Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
Similar to Superman’s periodic retreats to his Fortress of Solitude, Bob Dylan occasionally turns to the music of the past to gather strength for challenges ahead. Most of the great comebacks of Bob’s career – including the one we’re seeing right now – have been proceeded by intense periods of covering old songs. In 1992, after a decade of butting heads with producers and wrestling with 1980s recording technology, Dylan decided to strip things back – all the way back. No producer, no band; just Bob Dylan, his guitar, and a bucketload of folk and blues songs.
The idea had probably been taking shape in Dylan’s mind since the summer of 1988, when he began what would soon become known as the Never Ending Tour (or NET to its friends). While the earliest NET shows were largely devoted to Bob and his band tearing through his back catalogue punk rock-style, the highlight for many fans were the mid-show acoustic sets, where Bob often unearthed traditional songs from the western world’s distant past. “Trail of the Buffalo,” “The Lakes of Pontchartrain,” “Barbara Allen,” “The Wagoner’s Lad,” and many others made regular appearances. Bob didn’t just perform these songs: he inhabited them.