Graded on a Curve: Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint,
Lo & Behold

You know what I miss? The days when I didn’t know jack shit about music. This adolescent would catch a ride to the J.G. McCrory Store—part of a once mighty but long-gone chain of five and dimes—in nearby Hanover, Pennsylvania to spend what little money he had on albums by artists he’d never heard of pulled from McCrory’s legendary cut-out bins. Sure I got burnt—some of the albums I goggled at there I haven’t seen since, so fly-by-night dubious were the contents therein—but once in a while I would return home with a real treasure.

I didn’t find Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint’s 1972 album Lo & Behold back then, but it has all of the glorious hallmarks of a serendipitous discovery purchased on pure whim at that ghostly McCrory’s on Hanover’s main drag a thousand years ago. Who are these guys? Don’t ask me. (Okay, so it turns out Tom McGuinness once played bass and guitar with Manfred Mann—who produced Lo & Behold—and Hughie Flint once played drums for John Mayall. As for Dennis Coulson (the band’s lead singer) and Dixie Dean (on bass), they were journeymen just like McGuinness and Flint. The most interesting thing I can think to say about this band is that Neil Innes—one of the brilliant minds behind the Bonzo Dog Band—played piano with them for a short while.)

But on Lo & Behold CDMF makes up for what they lack in name recognition by pulling off one hell of a coup. Lo & Behold is an album of Dylan covers, most of them dating to Dylan’s incredibly fecund sojourn with the Band at the rented house they called Big Pink in West Saugerties, New York in 1967. Dylan and the Band produced some of the finest American music ever made during Dylan’s famed period as rock’s greatest recluse, and Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint work real magic on Lo & Behold, which anybody interested in hearing musical alchemy at work should seek out.

I should say I’m touchy about my Dylan covers, and especially covers of songs included on that greatest of musical documents, The Basement Tapes. But McGuinness, Flint and Company do themselves proud on Lo & Behold by boldly interpreting Dylan’s material rather than attempting to reproduce it. And even on songs where they stick rather closely to the original—“Open the Door, Homer” for instance—they bring something new to the party. Am I perfectly pleased with all ten of their covers? No. “Don’t You Tell Henry”’s Al Jolson imitation and old-timey feel don’t speak to me (although the song has its own perverse charm), and the rock’n’roll revival spin they put on “Tiny Montgomery” simply can’t fill the eerie but hilarious shoes of the Dylan/Band original.

But those are minor caveats, because hey, CDMF sound like they’re having fun, and if they’re having fun I’m having fun. Just listen to the cosmic Byrds-school spin they put on “Eternal Circle,” or their (believe it or not) Velvet Underground-flavored interpretation of the great “Lo and Behold.” And speaking of the Velvet Underground, I’ll be damned if the foursome don’t turn “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” into a cool tabla- and tambourine-colored drone. Meanwhile, they rehaul “Get Your Rocks Off” into a slow and ‘eavy blues and the results sound just fine, although to be honest I prefer the much gnarlier take recorded by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1973.

“Odds and Ends” doesn’t stray too far from the Dylan/Band version but it percolates just fine—the sax and handclaps interlude is great. CDMF give the wonderful “Sign on the Cross” the gospel treatment, and both Coulson and McGuinness acquit themselves quite nicely, thank you Jesus. A bevy of female backing vocalists also help out. Meanwhile, some heavenly vocals also adorn the elegiac “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” which CDMF also give a vaguely Byrds-like tilt. If this one doesn’t send you soaring, somebody clipped your wings, pal. As for the broadside protest song “The Death of Emmett Till,” CDMF transform it into one very doleful country rock tune, complete with some wiry guitar work by McGuinness.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think anybody can recapture the wild and downright inexplicable feel of those songs hammered out in the basement of that pink house in upper New York State. But Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint have bequeathed us a doozy of a salute to both Bob Dylan and the Band. I only wish I’d discovered it decades ago, buried in the 99 cent bin at that phantom McCrory’s in Hanover where I once unearthed LPs with dubious-making names like Jimi Hendrix Meets Brian Auger—albums so drenched in mystery and superstition that I’ve regretted not buying them ever since.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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