Any doubters who looked askance at Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize would do well to attend the current Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) tour or listen to the group’s recently released live album, 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde. Not only would they be reassured that Dylan deserves the accolades that have come his way as a wordsmith, but they would also hear what keeps him a vibrant force in popular music. For two action-packed sets, the seven members of OCMS steered a course through Dylan’s classic double album Blonde on Blonde, sticking to the original song order while tinkering with many of the other parameters laid down back in 1966. Although tunes were sometimes transposed into new keys or modified in tempo for certain sections, the focus and intensity of the original was never compromised. In many instances, a new ebullience was added — the joy of a younger generation celebrating the discovery of a deep and lasting musical legacy.
Highlights that might have surprised Dylan included an impromptu soft-shoe dance routine and plenty of fiery banjo and percussion. With three singers taking turns on the vocals, no single member stood out as most similar to Dylan, or most different, but there was certainly something extraordinary about the way that Ketch Secor added his soaring violin solos to such great songs as “Visions of Johanna.” It may be too soon to start calling Dylan’s songs great in the way that we call the compositions of Bach and Beethoven great, but these wonderfully well-crafted versions of his songs might be the right place to start.