You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.
Years ago in her seminal "Rock Encyclopedia," Lillian Roxon observed that Bob Dylan's work is a "continuing autobiography of this country - its music, its confusions, the failure of its dreams." By now, that outward-inward view has been encrusted with the blood, betrayal and delusion of America's long, strange trip since the 60s. Now comes Bill Camplin to wipe away the windshield with the clarity of his penetrating mind and quicksilver voice. His intrepid new CD of Dylan songs, "Project One," releases archetypal matter imbedded in your psyche and our cultural fabric. The CD provides a sort of double vision - Dylan's viewpoint as seen though Camplin's. At 56, Camplin is no Dylan wanna-be. He's a mature singer-songwriter who has long lived in Fort Atkinson, a city almost the same size as Dylan's hometown, Hibbing, Minnesota. Accordingly, this solo CD performance returns us to the heartland pulse of young Bob Zimmerman, the solitary singer who electrified the world before he ever plugged in. We're reminded of how human and open to experience was Dylan, who today seems more a craggy icon than a man (even if he does borrow from uncredited poetry). Camplin brings extraordinary talent and commitment to the first of a three-CD exploration of Dylan's oeuvre. This 12-song disc will be followed by "Project Two," a two-CD set (which will include "Like A Rolling Stone," "Tangled Up in Blue," "Visions of Johanna," "Tomorrow is a Long Time" and others). In my mind, Camplin is the proverbial best singer nobody's ever heard of, even though he's known in folk music circles as the guy with the sweet pipes and the droll wit who runs Café Carpe, one of the nation's best small venues for touring singer-songwriters. Dylan's voice can be keening, tender, even disdainful. By contrast, Camplin's can hover over a heartbeat or swell like a river, but it turns each of these texts into a set-yerself-down story. The second cut, "The Times They are A-Changin'" is one of the hardest Dylan songs to sing today. The times did change as Dylan envisioned, then they turned back, sending us staggering into the present - hot and cold running wars, dissolving civil rights. Camplin's tone ranges from defiant to plaintive. He especially rails at "senators and congressmen" to realize "there's battle outside and it's a ragin'." His country-style inflections seem to speak for ordinary folk who may feel their American Dream betrayed, even if they don't let on. Camplin seems born to sing Dylan's intimate songs, particularly "Boots of Spanish Leather" "Girl From the North Country" and "One Too Many Mornings," which all speak of love and loss with an eloquence as natural as a long, deep sigh. On the stunning "Girl From the North Country," listen to him sing "please see for me if her hair still rolls down her breast." The voice, fragile and forthright, allows the love he still harbors to begin seeping into the atmosphere. Camplin injects a startling vividness into "Boots," one of Dylan's most imaginative creations. The result is uncanny, with the dimension and arc of a novella. Recall, this is a dialog of lovers - separated by the Atlantic Ocean - rendered as passages from their letters. Camplin actually employs male and female voices - no falsetto, no contrivance, only deft phrasing and his two-plus octave vocal range. Frankly, I've never heard a solo performer pull off such a feat. We hear the lovers' bond slowly loosen over the years - in the course of a six and-a-half minute song. The CD ends with "Desolation Row" and Camplin relates this grit-real nightmare with an almost reportorial restraint, which feels about right. He lets Dylan's startling images and his own dynamic shading tell the story and carry the listener home. By then you've traveled Dylan's weird and wonderful highway, and seen it all anew.