Thoughts on Dylan Original:
One of the most bleak and powerful songs of Dylan's strongest period, "The Ballad of Hollis Brown" is like the mentioned shotgun blast and story told to the listener; fierce. Instantly a kinship is felt with the central character and as the situation becomes more direr, horror and finally (somehow) hope creeps in. The last lines are some of Dylan's best as the murder happens and yet optimism or at least irony flows through via "There's Seven New People Born"...The wheel keeps on a'spinnin'.
Thoughts of Cover Artist:
Unfortunately I am not too familiar with Rise Against, but having grown up on punk rock I appreciate the genre. I do not think however these guys would have gotten much of a listen from my younger self as the tracks I have heard fall closer MTV friendly groups like Fall Out Boy, but as I admitted earlier I am not that knowledgeable regarding them.
Thoughts on Cover:
This is the first cover we are tackling from the Amnesty International Album, which you should all pick up right here. We will be covering lots of tracks from it so stay tuned. As for this one, I am a complete sucker for a good punk cover of Dylan's songs as I think the angst fits them perfectly. However this one doesn't live up to that promise, and "Hollis Brown" is perfect for this kind of interpretation. It takes until a minute and a half for the energy to pick up and when it does there is a consistent thundering as the band goes more for moody atmosphere then straight ahead power. Then ebb's and flows don't really do it for me, tricks aren't needed for this strong of a song, the breakdown at the end is nice, but what leads up to it less so. I think they could have done this one a bit better with less thinking and more rocking.
In the blues tradition, a lot of time is spent on drunkeness, sex, and despair. But there are times when the realities in life and the influences of forces like these combine and the bluesman is then compelled to tell a tale that is simple, pure horror. It is represented in the field recordings of forefathers like Robert Johnson and it is the kind of material that makes you think, "What hell brought this about?" Maybe this is why the blues was/is thought of as the devil's music - at times, it does come like a celebration of evil's handywork.
"Ballad of Hollis Brown" is a tale of terror rooted in that blues tradition. It surpasses the stories of men with hooks for hands or knives for fingers because events like this South Dakota tragedy actually happen in our world. Not with frequency, but with frightening regularity. The "Ballad of Hollis Brown" could easily be the "Ballad of Josh Powell.' And we could rename it every year. It captures the moment when we all are forced to question our own sanity, what we could be driven to, as well as the sanity of the collective as a whole.
The Times They Are A-Changin' is stuffed with brilliant musical statements and so "Ballad of Hollis Brown" is often viewed by the listener as but one piece of dark glass in an exquisite mosaic. However, when we take the time to really look at it, separated from the larger work, when we examine the thought that went into its creation as an individual piece of art, we can really see the artist's genius in full. A simple, brutal, stunning song.
On this cover, Rise Against gives the piece its proper weight. Kudos to this band, it is a version I have enjoyed since first I heard it and will continue to enjoy for years to come. And it was the impetus for a closer examination of the original work. Thanks, fellas.