Oct 132022
Virgil Kinsley

On September 30th, Bob Dylan’s 1997 “comeback” album Time Out of Mind celebrated its 25th birthday. Rumors have circulated that Dylan would celebrate the occasion with the next installment of his ongoing Bootleg Series, but still no news there. Toronto musician Virgil Kinsley put together his own party though, covering the entire album in concert. Yes, even the 16-minute finale “Highlands.”

Kinsley is an old hand at singing Dylan. In the early days of the pandemic, he covered a different Dylan song every day, 50 days in a row, posting them on YouTube. Then, when the 50th anniversaries of Self Portrait and New Morning followed shortly after, he covered a ton of those songs too (covers of covers, in many of the Self Portrait cases). He even tackled the outtakes.

Kinsley’s got the Dylan curls, and his old-time cowboy getup is very Bob, but otherwise this Time Out of Mind show isn’t a tribute act. In the beautifully-filmed video he shared of the full thing, he finds his own way into the songs, bringing saloon-blues swagger to “Dirt Road Blues” and weep-in-your-scotch melancholy to “Not Dark Yet.” Throughout, he and his band lean into the record’s country side, aided by beautiful pedal steel playing.

Check out video of the full thing below, then read on for a short Q&A with Kinsley.

Why did you want to cover all of this album?

I’ve always been inspired by Bob Dylan and my love for his work grows more and more as time goes on. During the pandemic I posted myself playing a couple songs of his that I felt had some relevance to what we were all going through (Everything is Broken, To Be Alone With You, Things Have Changed, Time Passes Slowly). I got on a bit of a roll, and I realized if I kept posting a song a day I’d reach 50 on his birthday. So that’s what I did. Then it was approaching the 50th anniversaries of Self Portrait and New Morning, so I just kept going with all that material and recorded myself doing every song from those records along with Dylan ‘73 and Another Self Portrait. (This is all available on my YouTube channel)

I wish I could have done all of that stuff with a band, but the pandemic obviously presented a lot of challenges for that kind of thing. Jump to 2022 and I got it in my mind that I might be able to pull it off with a proper band for Time Out Of Mind’s 25th anniversary. I hold that record up there with his best work (Blood On The Tracks, Blonde on Blonde, etc) so I really wanted to do it well.

What was the hardest song to learn musically? Easiest?

They all have their little tricks (extra bars here and there, subtle changes in the chord progressions) The learning of the songs is always fun for me, it’s more the performing of them that I find challenging, if that makes sense.

Highlands is obviously a tightrope. Not just in getting through it all, but keeping it low key and the right mood while also trying to keep the variations of phrasing and melodies fresh and engaging. Maybe Not Dark Yet would be the easiest to perform because I might be closest to fully understanding that one.

How’d you manage to remember all the Highlands lyrics? Cheat sheet?

No, no cheat sheet. Though I did get lost in I think the 4th verse, you’ll notice. I started saying “at the break of dawn” when it should be “wherever I roam” and I was in trouble… so I looked out into the crowd and saw Twitter sensation Harry Hew out there reading along on his phone, anticipating my failure! Haha just kidding.. I think he was trying to help, but I couldn’t make hide nor hair of what he was saying! I found my place anyway and somehow recovered. I was grateful that it happened early in the song, that I found a way to get back on track and sailed on through to the end from there. It felt really special to be doing that song, and I was very proud to have pulled it off. It’s not the kind of song I can really ever do again. I only had the one shot to get it right.

There’s a story out there where Bob tells Pete Townshend that “a folk singer is only ever as good as his memory.”

Back to when I was memorizing, singing and posting a song a day in lockdown. With songs like Desolation Row, Chimes of Freedom, and It’s Alright Ma, I pushed myself to do something I never would have thought I’d have been able to do. And now it’s something I find I can do quite easily. It gave me a confidence in myself that has spilled over to many other aspects of my life. Just one of the many ways I’m continually inspired by that man.

Did you learn anything new about the album from taking such a deep dive into its music and lyrics?

I could go on and on about the things I learned through this album and Bob Dylan’s music in general. Scott Warmuth’s pieces on Bob’s sources of inspiration for the album’s lyrics are amazing. I did a little digging around like that and found a few of my own. “Need Your Love So Bad” by Little Willie John.

In that (amazing) interview you did with [Dylan drummer] Winston Watson, he said [longtime Dylan bassist] Tony Garnier’s advice to him when he joined the band was “let the songs reveal themselves to you.” It might seem a little abstract, but anyone who’s listened to his music as much as some of us have will understand. New things will reveal themselves hundreds of listens in.

I’ve always liked what Bob says about Woody Guthrie in No Direction Home. “You could listen to Woody Guthrie songs and actually learn how to live.” I feel like Dylan’s music took that to a way more permeating and broader philosophical level.

Joan Baez says in the same documentary something like, “for those who wanna go deep, Bob goes deep”. It was great to show these songs to a crowd that was mostly unfamiliar with the material, but it’s really cool to hear from all the people who “go deep” and can really nerd out about it all with me.

Once you’re done with those 11 songs, check out our list of The 100 Best Bob Dylan Covers Ever.

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