Review – Standing In the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan, A Surprise Gem

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I think Chrissie Hynde has just always been cool. Born in Akron, she moved to London to work in the Malcolm Mclaren/Vivienne Westwood boutique SEX and was smack dab in the middle of the burgeoning punk rock scene. I think she was even involved in an early incarnation of the Clash. Finally she formed her own group, seminal rock band The Pretenders with James Honeyman-Scott (guitar), James Farndon (bass) and Martin Chambers (drums). We all loved the Pretenders. I can still remember sitting in study hall in junior high school and hearing “Brass In Pocket” for the first time. There was this gorgeous blonde girl who was a year older than me – and what teenage boy isn’t fascinated by an older woman? – and she was walking across the room with a Coke in her hand… dirty blonde hair slightly out of control (and this was before the Big Hair 80s) as Chrissie sang, “I’m gonna make you, make you, make you notice…” Oh, I noticed. I always think of that blonde gal when I hear that song…never knew her name, but I digress.

Sadly after their great second LP, the creatively titled Pretenders II, they sacked bassist Pete Farndon who later OD’d. Right after they sacked Farndon, lead guitarist Honeyman-Smith also died from a narcotic misadventure. Heroin and coke are treacherous my friends. But Hynde (rhythm guitar/vocals) soldiered on with Chambers still on drums. Three years after that second LP, the last with the original line-up, they released Learning To Crawl (1984). I remember my old college roommate Drew bringing that one back from the record store. It was virtually the soundtrack to that semester in college. Drew played the crap out of that record. That’s what inspired me to go back and finally purchase their first two albums. I’m still very glad to have that precious vinyl.

I’ve only seen the Pretenders once in concert. And, I’m embarrassed to say it’s only because they were opening for the Stones. Not that I’m embarrassed about seeing the Stones, I’m embarrassed that I’ve never made more of an effort to see the Pretenders as headliners. Chrissie was awesome that night. She introduced a reggae song they were going to play by saying, “Mick and Keith and the Stones have introduced us to so much great music, but I don’t think they get the credit they deserve for helping to introduce the world to reggae music.” Like I said, Hynde is just cool. They were a great opener that night and Hynde’s voice is still amazing. Her vocals are tough yet sexy.

I reconnected in a big way with the Pretenders when they released their last LP, Hate For Sale. I thought that was a great, late career record from them. It went into high rotation here in the B&V labs in much the same way Learning To Crawl did back in Drew’s college room. Alas, due to Covid the Pretenders were unable to tour behind Hate For Sale. When they do, I’ll be standing at the ticket counter with my money in my hand… Hynde was like a lot of us, I suppose, and was stuck at home last year. The story goes she heard Dylan’s epic single, released last year, “Murder Most Foul” and was inspired to explore his catalog. She started recording acoustic versions of Dylan’s tunes at home and sending them to Pretenders’ current lead guitarist James Walbourne. He’d add something and send it back. Collaborating has served them well.

I think Hynde put a lot of these performances out on the Pretenders’ website over the course of last year… or maybe it was their YouTube channel. There are so many avenues artists have to get their work out, I have trouble keeping track. I did hear at some point early this year that Hynde was going to release a Dylan covers LP. But, speaking of being unable to keep track, while I was anxiously awaiting Hynde to release this Dylan covers LP, it had actually been released already… in May. Either I had my head stuck up my proverbial rear-end or Hynde’s publicist is for shit. I was reading something about Dylan recently and in the comments someone said, “Chrissie Hynde does a great version of “Blind Willie McTell” on her Dylan’s cover LP.” Argh, I couldn’t help but think… how’d that one get by me?

Coincidentally I’ve been listening to Dylan quite a bit lately. He’s just released Springtime In New York, Volume 16 of the Bootleg Series and like Neil Young’s Archives Volume 2, I’ve been immersed in that for the last few weeks. It’s no secret around B&V that I’m a huge Dylan fan, of all his music not just the Bootleg Series. I am such a fan that I also love cover versions of Dylan’s songs. With Chrissie Hynde’s (relatively) new LP, Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan, I’ve had a confluence of a lot of things I love: Dylan, covers songs and Chrissie Hynde’s vocals. I do so love a cover song. It’s like a two-for-one. You get to enjoy the performance by the artist covering the song but it also evokes the memory of the original. To find out that Hynde did that rare thing – recorded an entire album of covers and in this case, rarer still, to record an entire LP of songs by another artist – I had to jump in with both ears.

This starts and ends for me with Hynde’s voice. She uncovers the vulnerability and in some cases melancholy in these songs in a whole new way. The entire album is awash in velvety acoustic guitars that feel like they’re gently massaging my temples. There are no drums or messy adornments here. It’s the raw emotion of the track focused on Hynde’s vocals. This is a great record to accompany a late night bourbon. I absolutely love her song selection on this LP. She didn’t gravitate toward big “hits” from Dylan’s catalog. This isn’t her doing “Like A Rolling Stone” or “Mr. Tambourine Man.” For the most part, she dug deeper into his catalog and, much to my delight, mined a lot of gold from his later catalog. She chose some of Dylan’s most intimate and intensely personal tunes. It all makes for an absolute gem of a record.

Of the nine tracks, only three would be considered to be from Dylan’s “Classic” period. “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” is beautifully rendered here. It’s all Byrds-y chiming guitars. “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” a song made famous by Rod Stewart, is a beautiful finger-picked track. The last track is from the seminal LP, Blood On The Tracks, “You’re A Big Girl Now.” I think Hynde just knocks “Big Girl Now” out of the park. I felt the sadness or pathos of a breakup in this song to my core. Hynde’s voice milks the regret out of this song for all it’s worth. It’s a real highlight. Her voice is like the warm hug of an ex lover saying a final farewell.

Perhaps because I’m spending so much time with Dylan’s work in the 80s lately, I was delighted to see that the bulk of this material dates from that time. “In The Summertime” is a great opener and in Chrissie’s hands comes across as a warm greeting. It’s downright joyful. “Sweetheart Like You” has always been one of my favorite Dylan songs. Rod, who is no stranger to covering Dylan, also did this track. I wake up every morning with Chrissie singing in my head, “She used to call me sweet daddy when I was only a child…” Again, the emotions she wrings out of the song has me cheering for more. “Blind Willie McTell” is a wonderful addition here. Hynde acquits herself well on one of Dylan’s greatest tracks. I also really liked “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight.” One of Dylan’s most personal tracks, “Every Grain of Sand” is also deeply moving in this version as well. It feels like Hynde – who has seen a lot – is in the confessional…

This is one of those little, fabulous records that will never get much attention. But to hear how committed and into these performances Hynde is makes it quite a gem. I keep listening to this record and find myself looking up at the speaker having discovered some new nuance Chrissie pulled out of the lyrics. I urge everyone to check this one out. It’s good for the soul. And lets all thank God Chrissie Hynde is still out there making a wonderful noise.

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