Andy Hill, along with Renee Safier and their Hard Rain band, has been a serious Dylan champion for a long time. Dylanfest, the annual all-day Dylan festival they present each year, has become a beloved Los Angeles tradition. And one of the most passionate and fun ways to show that which we already know: Dylan is a miracle songwriter. They perform his songs all day long, featuring many guest artists, and they never repeat one. And it’s an exultant celebration. It’s a great celebration of the power of song, and the greatness of those who write them. As Dylan said himself, “Thank God for songwriters.”
So we asked Andy a hard question – in terms of performing his songs, which are your five favorites? He rose to the challenge, and delivered. But there’s also a declaration at the end about the dilemma this presented. Like Bob, he’s a thoughtful guy, and his thoughts on doing this, which follow, are as compelling as the list.
Andy Hill’s Top Five Dylan songs to Perform:
- Workingman’s Blues #2
This is from his album Modern Times, which came out in 2006. Given that he has a catalogue that spans well over half a century, that makes this a current Bob Dylan song.
“They burned my barn and stole my horse, I can’t save a dime. I got to be careful I don’t wanna be forced into a life of continual crime.”
Although Bob Dylan, at 78, is a rich and famous man, and has been since his early twenties, when he puts pen to paper his poetic intuitions are still tied to the working class from which he emerged.
- Chimes of Freedom
“For each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail, we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.”
That is the most perfect line I’ve ever had the honor to sing.
- Caribbean Wind
An unfinished flowing epic journey, with lots of intoxicating lyrical variations that defy explanation – and a huge chorus.
- A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
The song after which our band is named.
“The executioner’s face is always well-hidden” – True in 1962, menacingly true in 2020.
- Tangled Up In Blue (slow version).
I had been playing the Blood on the Tracks version of this song for many years when I finally heard a bootleg of Bob’s 1978 slow version. I had always understood the “tangled” component. But when I heard the ballad, I heard and felt the heartbreak, the pain, the “blues”.
And everything changed.
This is a difficult assignment because of the number of songs to choose from and the varying conditions around performance. So this list makes a few assumptions:
- That the performance is one I’ve had time to prepare for, rather than simply responding to a request. (Many of these are longer songs. If I haven’t performed the song in a long time, my head space will be somewhat in recall mode. If I’ve prepared the song, then I’ll be living inside the lyric.)
After making this list I noticed that all of the songs land squarely in that hard-to-describe zone of (lyrically) being concrete enough to get a strong sense of the characters, action and narrative, but mysterious enough to defy specific explanation.
- That the choice is appropriate for the time and place on the setlist. I love playing “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with the band, and would choose it often before the songs that follow, but not because it is better.
- The list of five constantly changes, mostly with respect to how often or rarely I have been playing the songs. If I rarely perform a song, and I’m going to play it tomorrow night, then it’s very special and rockets to the top of my list.
Andy Hill has been writing, recording and performing with his partner Renee Safier in California’s South Bay for a long time, having recorded sixteen albums. Their most recent release, is “Fuse32,” which came out this past July. He and Renee have produced a Dylanfest each May with Hard Rain for the last 29 years. Their 30th Anniversary will be held on Saturday, May 30th at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, where they’ll be joined by 50 or 60 of their closest musical friends.
“Together,” said Andy, “we’ll make our way through over 60 Bob Dylan songs. No breaks and no repeats!“
For more on Andy, Renee and Dylanfest: www.Andyandrenee.com