Socialist Worker

How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan

by Tony Rounce
Issue No. 2224

How Many Roads

How Many Roads

Bob Dylan’s impact on popular songwriting was immediate and enduring, and this is particularly true of at least one black American singer-songwriter.

The late Sam Cooke is on record as wondering, on hearing Blowing In The Wind in 1963, why a white Jewish guy in his early 20s from Minnesota could write a song that spoke for all African-Americans—particularly those in the segregated south—while Cooke and his peers seemingly could not.

Sam was so moved by Blowing that he went off and wrote A Change Is Gonna Come. Had he not died shortly after completing it, it would surely have kick-started a new career direction for Cooke.

As it is, Change gave many African-Americans courage to extend their writing and performing beyond the constraint of a three-minute love song.

It stands now as a template for an awareness in African-American song writing that peaked in the late 1960s via iconic anthems like James Brown’s Say it Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud) and the Impressions’ Choice Of Colours.

From Blowing onwards, Dylan’s catalogue has been regularly visited by African-American musicians.

Some of the best covers and revivals of Dylan songs are present on How Many Roads, covering more than half a century of Dylan’s work.

The romanticism of The Man In Me and I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight is balanced by the foreboding of the Staple Singers’ Masters Of War and the optimism of I Shall Be Released.

These and 15 other stellar performances by the likes of the O’Jays, Patti LaBelle and the recently deceased Solomon Burke show that the most obvious ingredient in Bob Dylan’s songs—regardless of their vintage, or their message—is soul.

Tony Rounce compiled How Many Roads

Ace Records

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Tue 19 Oct 2010, 18:53 BST
Issue No. 2224
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