Classic Album Review Music Education

Power on Dylan, or: The Power of Dylan

A look at “Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert.”

By 1966, Bob Dylan and his apostolic audience were at odds and that tension boiled to a head during one pivotal set at Manchester Free Trade Hall, not the misbilled Royal Albert Hall.

In 2022, Cat Power brought Dylan’s words back home, this time in the right venue.

Power, the notorious alternative folk songstress of ’90s acclaim, while known for being obtuse and inaccessible, feels remarkably accessible in this recording.

Released in 2023, as far as cover albums go – which she is no stranger to – this one is almost painfully straightforward.

Equal parts faithful reconstruction and self-aware reimagining of Dylan’s last supper, the album playfully tugs at the frayed edges of folk’s second death knell – Farcically, Dylan had already “killed” folk alongside Mike Bloomfield the year before at the 1965 Manchester Folk Festival.

Following the set song by song right down to the acoustic/electric split half-way through, Power effortlessly waltzes between her own delicate, ghost-like phrasing and Dylan’s nasally-spoken slide.

But as a listener, I’m not entirely sure what keeps Powers back from the precipice of empty pantomime she teeters on.

If anything, “Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert” feels reverential to the point of becoming defanged.

Whether it be the mix or the crowd, there’s a heavy silence that hangs over both the acoustic and electric portions of the album, miles away from Dylan’s caustic bite and his audience’s simmering discontent.

Warning: This Clip Contains Explicit Content.
Bob Dylan’s 1966 “Judas” Incident from YouTube.

It’s a beautiful album and a wonderful showcase of both Power’s vocal stylings and Dylan’s lyricism but it feels empty above all else.

The moment is too self-aware, too self-referential.

Her audience sits in rapt attention, intimately acquainted with each dip and turn of the score, even attempting to recreate the “Judas” moment…only for it to be on the wrong song.

It’s Power’s response to the Judas heckle that says everything about the auspices this project was conceived under; “No, Jesus,” she responded dryly before launching into a haunted rendition of “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

We all know what that moment meant for the future of music, for the folk messiah to betray the movement he helmed…it changed everything – and that is the albatross that hangs around Power’s neck throughout the set.

Because we know now what that concert meant and what he means to music, we can’t possibly recreate it in earnest – it’s holy, now…it’s larger than us.

But it shouldn’t have been.

“Cat Power Sings Dylan: The 1966 Royal Albert Hall Concert” is a wonderfully accessible foray into Bob Dylan’s discography and the stylings of Cat Power. But beyond a well mixed, well arranged reproduction, Power doesn’t bring anything new or fresh into the conversation.

A good cover album, which, technically this is, should expand upon the material or revive the energy that captured audiences originally – and from where I stand, Power dropped the ball on both.

When in doubt, play it loud – Bodhi

By Bodhi

Human Dewey Decimal System for all things music and movies, purveyor of useless knowledge.