By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

July 17, 2003


Bob Dylan and various artists
"Masked and Anonymous: Music from the Motion Picture"
Columbia Records

"Set somewhere, sometime, in an America wracked by an endless and senseless civil war, 'Masked and Anonymous' is the story of a benefit concert and a musician named Jack Fate."

That's a blurb from the movie's Web site. The film reportedly was written by Bob Dylan and director Larry Charles of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" fame. Whether or not he wrote it, Dylan stars as Jack Fate, and all of the music is his.There are 14 songs on the CD, four sung by Dylan. Two are traditional: "Dixie" (Elvis need not fear) and the banjo-driven "Diamond Joe." Both would have been at home on Dylan's early folk albums. The other two are new versions of previous recordings: "Down in the Flood," originally released on "Greatest Hits Vol. 2" in 1971, and the more recent "Cold Irons Bound," from "Time Out of Mind" (1997).

But soundtracks are usually odd affairs that have little directly to do with the movie, and, in the case of "Masked and Anonymous," odd is the proper word.

Without the context of the film, it's pretty tough to process "My Back Pages" in Japanese, by the Magokoro Brothers. Or "If You See Her, Say Hello," in Italian, by Francesco de Gregori. Then there's "Come Una Pietra Scalciata" - aka "Like a Rolling Stone" - with a new rap in Italian by Articolo 31 and Dylan sampled on the chorus.

The international flavor continues with Sweden's Sophie Zelmani, who contributes a half-sung, half-whispered take on "Most of the Time," and Turkey's Sertab on "One More Cup of Coffee," which sounds as if it would taste very black and very thick. It's actually quite tasty.

What's left are stellar Dylan covers by the Grateful Dead on "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," the Jerry Garcia Band on "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)," Los Lobos on "On a Night Like This" and Shirley Caesar on "Gotta Serve Somebody." Only the Los Lobos track is unavailable elsewhere. Deadheads and Dylan cover collectors probably already have "Senor" and "Baby Blue"; and Caesar's song appears on "The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan," released earlier this year.

Finally, the Dixie Hummingbirds contribute the gospel "City of Gold," the only previously unreleased Dylan tune on the CD. The song also appears on the new "Diamond Jubilation," the Hummingbird's 75th anniversary CD.

The CD is not without its charms, and it does have the new Dylan performances. But nothing here is essential and, without the benefit of the movie's context, it skirts too near novelty to stand repeated playing.

On the other hand, if you're into making mix CDs to delight yourself and amaze your friends, there's lots of ammo here.