By removing country and folk, then replacing them with rugged soloing, ax-slingers Walter Trout ("Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat") and Duke Robillard ("Pledging My Time") don't come to terms with Dylan's tricky, often playful music and poetry. Conversely, Eric Bibb's "Just Like a Woman" is played straight, weakening this album's intent. The opening "Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35" is derailed by guitarist Brian Stoltz's unfunny Forrest Gump intro. The abundant words in "Visions of Johanna" trip up Anders Osborne's attempt to pull the song into blues changes.
Sue Foley's sensual "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine," Cyril Neville's soul blasted "I Want You," Deborah Coleman's sultry R&B "Temporary Like Achilles" and Joe Louis Walker's peppy nine-minute "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again" fare much better. Yet lyrically these musicians don't connect with the nuanced humor of the originals.
Atlanta's Sean Costello, the disc's youngest participant, slams through an inspired "Obviously Five Believers," relishing both the words and Dylan's blues riff. He spits out the non-sequitur phrases like he understands their meaning and plays against Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble rhythm section with poise and fiery confidence. It's the surprise highlight of this well-intentioned but inconsistent concept.
Sean Costello plays the Northside Tavern Fri., May 23 and Sat., May 24.