Bob Dylan’s seventh studio album, “Blonde on Blonde,” is revered for several reasons. Released in 1966, it was one of the first double albums in rock history. It comprises some of Dylan’s best and most beloved songs. Among them: “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35”; “Just Like a Woman”; “I Want You”; and the rollicking and rambling “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.”
And it signified Dylan’s initial excursion into country music and Nashville, which is where much of the album was recorded with the assistance of many of the city’s finest session musicians.
Sunday night, Old Crow Medicine Show, a string band based in Nashville, rolled its tour into the Uptown Theater. In April, Old Crow released “50 Years of Blonde on Blonde,” its tribute and homage to Dylan’s masterpiece. The album was the band’s first release on Columbia Records, Dylan’s one and only label. The tour is the live version of the tribute album.
Old Crow Medicine Show had revealed its adoration for Dylan long before it took on the daunting task of paying respects to one of his best and most esteemed albums. Old Crow gets the credit (and blame) for turning a page of Dylan lyrics into “Wagon Wheel,” one of the most covered, recorded and rerecorded songs of this millennium, a song that made it on to the band’s self-titled album in 2004. Ten years later, Old Crow wrote music to another set of Dylan lyrics that became “Sweet Amarillo,” a hit track on its “Remedy” album.
Sunday night, the band arrived with a more ambitious mission: to give Dylan and “Blonde” its due. Like a New Orleans main-line band, it took the stage with much fanfare, falling into place and arousing a big cheer before a crowd of about 1,100, then launching into a hailstorm version of “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” that prompted the first of so many singalongs. The Crows turned it into a country/bluegrass/blues anthem that included two blues harps, an accordion and a banjo, setting the tone for the rest of the evening.
It followed that with a rowdy, high-speed, fiddle-infused bluegrass version of “Pledging My Time” that sustained the joyous mood that filled the room. And so the band proceeded, reworking and reimagining each of the album’s 14 songs, several of them among Dylan’s most hallowed creations.
Old Crow is led by Ketch Secor, who plays a bundle of instruments, and his sidekick and fellow co-founder Chris Fuqua, who goes by the nickname Critter and who confessed to having family ties in Great Bend, Kan.
Together, they preached their love and loyalty to Dylan, going back to a ruse they concocted as teenagers to attend a Dylan concert in New York that included buying some LSD that “did not kick in.”
The set included an intermission, taken between what would have been the end of the first side of the album and the beginning of the second side, a long pause that, as much as anything, served to give the largely baby boomer crowd a chance to visit the restrooms and the bars.
The entire show was like one long highlight, but several tracks stood out, like the mind-blowing fusillade of five straight songs that started with “I Want You” and ended with “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine.” Each was taken in a direction that differed from the original but always respected and even added luster to its melody, an aspect of this album that is easy to overlook, given its lyrical brilliance. Even in some of his most long and relentless epics, like “Visions of Johanna” and “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” Dylan could muster some melodic hooks, and Old Crow polished them all night
Other highlights: their version of “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” which rivaled the version by Jason and the Scorchers, easily one of the best Dylan covers ever; and the encore, which included standards like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Secor and Fuqua made their Dylan man-crush evident all night, an affliction they shared with most of the audience. But more than just talk about it, they and the band walked the walk, delivering a joyous show that highlighted one moment amid the vast lyrical and musical genius of one of our culture’s most eminent songwriters.