It’s hard to cover a Bob Dylan song – Lord knows I’ve spent nearly a lifetime trying. Dylan’s songs – the melodies, lyrics, rhythms, everything that goes into them, really – are uniquely pitched to Dylan’s persona. Whether he’s writing in the blues, folk, rock, country, soul, pop or gospel genre, what comes out is uniquely Dylan, or “Dylanesque,” to borrow the title of an ill-conceived album consisting of Dylan covers by Bryan Ferry, who otherwise has no equal in the art of reworking familiar tunes.
Which is why when I do hear a version of a Bob Dylan song that moves me, it’s a rare and joyful occasion. I had one of those moments last night, when an old friend, who goes by the name of Soul Prophet when he performs, played a rendition of “The Man in Me” at the Bob Dylan birthday tribute concert at Gypsy Joynt in Great Barrington, Mass.
“The Man in Me” has always been one of my favorite Dylan songs – who can forget the masterful way the Coen Brothers used it over the opening scene in The Big Lebowski? – and I have played it myself at times. But Soul Prophet delivered a beautiful version, sticking close to the original (which, I think, is usually pretty important) while finding his own cozy groove in the material. He emphasized the song’s beautiful melody and its affability, no easy trick, as the original composition is ever-so-slightly flawed by a taint of chauvinism and egocentricity.
Soul Prophet made that all disappear somehow, but more than that, in what I think has to be the greatest achievement anyone could hope for when covering a Dylan song, he made me want to pick up my guitar and play it again. Thanks, my good brother. And it was great seeing you again after all these many years. Let’s not wait another 20 to do it again.