Lost on the River

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Williams, though, didn't live to finish that album's songs.

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Dylan's just not so much the guy who wrote the lyrics on Lost on the River any more. He's moved on: the set list on his current tour includes only four of his pre songs, not counting a Frank Sinatra cover. These Dylan texts are, literally, throwaways, but they come from a period when he was writing spectacular throwaways.

A project like this is a treacherous one for its artists, though. To try to sound like Dylan is to come up short of the mark, and to try to not sound like Dylan can betray the material.

The New Basement Tapes-Lost on the River

So the New Basement Tapes hedged their bets, each writing music for the old lyrics on their own, which is why the 20 tracks here on the "deluxe" edition, released at the same time as an impoverished track version include a few lyrics that show up twice in radically different settings. Most of the songwriters err on the side of avoiding Dylanish cadences—Goldsmith's settings, in particular, are bland adult-contemporary stuff, and his lack of puckishness means that when he gets to a phrase like "I have paid that awful price," it lands with a dull clunk.

Lost on the River: the different meanings that emerge from one Bob Dylan song | Untold Dylan

Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops, who may be the star of the album, adds her gorgeous vocals to "Spanish Mary. Taylor Goldsmith really shows his knack for personalizing lyrics on the track "Liberty Street," which sounds like a track he could have written himself.

Listening to that made me wonder if Dylan was going through a breakup at the time he originally wrote those words. Elvis Costello nails the title track, "Lost on the River"; this one really showcases Costello's vocal prowess. He is a fantastic interpreter of songs, and shows it on this lovely slow waltz.

Giddens closes the album with her own spare and soulful rendition, named "Lost On the River It's unlikely that anything more will come of The New Basement Tapes. To create what became Lost On the River , Burnett sent the lyrics to the selected artists and booked two weeks at Capitol Studios in Hollywood to turn 'em into songs. All the artists tried their hands at the same lyrics, and the best versions of each song made it onto the album. In a way, Lost On the River reminds me of Mermaid Avenue , the album by Billy Bragg and Wilco, where they were given a bunch a lyrics penned by Dylan's hero, Woody Guthrie, and turned those into songs.

Lost on the River: the different meanings that emerge from one Bob Dylan song

The album starts with a vengeance with "Down on the Bottom," which features Jim James channeling Dylan's vocal style of the Nashville Skyline era, and some great fuzzed guitar from James and from Elvis Costello. Another standout is "Kansas City," which features Marcus Mumford on the vocal. This one soars like a good Mumford and Sons tune, but it's electrified! This might be the album's standout track.

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