Artist:
My man crush for Jack White has been expressed here before, but unlike most fans of his, The White Stripes are my least favorite of his 3 bands.  I didn't get into them right away when they started, Elephant was the first disk I really liked.  Could be Meg's simple drumming, Jack limiting himself, or simply no bassist but they are lower down the ladder from The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather for me personally.  That said it is hard to hate on Jackie boy anytime he sings Dylan....

Thoughts on Cover:
Since we skipped last week in this series, and at the request of Wilson, it was decided that we should amp it up this week.   Jack White and Bob Dylan are kindred spirits, artists and lovers of music-deception-wimmin's and life; they seem melted from the same block of ice with fire.  Jack can instantly fall into Dylan's world while keeping his own artistic sensibilities and crushing riffs and Dylan paid the ultimate compliment by playing the White Stripes tune "Ball and a Biscuit" with White in Detroit as an encore a few years back.   The two are kin, and needless to say White enlivens this Western tale of greed and backstabbing with power as Meg stomps along.

Jack eliminates the 3 cadaver stealing verses from the song, but by doing so surprisingly tightens the narrative to jewels and fleeting love.  Shortening the story has made it simpler and yet does nothing to illuminate the mystery; which is part of the charm.  This live version from London in 01 is representative of the versions the band did when they played together.  Simple.  Driving.  Electric.    

Grade: A  

Wilson's Take:
If there is a guy built to share Dylan's heightened sense of reality, it's Jack White. He's our modern raconteur who harnesses the core elements of life, injects them with his own energy, and we're all left the luckier for it. In recent years he's been the artist who reminds us that there still are a few original tricks left in the aging bag of rock and roll...and more often than not he's done this by stripping rock music of the three decades of over-produced, digitalized, remastered, over-synthesized theatrics that accumulated like plaque on the sound. Rock - hijacked by those pining for time on MTV - forgot who it was for a time. This past decade, Jack White returned it to its birthright.

It takes balls to cover "Isis"...Dylan's "song about marriage" which leaves many who've inhabited said institution asking "Whose marriage? Certainly not mine..." There are no wedding bells. No joint checking accounts, common calendars and plans to piss away the weekend someplace safe. "Isis" is about Dylan's marriage - one of them anyway. And as Dylan often does, he skirts the drama any marriage avails itself to and closes in on the core reality of his chosen theme. "Isis" doesn't contain any of the heartache-resurrection of Blood on the Tracks - the "divorce album." Instead, on "Isis", Dylan lets the music beat the tale into the listener, creating an accurate sense of what time can be like in a marriage - or any relationship - via  a grinding, halting-tune that repeatedly lifts into moments of hope and then drops just as quick; one that beats along like an old 8-cylinder engine that can't quite get going. Just when you think things are really about to take off, the guitar chords drop, the listener is ripped back, and thus goes life with Dylan's Isis...the goddess whom he married on Cinco de Mayo amid the pyramids.

"Isis" is not Dylan's most devastating heartbreaker nor his deepest passion - it's the muse he seems to like the most amid his canon of work. Isis - the Egyptian goddess, pure in all things, matron of motherhood, vessel of nurturing and the purveyor of magic. Dylan, eternally distracted, is always trying to find her to tell her he loves her. Yet Dylan, being Dylan, always off chasing fate and the treasure hunt that is the heart's affections, "could not hold on to her very long." Nor could Jack White, but they hold on to some of that girl's magic and used it, in White's case, to lay out a helluva cover.

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