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I'm Not There - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Released on Columbia Records, 10/30/07

Even at a glance, Bob Dylan will mean different things to different people. This seems to be the theme of the new Dylan film, I'm Not There. In the film, which was co-written and directed by Todd Haynes, six actors play different Dylan identities. Those actors include Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett, and others.

The soundtrack to the film, a 34-song, two-disc accompaniment, lets dozens of artists glance at Dylan. The breadth of talent is impressive: the disc starts with Eddie Veddar ("All Along The Watchtower") and ends with Dylan himself (performing the film's bootlegged title track), and in between is an alphabet soup of artists, including: Karen O, Cat Power, Jack Johnson, Sufjan Stevens, Willie Nelson, Roger McGuinn, Iron and Wine, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, Calexico, The Hold Steady, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Antony and the Johnsons, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, The Black Keys, Richie Havens, and others. The Million Dollar Bashers, a super-duper-group that features Steve Shelley and Lee Renaldo (from Sonic Youth), Tom Verlaine (from Television) John Medeski, Nels Cline (currently of Wilco), and Tony Garnier (an original Dylan bassist) provides backing for half a dozen of the tracks.

Few of the renditions sound surprising, but everyone brings plenty of love to the songs. Ultimately, these tracks just bow to the raw, wild source material. In 33 tracks of homage, Dylan is the real hero -- and the thing everyone will be listening to as soon as they get their fill of cover songs.

Not that the soundtrack isn't worth checking out. I found plenty of moments of near-perfection, even if I did go skipping back to Blood on the Tracks as soon as I got through disco two. Stephen Malkmus delivers a couple of my favorites; his "Ballad of a Thin Man" is especially resuscitative: wacky and confident and beautifully narrative. It reminds me that -- like Dylan -- Malkmus still sounds great after all these years.

Similarly, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy brings similar appropriateness to "Simple Twist of Fate". Tweedy's reedy voice always had that guiding-light feel that made Dylan an institution, so the pairing is sort of eerie -- or sort of meant to be. Or both.

The soundtrack transcends at its most critical moment: during the solo acoustic performance of Marcus Carl Franklin, the 13 year-old African-American actor who is one of the six Dylan's in the film. Franklin delivers "When the Ship Comes In," without any other musicians trying to ape Dylan or The Band or the past. The whole experiment seems full and validated in this moment, as this young boy voice, alone with guitar, delivers the powerful lines: "The time will come up when the winds will stop/ and the breeze will cease to be breathing/ Like the stillness in the wind before the hurricane begins/ The hour that the ship comes in."

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars